This morning, when I finished packing lunches and fixing breakfast, Asher was still asleep, well into the slow-wave sleep stage of his NREM cycle. I needed to get him out of bed, dressed and fed within 15 minutes in order to catch the bus. I tried lifting his blinds to let the sun wake him naturally and without human intervention. He didn’t even flinch. I tried peeling his covers back to liberate the trapped body heat and make way for a refreshing slap of cool, morning air. Nothing. “Asher,” I whisper-sang. “time to get up!”
I had no other choice but to go for bare bottom. The recent heat wave has forced the otherwise acutely modest child to undress (under his sheets) and experience the freedom of nudity. Unfortunately for him, my need to adhere to a schedule in the morning borders on compulsive, and his small, round tush is adorable bordering on irresistible. His bum didn’t stand a chance. From a young age, Asher has understood the long-standing tradition of tushy-shmushing amongst our people. It's practically a mitzvah. I grabbed his tushy and squeezed until he woke up laughing.
I have vivid memories of my grandmother’s visits. When I was a little girl, she would sit down beside me and use her pincer clawed nails painted red and shellacked in acrylic to grab hold of the meager amount of flesh on my tush. She was satisfied only when I let out a high-pitched yelp and then she'd laugh and ask, “Do you know that I love you?” “YES! YES!” I swore earnestly hoping she wouldn't doubt me and attack again. I could feel the sting of her pinch long after she released me and fully expected to find a bruise on my rear after she left. I had to stare at the afflicted zone for minutes “on end” incredulously registering that she left no marks. “At least she doesn’t try to kiss you with her tongue like my nanna,” my friend said to me after I had grumbled about my grandma’s painful demonstration of affection. I had to admit that I’d rather get a pinch on the tush than tongue in my mouth, so I didn’t complain after that.
I think about my grandmother’s ferocious love when I grab my kids’ tushes. I realize in that moment when I’m reaching for their small bums that I’m not in control of my actions. That, like my grandmother, I’m incapable of suppressing that Jewish mother’s reflex to take hold of those buns and squeeze. “Uch, I love this tushy!” I say in an enthusiastic voice I can hardly believe is mine. For a moment, I consider the fact that the boys may not appreciate Mom’s attention to their tushes. Only for a moment. I can’t stop myself. They are so round and soft and squishable like a stress ball toy but infinitely cuter, and no stress ball giggles or squeals after a loving clench.
I think about the day that Asher says, “Mom. You really have to stop grabbing my tush. I know it will be soon. He is 8 ½, after all. But I can’t help imagine that he’ll wait to initiate this quiet word with me right before his Bar Mitzvah--literally as in, “Mom, I need to read my haftorah now. Let go.” I hate to think that my tushy-shmushing days are almost over.
Maybe I should have cut myself off by now. I’m sure there will be all sorts of vigilantes scrolling the interwebs looking for pervy behavior and calling foul because they don’t understand the wholesome, motherly love of tushy-shmushing. Who’s to say if or when such behavior becomes inappropriate? The rules of tushy-shmushing are as nebulous and subjective as are the rules of breast-feeding older children and family bath time. For the record, we do have a family safe word that protects us all from torturous tickle sessions or rough-housing gone wild or any activity that becomes uncomfortable. If anyone, grown up or child uses the word KAZOO, we must instantly stop whatever we were doing. I’ll confess that the boys use it just as often to stop Mom or Mommy from crossing the line as we do with them. “In our house,” Asher often reminds us, “you must respect KAZOO.”
Ultimately, it’s none of anyone else’s business if, when and how often we engage in tushy-shmushing as long as we are not damaging our children. As far as I can tell, I haven’t yet left any marks.
Clearly an invitation for some shmushing!