As we walked the neighbor’s dog the other day, something happened that changed my day entirely. I had worn flip-flops as we left the house, not expecting to walk a mile with the dog or the children. But as we drove towards Home Depot (where they know us by name at this point), the children remembered they needed to feed and water Digby, so we stopped at our neighbor’s house. No problem, I thought, I can sit in the car while they complete their chores. They had failed to mention a walk was part of the deal.
So off we went around the circle. About half-way through the first loop, the youngest sighed and announced that having a dog is hard (she’s not much of a walker) and it would be easier if I carried her. I told her that wasn’t going to happen. She was hot, I was hot, and she is not as small as she used to be.
Another deep sigh from the seven year old.
Then, as if resigned to continuing our journey, she simply slipped her hand in mine.
As a parent, there is something very sweet when a child slips his or her hand in yours. All at once it gives you a feeling of pride and a sense of responsibility. She knew she was safe with me. She knew she could keep up if she stayed in step with dad. She knew she would not get lost, left behind, or left out if she simply held on.
As we walked, I wondered what went through her mind in the moments before she took my hand. We teach our children to hold our hands when they are very little and we are crossing the street. We teach our children to hold our hands in the store when the crowds are overwhelming. Though they fight about it, squeeze one another’s hands too hard, and generally annoy one another we hold hands when we pray at Mass. Sometimes on movie nights, when the movie is scary and the characters on the screen face the unknown, we hold hands. Somehow, the act of touching someone makes the unknown more bearable.
Do you remember the first time you held the hand of someone you loved as an adult? That moment there was a connection, a spark, a nervous calm as you realized you were falling in love?
It still overwhelms me sometimes to think about how much responsibility comes with raising children. Inside, I am still a child wishing I could hold the hand of my father or mother.
I know that the day is coming when the hands of my children will grow too big to hold. The day will come when they will reach for someone else’s hand to make them feel safe.
For now, however, I will hold on. I will protect them. I will guide them safely across the busy streets. And I will cherish the moments when they slip their hands in mine and, despite all my faults, trust that I will walk them home.