By Robin R.
At least a dozen years before our daughter Pearl was born, I read a psychoanalytical essay about tickling by Adam Phillips. It was fascinating then, and now that I am a mother, I've thought about it many times.
In our family, tickling was one of the earliest interactions to develop beyond the nearly constant duties of feeding, bathing, and changing diapers in the first few months after birth. What a remarkable thing it was to make her laugh with delight for the first time!
Once the ritual of tickling became familiar to our girl, the anticipation of getting tickled was just as pleasurable as the tickling itself. We used a special hand motion, moving a thumb toward then away from the palm, imitating a bird moving its beak, and she would start laughing her raspy laugh as soon as she saw the hand advancing. In other words, she would laugh before she'd felt any contact at all.
Often, descriptions of children getting tickled echo the notion of "helpless with pleasure." As ticklers, we are -- without really thinking about it -- constantly negotiating the effects of our art. If we go too far, pleasure crosses a line into pain, and as parents we recognize when to stop.
Even though I grew up hearing phrases such as "helpless as a babe in the woods," I must admit that I was shocked and deeply moved by the vulnerability of our infant child. As parents, we are constantly called on to respect our children's inability to take care of themselves.
I didn't grow up in a family that did much tickling. For us, tickling has become an expression of love, like a hug or a kiss. The give and take, push and pull of safe physical interaction helps us build stronger bonds with our kids. Through tickling, we create fun with our bodies. One cannot tickle one's self.