He takes my hand in his and gives it two gentle squeezes, and I forget all else going on in that moment. I look at him quizzically; he seems to hang on to every one of my words these days. Two days before I had squeezed his own hand in mine, and he had asked me why. “It’s a way to tell someone that you love them, without using words. It shows them that you are thinking about them.”
He quickly adopts this as a new form of communication, surprising me with hand squeezes while we’re in the car, out on a walk, and running errands; a constant reminder that he’s thinking about me, his hand memorizing the feeling of my own.
In the coming weeks I find myself more and more aware of what is occupying my boys’ hands. I read it in Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, Hands Free Life, “I want my daughters to remember holding our cat, Banjo; a wooden spoon to form cookie dough; musical instruments; books; bike handlebars; ladybugs; seashells; and especially my hand in theirs.”
I read her words as I sit out on our back deck, watching my boy, nearing five years old, practicing his grip on an old tennis racquet, maneuvering it just right to hit a plastic ball across the yard.
Stafford continues in her book, “Because my actions greatly influence their actions, I make it a priority to exercise daily, go outside, and do things with my hands like baking and reading books.”
I’m thankful today that my boy sees my hands occupied with the pages of a book, a pen, and my journal; and in a few minutes, with a tennis ball as I join him in the yard. I know that many times—too many times—they see my hands busying themselves in a cadence across the laptop keyboard, or they watch my thumb dancing across the screen of my smart phone. And yes, the work is important, but I have to ask myself, do they see my hands wrapped around technology more than they see them fingering the pages a book, sprinkling cinnamon sugar over muffins, or wrapped around their Daddy’s hand?
What our children observe our hands holding day in and day out will greatly determine what they decide to busy their own hands with. What might begin to change if we started taking note of what occupies our hands most?
I want my children to know well the slight cramp of thumb and wrist after gripping a marker or paintbrush, as they splash color across a blank canvas. I want them to know the feeling of both bread dough and garden soil caked underneath their fingernails. When their hands slip into mine, I want to feel their small calluses from swinging on the monkey bars and pulling each other around the yard in the wagon.
I want them to be well acquainted with the feeling of craft glue dried onto the tips of their fingers. I want their fingertips to know the softness of bird feathers, and the prickles of pine needles. I want them to know how to hold a pea pod between their hands, and slice it open with their thumb nail to get at the peas inside. I want them to memorize the perfect hand placements, and how to grip the branches just right to scale the tree at their favorite park.
Most of all, I want my children to know the assurance found in the slight squeeze of my hand around theirs, a silent reminder that I love them, and am thinking about them right there in that moment; and that I wouldn’t rather my hand be busy with anything else.
Today may we all pay a little more attention to what we occupy our hands with; choosing to fill them with the very things we hope our children will wrap their own hands around. May we be the ones to model what is truly important in life, by what we choose to grasp within our palms.
As Stafford says it so well, “Today I want you to remember my open hands—not my multitasking hands, the ones too full, too busy, too pushy to gently tuck your hair behind your ear. I want to love you by opening my two empty hands.”
Empty hands are hands that are ready to receive, whether it be that craft project they are so proud of, a bouquet of wild flowers gathered from the yard, or their own little hand in yours. What will fill your hands today?