We were in a parking lot at a chain restaurant when it happened. I reached out my hand, expecting a smaller one to fit right in the recess between forefinger and thumb. I felt just the tips of fingertips and then … air.
It wasn’t the first time. We went through this when she was just a toddler, still buckling at the rules inherent in being old enough to walk but not ready to do so alone. This was different. She is, at 9, fairly autonomous in public. She knows to watch for cars in the parking lot, not to run wild. She is learning to be safer, if not safe. This is growing up.
But holding her hand is my instinct. I’m the mother. I need to keep her safe.
Her instinct told her to look around. At the cars in the parking lot. At her friends.
She is old enough now to judge dangers and to judge other things too. The perception of the outside world. Her own feelings about independence and safety.
I didn’t ask her then why it was that she let my fingers slip from hers, but I did later, and I got a strange look. “It’s creepy,” she said of hand-holding.
“But what about when you were younger?” I persisted. “It wasn’t creepy then.”
“Well, I needed to hold your hand then. I needed you to keep me safe.”
More From Inside Out: So This Is Growing Up
What she didn’t say was, “I don’t need you to keep me safe anymore.” Of course she still does. We don’t hand over car keys, voter registration or bottles of alcohol to 9-year-olds. They’re older and wiser than toddlers but they need to double their age — and experience — before we will consider them adults.
If I’m honest with myself, truly honest, I know deep down that she doesn’t need to hold my hand anymore; not in a parking lot. She knows what the dangers are, knows to watch out for SUVS backing up, for cars swinging wildly into open spots. At best, grasping her fingers between mine is to make me FEEL safer.
But not at least reaching for that hand – even knowing that it may not be there – is not yet an option. I haven’t yet given up on being the rock, the port in the storm, the one who takes care of business. My hand will always be there … whether she holds it or not.
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