Try a hug with those chicken strips

Published 7:28 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

By Nathan Rice

He called me from his mom’s cellphone, and I could tell something was wrong. I could hear the frustration, sadness and distress in his voice.

He had misplaced his cellphone a few days prior, and he couldn’t find it anywhere. A lost cellphone would upset most of us, but at 13 years of age, this misplaced item was of great concern. The emotions from this missing item added to his hormones and rapidly changing mind and body to create a perfect storm.

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We talked on the phone for a little while, and I did my best to think of all the right things to say. I shared empathy for his lost item, offered hope that it could still be found, told him that we all lose stuff at times, and discussed how he could be grateful for all he still had.

None of it seemed to work, so I kept trying as we talked. I began to run out of words when I asked, “Would it help if we went out to dinner for a little bit?” He replied with a sad, “Yeah.”

Soon we were at a restaurant. We talked about many things, and he enjoyed his favorite meal of chicken strips and fries. The phone was a topic of discussion, and I tried to work in a few words of wisdom, but it wasn’t the main thing we discussed.

We paused when we went outside to talk more, and we stopped to enjoy the weather. Our conversation paused for a moment, and all was quiet. Then he reached out and hugged me. It was unexpected. At 13, hugs are less frequent as he is now a full-fledged teenager. I returned the hug, and he held on for a few moments. He let go, and we went back to looking at the scenery around us. He said nothing, and I said nothing. At that moment, I realized what he needed most that evening wasn’t my words.

I was trying so hard to find the perfect words of wisdom and encouragement. I think my words were good, but that wasn’t what he needed most at the moment. What he needed was my presence. Our time together and one hug seemed to do more than all the words I had tried so diligently to ensure were perfect.

I am not downplaying the importance of words, and I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t try our best to offer wisdom, encouragement and guidance. Words are important. Sometimes, however, what kids need most isn’t our words. It is us. It’s being there. It’s a hug. It’s our presence.

He would eventually find his phone, but I think what I found was more important. I found out that it’s OK if I don’t always have the words to make everything better.

We should always try our hardest to share our best guidance with our kids, but sometimes what they need most isn’t our words. It’s just for us to be there. Sometimes a heart can be lifted by chicken strips and a hug.