She lay in the crook of my arm, wrapped in fleece and the scent of pink baby lotion. Her fingers — wrinkly from 37 weeks in a womb — wound tightly around one of mine. She gripped my heart, and I held on hard.
I marveled at how tightly a five-pound human could grasp hold of her mama.
But I knew the grip of fingers would loosen over time.
And they did.
She grew bigger, blew out the single candle on the frosted cake. That day, she borrowed her mama’s balance. She grabbed both of my hands, and I hovered over top of her while she wobbled, bow-legged, across the living room. I hoped that soon, she would let go and walk on her own.
And she did.
And I chased hard to keep up. But most times, she still wore me like protective armor. When she got scared of the store clerks and old church ladies who wanted to pinch her cheeks, she knew whose knees to crouch behind.
I knew she’d step out from behind her mama-shield someday soon.
I flipped pages on a calendar
Earth spun ’round,
and days that seemed to crawl
turned into years that
And the little girl let go of the finger and moved out from behind her mama’s pant-legs and stopped reaching for the hand of security.
She grew big, and she let go — just like they all said she would.
Because she had to learn to stand on her own.
So did I.
Letting go hurts.
I reached for her hand, to guide her across the parking lot to the glass doors of the movie theater.
“Mom … You don’t have to hold my hand all the time,” she said, and jerked her hand away. “I can walk on my own.”
The corners of my mouth drooped, heavy with rejection.
“Ma-ahhhhm,” she said, and her words wore a weight of their own — part guilt, part independence. “I’m big enough, OK?”
“I know, I know,” I sighed, shoving sorrow deep.
And she shoved balled fists into pockets of plaid shorts. She walked on ahead of me.
And I behind.
The other day, I went outside to test a new kite. And hard as I could, I couldn’t get that kite to soar.
I ran with it a while, and wished it higher and higher, until it caught a gust. The more string I let out, the higher it soared.
When I dropped the string, it fell fast and hard.
I’m letting string out now, letting her soar more.
But I haven’t let go entirely. They say you never will.
I’m learning that the thing about raising a girl is this: Even when she flies, she’ll be looking back from time to time to see if you’re still there, holding on to keep things steady when the wind blows hard.
So I won’t take the hand away. Even though she doesn’t know it, I’m holding on. And one day, she’ll need to hold on, too.
She came to me today, and needed a hand.
I had one to give.
Photo: We held hands today.
Most Wednesdays, I join Ann Voskamp as we consider spiritual practices that draw us nearer to the heart of God. Today, we are talking in community about the spiritual practice of parenting.