In the late 1970s, my mother bought herself a dress made out of — you know it — Ultrasuede. It was fantastic. Not because of the styling, which I vaguely remember as light tan in colour, perforated with a pattern of tiny holes. Because of the way it felt. Sometimes I snuck into her closet just to touch that dress, to run my fingers back and forth across the nap of the fabric, which was softer than anything else I knew. She wore it to synagogue services one year, and spent the better part of three hours in a silent, futile battle with me, trying to get me to stop stroking her sleeve.
She called it “nudging,” (pronounced noodje, like book) a Yiddish term that translates to “pestering” or “badgering” or “annoying” — as in, “Mom, can we have ice cream? Can we? Can we? Can we have ice cream? Can we have some now? Ice cream? Can we? Have some? From the freezer? Now? Ice cream?”
Or, “Have you emptied the dishwasher?”
But nudging to me is always physical, not verbal, a form of silent intimacy that falls somewhere on the continuum between bliss and torture. My six-year-old compulsion to touch my mother's softsoftsoft sleeve. A small foot pushing against my thigh underneath the dining room table. Isaac stroking my hair: “Nice! Nice!” The way Rowan does up and undoes the buttons on my cardigan as he talks to me, or picks the lint off my sweater. A baby asleep on your chest, clutching your T-shirt in his tiny fist. Isaac’s thumb in his mouth, his fingers working the satin and fuzzy fabrics of his blankie. The way a cat pushes her head underneath your hand, the way a child creates a lap by falling into it, the way a bedmate turns her back to you for spooning, ready or not.
There are the large intimacies of parenting, those surrounding conception and pregnancy, birthing and nursing and feeding and cleaning and such. There are the children sticking their fingers into your yogurt and then into your nose. But, I think sometimes, that families are made just as much by the tiny intimacies, the nudges that only they can — just barely — get away with.