The power of touch: I’m shielding with small children. Chubby thigh squeezes have saved my 2020

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When I lie down on the floor – which is frequently at the moment because I’ve spent exactly 116 days in lockdown with a three-year-old and her baby brother and I’m never not utterly exhausted – my daughter takes advantage. She clambers up my shins, hooks her tiny rib cage over my bent knees and pulls herself up until it feels as if her lungs may crumple … then dives headfirst down my thighs, crash landing on my stomach with a shriek of pure glee. We call it the Slide Game, one of the many activities we do together best described as “fun at first, losing its appeal by the 57th go”.

The Slide Game normally ends with a bear hug; her trapped wriggling under my arms as I press our faces together, wondering how long I can get away with not letting her go, because I want to never let her go. At least she can wriggle free, unlike her brother, who has little say in accepting my shower of soggy kisses and chubby thigh squeezes. Not that he seems to mind, choosing to attach himself to me koala-like for large parts of the day, nails dug in my neck while my lips rest on his fuzzy hair.

Lockdown has been cruel on everyone I know, in all kinds of ways. I’ve been shielding because it’s still unclear whether the blood clotting cancer I have interacts badly with Covid-19. That has meant embarking on a perma-childcare shift, one that normally begins at about 5am and stretches ahead like a road in the desert, with no places to refuel along the way. I barely leave the house, my brain has turned to mush and I often find myself sitting slumped with my phone, too tired to conjure up entertainment beyond finding the channel PAW Patrol is on.

But lack of human touch is not a trauma I can share. In a world starved of physical contact, I’m a guilty glutton, squirrelled away with my plentiful supply, entangled in a cornucopia of limbs; feet in my ribs; fingers in my nostrils. My kids slip soapily down my body when I shower them, murmur gently when I hug them close, spray hay fever sneezes across my face like the super-spreaders of love that they are. I can’t get enough. To quote the great Labi Siffre, I could almost eat them. Sometimes, I try, swallowing my son’s shoulder blade or cheek whole – nyom-nyom-nyom – while he yanks at my hair and ears (actually incredibly painful, please stop, if you’re reading this).

At the end of this year, when corona was still just something you put half a lime in, I asked the comedian Rob Delaney how he spends his time when he is at home. “Jigsaws,” he said, “and being sat on by as many of my children as possible at any one time.” Well, my wife and I bought a 1,000-piece jigsaw after that comment and, after spending six months piecing it together, we both can confirm the second activity is a lot more fun. Touch is like a circuit board lighting up your insides, a druggy jolt racing through your pleasure diodes.

So while this year has undoubtedly been one of the toughest periods I can remember, I can’t pretend that this abundance of touch has ever been suffocating, or even annoying. Instead, I have learned that touch is the one thing you can never have too much of.