I wrote this, ca. 1995, for my grandmother. She was always bugging me to write, just as I always bugged her... and thank goodness, because she gave us an amazing memoir before Alzheimer's stole her away. This is an ever-so-slightly altered-for-the-web version.
tick•le (tik'l) 1. to please, gratify, delight, etc.: often used in the passive voice with slang intensives, as tickled pink (or silly, to death, etc.) 2. to stir to amusement or laughter; amuse 3. to excite the surface nerves of, as by touching or stroking lightly with the finger, a feather, etc., so as to cause involuntary twitching, a pleasant tingling, laughter, etc.
It must be in our genes, this love of a soft stroke on skin. Hand cupped just so, fingertips gliding steadily -- a feather-light touch. It soothes. It tickles. It tingles. It torments. It's a family thing.
Visiting grandma and grandpa at the start of a new year, Madeleine is sprawled on the couch between grandma and me; she's four, it's two-thirty in the afternoon, and she's a little cranky. She stretches her legs over my lap. "Mom, tickle me."
Grandma laughed, recalling a recent visit during which my Uncle Jim wordlessly stretched his arm across his wife Debbie's lap. Deb asked, "Where'd he get this?"
Grandma smiled at me, glancing at grandpa sitting in his chair. "It all began with grandpa," she said. Not with my grandpa, but with his dad -- my great grandfather, John. She told me that great grandpa used to soothe his kids by tickling them. Maybe this tickle gene goes back generations.
I am certain that my sisters, brother, and cousins all share similar memories of childhood visits to grandma's and grandpa's. We would get together for the holidays, big gatherings with lots of activity. Grandpa was invariably seated in his favorite rocker/recliner, watching a Bowl game on television. He'd roll up a sleeve, stretch out an arm, and one of us would pull up a chair to tickle that delightful stretch of inner arm from wrist to elbow. He usually paid the willing party a quarter for their trouble, and it seemed that he sometimes had a crew working in shifts.
I can picture myself as a 10-year-old, sitting on my parents' bed. Typically, we had just finished taking baths and mom wielded clippers -- five sets of fingernails and toenails to be trimmed. Dad would sit on the edge of the bed, pull off his t-shirt, and beckon one of us to tickle his back. He liked to be tickled with fingernails -- not fingertips, and definitely not fingerpads. It was tough -- we'd just had our nails clipped! My arms would get sore with the repetitive up-and-down-and-circle-around. Every now and then, he'd have to issue a reminder. "Fingernails!" Then scratch. Hard. Aaaaaaah!
As a teenager, I shared a bedroom with my youngest sister, Annie. We would sometimes crawl into bed together and take turns tickling each other -- that same spot on the arm that grandpa favored. It was crucial that timing was equal and that neither of us had a single second more of bliss than the other, so we'd either watch the clock or count the strokes in order to achieve fairness.
In 1985, as I prepared to become a mother, I read volumes of material about pregnancy, delivery, and caring for a newborn. Every book had a chapter on sleeping, soothing, and comforting a child who would wake during the night. 'Stroke the back lightly.' It was a long time before Katie bought it.
I first remember tickling her when she was a year old. We'd taken a family trip Expo 86, the World's Fair, at Vancouver, British Columbia. Katie was not happy with her hotel surroundings and an unfamiliar playpen for a bed. I leaned over 'til my back ached, softly stroking her face until she was lulled into sleep. Every night. I guess she became accustomed to it, because 10 years later, she still wants to be tickled. Every night.
It is quite a process these days, our bedtime routine; sometimes an ordeal, as each child has her own sub-routine. Even DH has had to learn how to tickle. It seems that as they get older, the number of "spots" decreases. Katie is down to wanting only her back done -- tickle, scratch, rub -- and sometimes that celebrated stretch of inner arm. Alison likes her legs tickled, as well as her back and arms.
Madeleine... is still young. Sometimes I can see her wheels turning as she tries to think of a spot I haven't done yet, and tries to prolong bedtime. I sit on the edge of her bed and she rests her heels on my shoulder while I tickle at her direction, "thighs," "back of thighs," "legs," "knees," "back of knees," "feet," "back of feet" (the tops), "right here" (pointing to her inner foot). She removes her feet from my shoulders and we continue, "tummy" "chest," "side" (up to arm pits), "other side," "armpits," "back," "arms," "hands" (palms), "back of hands," "neck," "back of neck," "face," "shoulders." When each area is completed, she says, "Gotta-itch," and I scratch before moving on to the next thing. It sounds worse than it is. Sometimes it's just a stroke or two for the "tickle," followed by a quick scratch, and she's done. If she's anxious to look at a book before she turns off the light, she'll dismiss me quite soon -- though I'm sometimes called back to complete the job if she realizes that she's been too hasty.
Will this family thing, this love of the tickle, endure? I'll let you know when I'm a grandma!
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And we'll just continue to wait-and-see, as I won't be a grandma anytime soon.
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HEY, THERE'S A CONTEST GOING ON! And I'll tell you, I am LOVING the entries!! Tell me your favorite bedtime ritual -- funny or not -- something you do with your kids, something you remember from your own childhood, something you do now!!
To qualify, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT telling me your FAVORITE BEDTIME RITUAL -- ON YESTERDAY'S POST ONLY -- by MIDNIGHT (CST) on SUNDAY, JULY 12th; winner will be chosen at random and announced on Monday.