I remember the first time she grabbed my thumb with fierce but impossibly tiny fingers. She held on as if she’d never let go.
After that, she grabbed at everything. Toys and teething rings, computer cords, cats’ fur, my hair. Let go, baby, I’d say gently, unclenching her little hands from their vice grip.
Soon those haphazard fingers became deliberate tools, scrawling words with backwards letters, plunking out music of sorts, and painting scenes in need of deciphering. She held my hand for safety and security, pulling me toward balloons and butterflies. Don’t let go! I warned as she dragged me across busy streets and into her future.
We arrive too quickly. She announces the end of training wheels. I place one hand on the bike seat and one on her shoulder. She wobbles and panics, so I tighten my grip. Don’t let go! she pleads. Not til you’re ready, I promise.
She's afraid when I start to push, but I tell her that you have to move forward in order to learn. She grips the handlebars with white knuckles, but soon finds her balance. Okay, she tells me. You can let go, Mom. I let go, and she flies.
Years pass. The skill of her hands catches up to the wonder of her mind as lengthening fingers become instruments of ingenuity. She takes my hand to pull me toward her 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. She laughs 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 hers, and I realize how long it’s been. I hesitate momentarily before grasping her hand. It’s strong, capable, the same size as my own, but smoother. And as she leans her head on my shoulder, I know where we are.
Those tiny hands that held my thumb now do entire loads of 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.
She still needs me, of course, but she doesn’t need my hands to hold her steady and keep her safe. She untangles her own knots, bandages her own wounds, writes her own stories, creates her own beauty.
I slow down a bit as our house comes into view. I tighten my grip on her hand, and she doesn'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 her to build her own life.
Time for her to hold other hands.
Time for both of us to let go.
Let go, baby.
You can let go, Mom.
I squeeze her hand once more.