Seven-year-old Beckett Carlson loves hugs, just like his mom. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beckett hadn't been able to give or get many hugs until his mom created a special door to avoid spreading germs.
"Beckett is an incredibly affectionate kid,” his mom, Sarah Carlson, said. “At school, he gives kisses to other people, and he'll reach out and kiss your hand or he just (does this) kiss, kiss, kiss ... sounds, because he wanted you to show him some affection, too.”
Several years ago, Carlson read an article that said that giving eight hugs a day improves your health, and the idea’s stuck with her.
"People at work know me for this eight hugs a day thing. When I give hugs, it's not just like a tap on your back and a quick squeeze ... It increases our endorphins. It helps us feel better, and why wouldn't we do something that's so beneficial for our health every day? Well, then coronavirus kind of interrupts that plan and now hugging is dangerous. What a sad world!"
Sarah calls hugs "gushies," and since the pandemic started, she and her neighbors had been giving each other air gushies.
"The neighbors, if I take the dog for a walk, they'll tap on their window, and then we're giving air gushies to each other. It's sweet … I am a hugger myself, and so I'm hugged deprived,” she said.
So was Beckett.
“Since they've started distance learning ... the biggest thing that he has missed is all of the social interactions that he has with his friends, so I was trying to figure out a way - how can we do this and still provide safety against this global pandemic that will protect everybody," Sarah said.
When a friend sent her an idea for a makeshift door that would allow her and Beckett to safely hug others, she jumped on it.
“Beckett and I worked on it all afternoon one day, and he went to bed, and I was just so determined to finish it because it was so close. Then I hollered at my husband, and I went outside. 'You've got to test this with me. Does it work?' He's like, 'Yep. You're nuts, Sarah,'" she laughed.
The next morning, Sarah surprised her son with the finished door.
“He was pretty excited, and so I ran outside and gave him a squeeze from the other side (to) show him how it worked … The very first couple of people that came over, he was like pulling their hand, like 'Come on inside,'" she laughed.
The door was made from a shower curtain that Sarah attaches to the frame with velcro so that it's easily removable. It has holes cut into it that are ringed with the edges of paper plates. Attached to those are clear plastic bags that allow the hugger to reach inside for a hug without spreading germs to the other person.
"We wanted there to be different heights of accessibility so that Beckett could reach through the door at the height that he's at and then a kiddo can reach through and hug him back or an adult could hug another adult," Sarah said.
When the door was complete, she surprised their neighbors, telling them to come over to their deck.
“They were the first ones to come over. I was like, 'I've got a great surprise.' Little Maddie, she's like, 'I can give you a real gushy!'" she laughed.
There's also a hole at the bottom for their dog.
"We have a little dog, and she was like nosing it like what are you doing here, so then I had to make a dog hole," Sarah said. "The next day when people came over, I threw some dog treats in her little hole so she could stick her head in and the visitors could give her a pat."
When the door isn’t in use, it’s rolled up. When it’s ready for use again, it’s unfurled and the family sets out a sanitation station for the visiting huggers to sanitize the holes they put their arm in.
“I was so overcome by joy with creating this because I think that people right now are just kind of in a hard place,” Sarah said. “ It's not easy. … (I was) trying to create something that is lighthearted and joyful and safe, but it still really centers on connection … Our biggest need and desire in our lives as humans is to connect with others, and that might be the wonderful community that we have in Dickinson and the connections that we make with each other, but it also is just personal connection that we're so deprived of right now just because of the warnings that are out there.”
Now Beckett can give hugs without spreading anything but his infectious joy.