I never held my children’s hands. Or, to be precise: I never made them hold mine. Growing up, I associated holding hands with suppression, fear and embarrassment. When people, who said they loved me, squeezed my hand too tight or even scratched me in the palm for minor offences like not saying ‘hello’ to acquaintances. To me holding hands became a form of restraint, a form of punishment.
Not surprisingly, as soon as my children could walk unaided, I let their hands go. I wasn’t one of those mums desperately clinging on to their toddlers preventing them from running across roads. I just slowed down to their pace, stopped when they stopped and ran when they ran. Yes, I am a sucker for punishment! Yet, the truth is, nothing bad has ever come of it. They survived their childhood without any major accidents and they have learnt that I trust them to walk beside me on the pavement. The interesting thing was that as they grew older and got over the initial wild joy that a toddler experiences when first discovering the freedom of movement (they run everywhere), there came a stage when they wanted to hold hands. It was their way of expressing affection and belonging. This stage has never really passed. I still catch Teenager (who is still only 13) reaching out for my hand as we walk on the street only to stop herself half-way, realising that that’s not cool. Mopsy (don’t worry, only a family nick name!), who is 11, still requires hand-holding, even though I have reassured her several times that I won’t be offended if she one day decides to let go. No, she won’t. By defiantly carrying on holding my hand, she is sending a message to the world that she is not ashamed to love her mum. That her love outweighs the embarrassment caused by this public expression of affection. Yet, today she let go.
Yesterday Mopsy fell flat on her face on the pavement on her way to a friend’s house. It was a minor accident, she got away lightly with a few scratches to her hands, knees and … face. This morning she woke up, filled with dread. She was afraid to face her peers. Her main concern was not the red swollen patch of skin on her cheek. It was how she got it. Tweenies are like Klingons: to them what matters is not so much the injury but its cause. Were you in a fight? Did someone beat you up? Were you involved in a heroic rescue mission? Did you do a dare (e.g.: fell through the neighbour’s garage roof whilst garden hopping)? In that case your injury is honourable, to be flaunted and carried with pride. Did you trip over your own leg and fall flat on your face on the pavement carrying two tennis rackets on your way to a friend’s house? Well, then you are an oen (see previous post) and you deserve to be ‘stoned’, laughed at and ridiculed. There are no two ways about this; empathy does not come into it. Unfortunately, Mopsy belonged to the latter category this morning, and she was getting ready to face her fate. To separate friend from foe.
As we were approaching school, I did something uncharacteristic: I reached out for her hand. In sympathy and solidarity. Her response was sudden and surprising: ‘Not now, Mum.’ In that short sentence she summed up all the loneliness of the world (I mentioned before). The fact that this was something she had to face on her own. That there was no amount of ‘mummy love’ or family solidarity that would help her through this. This was her own private little tragedy in her personal ‘mini-universe’ and I had no part in it.
Today she stands on her own.
Tomorrow she might hold my hand again.
I will leave you with one of my favourite songs from Jess Glynne: Hold My Hand