To touch is to give life.–Michelangelo
“So you also pat bushes,” my friend said as we walked down the sidewalk.
I paused, my hand betraying me as it hovered against the hedge edging the walkway. Although her words were inclusive, I felt like I had been caught; my unconscious action noted and commented upon.
Because yes, of course, I do pat bushes. I always have.
On my walk to elementary school there was a hedge of dense green leaves, bright red berries interspersed throughout. The bush gently resisted the pressure of my hand as I skimmed along its surface.
Touch. Research suggests that touch is essential for a baby to thrive. As Pettigrew and I stroll along on our afternoon walk, I see a friend on her porch swing, cuddling and kissing the head of the five-month-old infant she is fostering.
When I was a toddler I remember reading Pat the Bunny: putting my finger through Mummy’s ring, feeling Daddy’s scratchy face, and patting that fluffy bunny tail.
In our living room a sculpture sat on the coffee table. As I passed, I would swirl my hand over the rounded head. Over time, the head turned a bright green from my regular caresses while the body oxidized to a dull black.
Now, in my parent-tot class, the toddlers and I explore the sanctuary with our senses, especially touch. We run our fingers up and down the tall stalks of grass, blow on the feathery seeds in a milkweed pod, and gingerly avoid the spiny shells of the beechnut to discover its velvety center. My students show up at opening circle offering magnolia cones, waiting for me to run my fingers up and down the bumpy sides. Their parents report a trip to the playground involves equal parts exploring the grounds and playing on the equipment. I couldn’t be more proud.
The other day Pettigrew stood in the kitchen, legs splayed and raised his muzzle as he barked repeatedly. We ran through the checklist: food, water, walk. What could it be?
I slid to the floor and patted the spot next to me. Pettigrew lay down as I rubbed his throat and ears, tipping over on to his side to afford me better access to his soft tummy. Pettigrew needs no reminder that touch is essential to us all.