Motherhood and the Infinite Quest for Personal Space

11988242_10101519316863645_1488090905508423307_nWhen I was in elementary school, at one point, we learned about personal space by using hula hoops.

Imagine a class of rowdy third graders in a gym, all holding hula hoops, running around and going “Personal space!  Personal space!” while giggling wildly and intentionally crashing into each other.

Roughly 20 years later, this is still my life. Except I’m the weird kid in gym class trying desperately to follow instructions and not get touched, and my children are my rebel classmates, intentionally crashing into me at every turn and wondering why I’m not enjoying the game.

My oldest son is… physical. When he was an itty bitty baby he’d scream at being put down, so he slept almost exclusively against my chest, in a baby carrier. Now that he’s older, we cannot play trains without him crawling into my lap.  I can’t sit next to him on the couch without him patting my boobs. I can’t lay on the floor without turning into a Mommy Slide. And mostly, I love that.

My baby is, thankfully, much more laid back. But, as babies do, he does need snuggles (and who can resist cheek nibbles?) and to be carried from place to place. His warm baby spit-up often trickles down my arm, and he’s at that precious age where hair-grabbing is his favorite pastime. And sleep? We try so, so hard to avoid bed sharing, but more often than not I wake up with a face full of baby toes.

personal space

Photo credit: Meredith Gutshall,

I wipe boogers with whatever’s handy (let’s be honest, sometimes my shirt). My hands are chapped from washing them after diaper changes and food-flinging incidents.  I find stickers in strange places. I eat dinner with a pair of dirty toddler toes playing footsie with me.
And don’t even get me started on the breast pump I have a date with six times a day.  If breastfeeding is beautiful, exclusively pumping is the ugly cousin who’s still trying to enter the beauty pageant but getting laughed off the stage.

There are moments where I have a visceral reaction to being touched. I recoil in horror when my husband gives me a friendly butt pat. (Sorry, honey, it’s really, really not you, it’s me.) I can’t snuggle with my dog anymore. I’ve even developed a weird shower aversion because the sensory input of water streaming over me feels stifling. (Don’t worry. I still do. But I hate it.)

So, now, I’m kindly requesting: don’t touch me. I’ve reached a sensory overload tipping point. You can express that you’re happy to see me by using any of the other five love languages that are NOT physical touch. I still love you. I still want to hang out and be friends and no, you don’t smell bad. It’s not you, it’s me. I can’t stop being a mom and wading through the sticky trenches, so everything else has to go.

Just respect the hula hoop, OK?

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