I remember the first time you grabbed my thumb with fierce but impossibly tiny fingers. You held on as if you’d never let go.
After that, you grabbed at everything. Toys and teething rings, but also computer cords, cats’ fur, my hair. “Let go, baby,” I’d say gently, unclenching your vice grip.
Soon your haphazard fingers became deliberate tools, scrawling words with backwards letters, plunking out music of sorts, and painting scenes in need of deciphering. You grabbed my hand for safety and security, pulling me toward balloons and butterflies. “Don’t let go!” I warned as you dragged me across busy streets and into your future.
We arrive too quickly. You announce the end of training wheels. I place one hand on the bike seat and one on your shoulder. You wobble and panic, so I tighten my grip. “Don’t let go!” you plead. “Not ’til you’re ready,” I promise.
You’re afraid when I start to push, but I tell you that you have to move forward in order to learn. You grip the handlebars with white knuckles, but soon find your balance. “OK,” you tell me. “You can let go, Mom.” I let go, and you fly.
Years pass. The skill of your hands catches up to the wonder of your mind as lengthening fingers become instruments of ingenuity. You take my hand to pull me toward your latest creation, and I am struck by how it feels. This is not the instinctual grasp of a growing child, but the intentional grip of a whole human.
I don’t notice that I’m holding on too long. You laugh gently. “You can let go, Mom.” The air feels cold against my palm.
We walk together after dinner and talk about things to come. My fingers brush against yours, and I realize how long it’s been. I hesitate for a moment before grasping your hand. It’s strong and capable, the same size as my own, but smoother. As you lean your head on my shoulder, I recognize where we are.
Those tiny hands that held my thumb now do their own laundry and make pancakes from scratch. Those once-haphazard fingers now fly expertly across keyboards and canvases, typing deep thoughts, making actual music, painting real pictures.
You still need me, of course, but you don’t need my hands to hold you steady and keep you safe. You untangle your own knots, bandage your own wounds, write your own stories, and create your own beauty.
Our pace slows a bit as our house comes into view. I tighten my grip on your hand, and you don’t pull away. A message passes silently between us: Don’t let go. Not yet. But we can both feel it. The time is coming.
Time for you to build your own life.
Time for you to hold other hands.
Time for both of us to let go.
Let go, baby.
You can let go, Mom.
I squeeze your hand once more.