Three Points of Contact

When Cole was a toddler and learning to climb the ladders at park play structures, my dear friend would instruct both of our boys declaring ‘three points of contact’.  It was a brilliant way of describing the need for each child to always be touching the ladder with some combination of three of their four hands and feet before proceeding upward to the next step.

The mantra of three points of contact has stuck in my mind over the intervening years, and has expanded to cover more than physical ladders, but emotional ones as well.  Whenever I feel a disconnect happening with one of my children, I reexamine where we are on our ladder.  Are we making three points of contact?

Points of contact are ways in which we communicate and receive love.  And the dance of it all is that both the one reaching out and the one receiving the contact need to feel the connection.   Case in point, kisses.  Kissing my children on the cheek or forehead is, to me, the most natural way to express my affection for them.  They, in turn, prefer to rub it off.  Yes, for whatever twisted reason, they both abhor kisses.  So, we’ve come to a compromise.  I kiss.  They rub.  But instead of exclaiming ‘ooooohhhh gross!’ they gently whisper ‘I’m rubbing in your love now’.  We both are delighted and we both feel connected.

Hugs, however, are a different story.  They are all about the hugs.  My four year old will wrap herself around me, clinging with arms and legs like a baby chimpanzee, humming in my ear as we bond.  My nine year old, on the other hand, will literally throw himself at me, and if I am not ready, nearly knock me over.  When he first started to do this a few years ago I did not recognize it as affection, it seemed too filled with aggression.  But filled with sweet intent it was, and so his hugs continue today to be about deep touch to express connection.

Yet points of contact need not be physical.  Creating a blueberry smiley face in their pancakes.  Writing a secretly coded note and sneaking it into their lunch bag.  Playing their favorite song first thing in the morning.  Taking a slightly circuitous route home so that you can drive up their favorite steep hill in town.  There are 1000 ways to stay in touch, to be in communication, to say I love you.

Points of contact need not take place simultaneously in the space-time continuum.  Cole and I share a passion for reading, and he has his nose in a book as many hours of the day as he can.  We’ve actually had to ban books from the dining room table at mealtime.  Seriously.  Who bans books?  Anyway, we use reading as one of our points of contact.  We have a special journal and every few weeks one of us writes a message, and the other responds.  I use it as a forum for encouraging him when he is frustrated, reinforcing great decisions he has made, or apologizing (again) when I have made a mistake.  I write carefully and with intent knowing he’ll reread our entries over and over.  He uses the journal to propose project ideas or to ask for help processing something that has happened at school.  The beauty of our write and response pattern is that neither of us needs to be in the same room at the same time for any of it to take place.  It gives both of us the opportunity for quiet reflection as we reach out to one another.

When my children feel disconnected they often times will ask us to make up a story.  What they mean is:  help me decipher what happened today, I can’t quite see my way through it, and in the end please reassure me that everything will be okay.  Our tales involve a whale named Bubbles, invented by my late grandfather who began the tradition spinning yarns for my mom.  Since the birth of Eleanor we have added a companion to Bubble’s adventures, a plucky little fish named Pêche.  (Pêcher is the French verb ‘to fish’)  The allegories of Bubbles and Pêche give us an opportunity to interpret the events of the day from a safe distance, providing the kids with narratives that take them through the deep and treacherous eel-infested waters they trespassed and return them to the safe shoals of home.

As children grow, they rise higher on the ladder of life and the potential falls come from more dire circumstances.  The length of their arms and legs hold them farther from us.  The self assured attitude and sense of immortality of teenagers practically demand that they attempt to climb the ladder showing off for friends using fewer and fewer points of contact, contorting their bodies in rather death-defying manners.  It becomes harder for us to touch them, to find those points of contact.  Yet, ironically, when they ask for us the least they need us the most.  Keep reaching, keep extending, keep making those three points of contact.  As for the ongoing parables of Bubbles and Pêche, I’ll keep you posted.

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  • Terry January 24, 2011, 3:44 pm

    Dear Emily,

    Your insights are pure gift! As I’ve read through your entries, I’ve been filled with a deep sense of resonance and admiration.

    This one in particular catches my attention, since I’m deep in the land of teenager-hood with two teen boys and a tween daughter. You’re SO right about the need to find/create the points of contact. I have, at times, had to make an express request for “contact” opportunities with our oldest, who does indeed prefer to dwell in the land of facebook friend communications as preference #1. But, when I start from the perspective of my need for contact with him — an invitation rather than an obligation — it seems to work better. I just have to remember that when he responds to my invitation, I better be ready to engage and have a few “open” topics to connect with him about that don’t involve correction, praise, or “helpful hints” … It means I have to pay attention to who he is, what captures his imagination and attention, and start there.

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights and the link to this blog! I eagerly read on.

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