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I can feel him staring at me. Ever loyal and hopeful, my little dog sits there – quiet and expectant – just staring at me. When I feel guilty for ignoring him and glance slightly in his direction, he jumps up and bounds over, tail wagging and eyes twinkling, as if I enthusiastically patted my leg and called him. And all I did was acknowledge his presence.

He drives me absolutely stark-raving mad some days, the way he follows me around the house and stares holes right through me.

When I walk the 12-foot span from my desk chair to the refrigerator, Woody follows me. If I turn and move the few feet from the fridge to the sink, Woody follows me. I find it quite irritating that he isn’t content to simply stake out one spot and watch – he has to move when I move. When I’ve completely ignored him for too long, he sometimes gives me one slight nudge on my calf with his little black nose and then steps back to await my reaction.

All he wants is attention and love. Woodstock (named for the little yellow bird in the Peanuts comic strip) is an apricot-colored, fuzzy toy poodle and very much a part of our family. He doesn’t just enjoy snuggles and attention – he thrives on it. When my daughter picks him up and holds him on her shoulder in the “burping baby” position, he wraps his front legs and little paws around her neck. I have to admit, in spite of myself, that he is very cute.

Woody often reminds me of my children when they were toddlers. They loved to be cuddled and hugged and played with. All I had to do was glance in their direction and they came running excitedly with arms open wide wanting to be swept up in a full-body embrace complete with multiple kisses and loving coos.

As my children get older (they are now 10, 13 and 14) they don’t actively seek out the kisses and cuddles so much anymore. Oh, my little girl still wants to sit in my lap and snuggle, but her older brothers wouldn’t be caught dead even thinking about it. And that’s a good thing – if they did, it would be weird. They would also crush my legs.

Although all outward signs indicate that mom’s smooches aren’t desired, I know that they need my warm affection now more than ever. These two fine boys of mine are growing rapidly into young men, devouring every bit of food in their path. Just as their bodies need an ample supply of nourishment, their hearts and minds require the nourishment and physical signs of unending parental love.

It isn’t delivered in the same method as before. I no longer smother their faces with kisses, or tousle their hair in front of their friends, but I don’t hesitate to give them a quick hug or a kiss on the forehead just because a buddy is in the room. I want my boys, and their friends, to know that ours is a home filled with love, comfort and respect. It’s important for them to understand that the parent-child relationship is something to be cherished – that as they become more independent and venture out on their own, mom’s unconditional love will always be something on which they can rely.

I also want my boys to realize and remember that hugs and kisses are something I need from them. When they have left our home for good to start homes and families of their own, I would hope their desire to keep in touch with me would come as natural as their desire to be good husbands and fathers. The truth is, they are more likely to become loving husbands and parents themselves if my husband and I have shown them how.

Woodstock and other family dogs are bold and relentless in their pursuit of attention. They never give up, are non-judgmental, suffer no embarrassment, and make no bones about their desire for affection. The mannerisms of teenagers are quite different – although most don’t pursue their parents attention and affection, teens crave both from the depths of their soul. A hand on the shoulder, an unexpected kiss on the cheek, a bear-hug at the very time they seem most distant, all go a long way in helping them develop into the sons, husbands and fathers that families need.

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