One day recently, I watched as a mother successfully completed the juggling act that is getting two children under 3 from the car, safely through a parking lot, and to the entrance of their destination. “Hold my hand,” she told them.
Both kids were old enough to walk – one of them clearly would have preferred to run and kept trying to shake off his mother’s hand, the other one appeared to want a leisurely stroll with multiple stops to investigate things that caught his interest. The result was one child always trying to get ahead, one child always lagging just behind, and the mother stretched as far as her arms could reach between the two with her head swiveling to watch both kids and the parking lot traffic. She handled the situation like the pro she clearly was, but I saw her exhale when they reached the safety of the sidewalk and I recognized a younger version of myself in her actions. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I was that mother…”Hold my hand,” I’d say, feeling like I always needed more hands and more eyes, holding my breath several times a day as I navigated 2 children from point A to point B, and thinking there would never be a day when just leaving the house could be accomplished with relative ease.
We are long past those days. At 10 and almost 12, the kids are both spreading their wings a little more all the time. It’s still not easy to leave the house – but once we get them out the door, it’s more and more frequent that they are leaving on their own, or that we are leaving and they are staying home. My son rides his bike to school with a group of other middle schoolers from the neighborhood. My daughter walks to school with a couple of classmates who live around the corner. I am more likely to do a curbside drop off from the car when delivering them to practices or lessons. We are leaving them home alone (together or solo) for increasingly longer periods of time. Boundaries are shifting and expectations are expanding. The question of “what is allowed” is fluid – what wasn’t allowed last week, might be the new normal next week. I still feel like I always need more hands and eyes, and hold my breath several times a day – but now it’s because we are trusting them to navigate their own way out in the world, and I can’t remember the last time I said to either one of the kids, “Hold my hand.”
There is very little actual hand holding these days. Certainly, not the kind that is meant to assure physical safety. It’s entirely likely, that days can pass without me holding either one of their hands. We hug, we kiss, we cuddle, we talk….but hand holding has become a pretty rare form of physical contact. I can’t say when that happened, but somewhere along the way we let go, and more often than not if I try to take their hands in public they are quick to dodge the attempt and quietly assert their independence.
And yet twice yesterday, my daughter reached out for my hand. Both were brief moments – hand holds that were more quick squeezes than prolonged attachment – but in both cases, she reached out for me. I can’t say what prompted her either time, but they were a couple of very sweet moments.
The second time she took my hand, I realized how small her hand still feels in my own. I looked down and saw a tiny hand that in many ways still resembles the hand of her 3-year-old self. And I took a second to say a tiny prayer of gratitude, that for all of her rush to grow up and be independent, she still felt the desire to reach out for me.
There are more moments where I wonder if I am being the best parent I can be for my kids than there are moments I an certain that I am the best parent I can be. Twice yesterday, my daughter gave me the gift of assurance that we are doing this parenting thing (mostly!) right – and as long as they will still (occasionally!) reach for my hand, I have to think we must be finding that balance between encouraging them to forge their own path in the world while always knowing we are there for support.