From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

The Secret Handshake

Dear John,

I must confess that your son—my new grandson— and I have a little secret. We made a pact that very first day you brought him home from the hospital and placed him in my arms. When no one was looking, I unfolded the loose cloth of his soft cotton sleeve to find his warm little fist, and I freed his fingers so they could wrap around one of mine. His grip was sure and steady and strong, as I knew it would be, and for an instant, as he clutched me, thoughts of what he meant to me were almost overwhelming.

I dreamed of all he has yet to do and be, and I remembered how you, my own brand-new baby not so many years ago, had also held on tightly. You, too, latched onto my finger and squeezed, not in fear, but in determination, as if to say, “This is my strength, my courage for now. I’m going to hold on tight, but only until I’m ready to handle the world on my own.”

Then, it seems that I merely blinked and you were letting go, long before I thought you would. A bright-colored rattle with an interesting noise caught your attention, and you needed to explore this new object with both of your smooth, round hands. I blinked again and you were stacking blocks to build a house that made you sit back with chest puffed out and stare in wide-eyed pride at a job well done.

Those precious fingers grew and moved on to hold a crayon, drawing pictures of sunny skies and stick figures as a pink triangle tip of a tongue darted out of the corner of your mouth in concentration. They molded clay animals, learned to tie shoes and held a knife to butter your own bread. I watched as they gripped your lunch box handle, a little too tightly in the Septembers of your childhood, more relaxed and swinging it by your side in May.

Those once-plump hands lost their rounded softness, and the fingers had grown long and slender by the time they gripped tools, dribbled a basketball and rested far too casually on the steering wheel of the first car you drove. Before I knew it, they had become the hands of a man, though some of their gentleness has remained, and I’m pretty sure my fond memories are not just making it so in my mind.

Then, the day came when I watched the hand that first gripped mine hold the hand of another woman. It felt strange, but somehow not wrong as you cupped your hand around her waist and danced with her.

I knew those many years ago, that fleeting instant when you first held on tight to my finger, we had made an agreement, sealed with a secret handshake, acknowledging that both of us would let go when the time was right. At that same instant, I knew that while we’d let go with our hands, we’d always remain connected in a beautiful, special way.

Now, as I think of my new grandson’s perfect little fist, with his fingers wrapped around mine, I know I could blink and he’ll be sitting up, wanting to hold his own spoon, prefer petting a dog or throwing a ball to holding onto Grandma’s hand or even his mommy’s or daddy’s. We could blink again, and he’ll be working math problems, casually cradling the phone on a broad shoulder as he talks to a girlfriend.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see him grow into a man, and as he slips a ring on the hand of his bride, I’ll be amazed at how large his hands have become.

I could think about these things and more, as I lament your passing youth and my own. For now though, I’d rather relish completely and selfishly the thrill I got as my precious new grandson gripped my finger and stared intently into my eyes. I know without a doubt that he was telling me he’d trust us to hold on, to teach him what he needs to know of life, to be there as long as he needs us. Then, when it’s time, we’ll all let go with our hands, but continue to hold on tight with our hearts.

Love always,

Lynn Stearns

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