His hand is small, and soft, and it fits in mine just so. As we navigate the world together, our hands connect and I feel like his lifeline, making sure that his adventures don’t take him into territory that is too dangerous. I keep watch, and keep hold, and mother him.
When my efforts to keep him safe begin to feel stifling to him, he tries to pull loose. Sometimes, I let him. Other times, I don’t, gripping tighter as he turns his little legs to jelly, twisting his arm this way and that, his voice calling out in protest. No! No! No! No! No! I won’t get smushed by a car, I promise! No! Still, I hold on to his soft little hand, letting him yell out his frustrations, refusing to compromise. He can be as angry as he wants, as long as I know that he’s safe.
It’s not always, so fraught, though. Most of the time he’s quite content to hold my hand, and I am happy to hold his.
There have been other soft baby hands I’ve held. My own first baby, my daughter, had impossibly small hands when she was born six weeks too early. They looked not quite real, somehow, the veins showing through the almost translucent skin. And still, on my first visit to see her in the NICU she had an IV feeding into the back of one of those little hands. I wouldn’t believe it was possible, but I have photos to prove it. They fitted a little medicine cup over top of her whole hand to protect the narrow tubing, and make sure it stayed in place.
When I was pregnant with my son I remember holding my then three-year-old daughter’s hand in mine, imagining it would be impossible for my new baby’s hands to be softer than hers. Then, she still seemed small to me. I still thought of her as that dainty little newborn. It changed when my son was born, and he gripped my finger tight with his little baby hand. This was softness beyond measure. This was small. Instantly, my daughter looked bigger to my eyes. In comparison to her brother, her hands (which are still on the small side for her age) seemed enormous.
My daughter’s hands have lost the almost shocking softness they used to hold. More than seven years spent grabbing hold of the world and wringing everything she could from it have left their mark. She bears blisters and callouses from hours spent on the monkey bars. Her fingers show the unmistakeable signs of someone who chews their nails. Sometimes she writes on the back of her hands, leaving messages for herself. Reminders of how to spell a word, or just doodles when drawing on paper gets old.
My own hands are marked by more than three and a half decades of life. They have scars, moles and freckles. In places their lines are etched deep, and the skin is not as tight as it once was. My fingers, always a little bit short and stubby, have become used to work. They know the feel of hot soapy water, they know how to cook and knit and sew and type quickly, by feel. They’re not rough, but they’re not really soft, either. I can’t be bothered to moisturize, I’m afraid. But they are capable, and when each hand has hold of one of my children’s hands, I somehow feel as if all is right with the world.
My son’s hands don’t betray so many signs of living, though. They’re the hands of a small child, and as I hold them I try to memorize how they feel. One day, I know, they won’t be like this. He’ll start playing on the monkey bars, climbing trees – maybe take up guitar. He’ll grow taller than me and get hair on his knuckles and won’t want to hold my hand, not ever. So I cling to them. I relish the moments when he puts his palms on my face, to make a point or get my attention. I feel his baby-ness in his hands, which diminishes every day. Soon there won’t be any baby-ness left at all.
His hand is small, and soft, and it fits in mine just so. And I am clinging to it for dear life.