“Dad, you’re squishy”

He means well. He says it while giving me a genuinely loving hug. He says it with an honest smile. “Dad, you’re squishy,” my 9-year-old son says while hugging me and playing my belly like a Wurlitzer.

“I like hugging you Dad,” he says.

“Thanks,” I reply with a prideful smile.

Then comes the qualifier. “You’re softer than Mom.”

My smile melts into a curled lip. Don’t get me wrong, I love every time any of my 4 kids want to hug me. The older they get, the fewer the hugs. When they’re babies and toddlers, there are hundreds of hugs per day. It’s one of their main modes of communication. Then pre-school starts and hugs become a “goodbye” and “hello” thing, with “good night” hugs to end each day. Into elementary school, hugs are still daily. But I often have to initiate the embrace. Middle school has proven to make the hugs even less frequent. They have become the more “situational” occasion. “Good job” on the band concert. “I’m proud of your report card”. The daily hugs are gone at this point. Sad, I know.

So when I still get hugs, I can’t be bothered by the “squishy” comments that come along with them. But I am. Getting caught up in the everyday activities of caring for my kids and running them everywhere, I’ve lost my ability to set aside “me” time. The time I do get, I use to decompress. Once I catch my breath and gather my senses, I then feel guilty that I didn’t use my time to exercise. So, I think I could wake up before everyone and run/exercise in the morning. Who am I kidding? I’m already waking up as early as I possibly can just to get up with the kids to feed them and make their lunches for school. What about when my wife comes home from work? CRAZY TIME! Homework, after-school activities, dinner, bath time, bed time. The day is over and here I am back to my decompress time. And I feel the guilt, again.

Sitting on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show or sports highlights, I look down at my “squishy” midsection. His voice rings through my head. “Dad, you’re squishy.” What’s the answer? I need to make time for myself. My wife has been supportive and offered to give me time. Who does she think she is, Father Time? When can I really get away? Our kids aren’t in an after-school program that I can just leave them for an extra 45 minutes at the end of the day so I can hit the club. I’ve already nixed getting up earlier in the morning to work out. There must be a compromise!

Hmmmm. Maybe if I sacrifice some of my “decompression” time to get to bed earlier, I COULD get up earlier in the morning to get a workout in. I do believe I remember in my younger, more athletic days that the healthier you are, the more energy you have. Maybe I won’t need as much decompression time. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out.

Kids! Say goodbye to your “squishy” dad! Soon, after hugs I’ll hear, “Dad, I like hugging Mom a little more because she’s softer than you.”

I’d be fine with that.