When my baby was about nine months old, he started giving out hugs with his own unique twist: He'd wrap his chubby arms around whomever he was hugging, and then gently pat their back. It made sense; his bedtime routine usually consists of Daddy holding him in his arms and gently patting his back until he falls asleep. The logic behind the behavior didn't diminish my gut-level reaction, however, at the sight of my son snuggled up in Daddy's arms, his small hand barely reaching around the curve of Daddy's broad shoulders, patting away.
Now 14 months old, my son says "Pat-pat" as he hugs and pats, and what we've dubbed "baby hugs with pat-pats" are a big part of family life. Along with the cuteness factor, my curiosity has been piqued: is my son just mimicking the behavior he's observed? Or does he possess some rudimentary understanding of the meaning of a hug, a pat on the back? In the middle of a difficult day recently, I sat down on the couch and put my head in my hands, trying not to cry ...1