Hands-Free

Hands-Free

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

Hands-Free

Let your children go if you want to keep them.

Malcolm Forbes

While walking into the grocery store yesterday, I couldn’t escape the feeling that something was wrong. I checked my purse for my keys and checkbook. I felt for my sunglasses on top of my head. Everything was accounted for down to the list in my hand, and that’s when I realized what was wrong. My hands—no one was holding my hands.

I was shopping without my husband or kids. There was no one to pull me along if I chose to dawdle and no one for me to drag away from the candy aisle (though I must say, now that my husband is forty, he’s getting better about not begging for treats).

I sat down on a bench at the end of the checkout line to ponder this feeling of freedom. I haven’t had “free” hands since the birth of my oldest son sixteen years ago. When they wheeled me out of the hospital with my precious bundle in my arms, I felt overwhelmed. Then they handed me his diaper bag, my purse, several pots of flowers, a balloon bouquet, and a list of important childcare instruc- tions. I scanned the list. Nowhere did it tell me how to grow an extra pair of hands.

We humans are adaptable creatures. Caring for my son quickly became second nature. When he was two years old, we presented him with a baby brother, and I realized I hadn’t even begun to master the art of baby juggling. After some tearful trips to the grocery store, I dried my eyes and bought a baby leash. I could traipse about with a baby in my arms, one tethered to my hand, and an extra-large diaper bag slung over my shoulder.

Soon our second child was walking. The older held my hand and tried to help me rein in his perpetually moving sibling. I finally realized I could leave the diaper bag in the car, and life became more manageable. Then a third child was added to our family.

What to do? Three children and only two hands? I bought an infant front pack, and I now had one hand for my five-year-old to cling to and one hand for the wild toddler who needed at least six hands to contain him.

Finally the glorious day arrived when all three children could walk and were toilet trained. I no longer needed to carry a diaper bag! We all linked hands when we crossed the street, or when we approached the candy aisle of the grocery store. Freedom and free hands were in reach.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a fourth child was on the way! The juggling routine reappeared with a vengeance. I was astounded by a whole new selection of baby products designed to make a mother’s life easier. Sippy cups, disposable bottles, and Snugglies were wonderful, but no matter how clever these conveniences were, they still weren’t as helpful an extra pair of hands.

So how did I end up alone at the store with no one pulling on my hands as I pondered the ripeness of the melons, and no one straining at a leash while I sniffed the scented candles?

I blinked, and suddenly my firstborn was sixteen and fully capable of holding down the fort for a few hours while I shopped. I got up to get a cart, and my hands swung listlessly at my sides. I felt incomplete, as if I were missing a limb. I had so longed for the day when my hands would be free again, but now I couldn’t remember why.

I looked up to see an elderly woman tottering through the exit toward the congested parking lot. A man about my age appeared at her side. “Here, Mom, take my hand. I can’t have you wandering away from me,” he said. The woman looked at his outstretched hand and smiling she intertwined her fingers with his.

I have seen the future. It isn’t all hands-free, and I’m glad.

Cindy Hval

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