Crying Behind My Sunglasses at Pride: How ‘Free Mom Hugs’ Was Life-Changing For Me
It is now a tradition that my spouse, kiddo, and I attend our local Pride festival each year. It's one of my favorite things to do because Pride is like this little force field of awesome where the daily effects of homophobia and willful ignorance about sexuality cannot penetrate it. However you identify, there is something beautiful about people coming together in one place to be exactly who they are with no judgment and interference from anyone else.
Also, Pride is just a heckin' good time. There's a ferris wheel. It's the bomb diggity.
Only in the last few years of my life have I been able to enjoy Pride. I have an aunt (who I'm no longer in contact with for soon-to-be obvious reasons) who would laugh about Pride. She would say horrible things about going to Pride just to "sight-see" (I'm using a better word here) and I was traumatized by this. I was so afraid there were hundreds of straight people like her at Pride who just saw everyone there as "entertainment" (using a different word again as not to trigger).
My first year at Pride made me see that someone with my aunt's mindset would never last a day at Pride.
As accepting, loving, and fun as Pride is, you would think that would be enough to make me cry behind my sunglasses. But no. The first year I attended, I was awestruck. I completely took in the energy around me and felt the positivity, the freedom to just be, running through my veins.
I was happy. I was free. But I didn't cry. Not yet...
Back to the relevancy of bringing up my aunt earlier, I am not in contact with anyone in my family. They don't know where I live or have my number. And I pray to all of the gods, every last one of them, that I don't run into them.
Why? Well, that's a loaded question and maybe this isn't the post for that. But the dynamics were pretty bad. I got to a point when I realized that I could leave, I could sever ties and choose myself first. Once I realized that, I ran in the middle of the night and didn't look back. Abuse will do that too you, either leave you frozen in fear or getting the hell out of dodge Forrest Gump style.
So I'm living life without my birth family. It's painful but I have amazing friends. But, as amazing as my friends are, even as amazing as YOU ARE because you're reading this right now and supporting me, I crave the love of a parent, the unconditional love of a family. I love my friends, my spouse, my beautiful baby. I'm more than prepared to catch them when they fall, but who is there to catch me?
Back to Pride: it was a sunny Sunday morning. So sunny, in fact, I came armed with a new pair of sunglasses, so I wouldn't, you know, go blind.
As I walked down the vendor hall, I notice a group of women wearing shirts that say Free Mom Hugs embracing a group of people. A man also wears a Free Dad Hugs shirt and my throat catches.
I never talk about my dad and it's because I've never met him. My parents were married but they divorced when I was one. He's been gone ever since. The only picture I've seen is of him looking down. I've never even seen his eyes. None of the adults in my life would willingly give me any information about him.
So I've never in my life been hugged by my own dad. And all of the men that I'm blood-related to, my uncles specifically... let's just say any physical contact they are accustomed to is a bit stronger than a hug.
The man wearing the Free Dad Hugs shirt made eye contact with me and waved. He asked if I would like a hug. I knew I could say no, and I knew my eyes were covered with the sunglasses, thus any visible emotion coming to the surface. But I nodded.
I didn't think this hug would spark tears. That a simple pat on the back would start a chain reaction of tears hitting my sunglasses like hot water from a hose. I pulled away to subtly wipe the tears from under my sunglasses. I cleared my throat and say an audible and quick "thank you."
I will blame it on my upbringing, but I hate hugging men that I don't know. I'm always afraid that a hug is signing a contract with a hidden clause that I don't realize until it's too late. But in that moment, I felt safe and I felt appreciated. Hell, I felt loved.
After I said "thank you", the group noticed my spouse and baby and I introduced them. The entire Free Hugs group clamored around little Bby-8 in the stroller, exchanging more heartfelt hugs with me. They hugged my spouse. They told me my baby was beautiful. They told me they were proud of me as a mother and that I was doing a good job. And then I teared up again. Not hard enough for them to (blatantly) notice, but enough to where the sunglasses fogged up quicker. Thing is, I wasn't sad, I was relieved.
Something in that interaction allowed me to unpack something that was heavy, something that was weighing me down. In that short moment, I felt that all of my hard work to better myself was worth it. I had been so used to being torn down, so used to hearing negative talk from my bloodline that receiving a hug and being told that someone is proud of me was enough to bring me to tears.
Free Mom Hugs didn't just change my life, they helped me heal. They gave me something that I've needed for a long time. If anyone from Free Mom Hugs is reading this right now, I want to tell you this: by being a temporary mom and dad to me, you all helped me be a better mom to my son. And I thank you for that with my whole heart.