First steps, first words and first days of school are happy markers in life, but what about when something happens for the last time? Do we even realize what’s happening?
The moment he pulled his hand away, I knew I was experiencing a significant last. It hurt so badly, I almost choked, but held it together, the day my son last held my hand — or so I thought.
I went to Harrison’s elementary school to pick him up early for a dentist appointment. He must have been in the third or fourth grade and came bounding into the front office ready to go, except he remembered at the last second, he forgot a book he needed. He said, “walk with me to the classroom and I’ll show you my art project.” He was so happy and grabbed my hand and chattered away as we walked down the corridor lined with construction paper lions with curlicue manes.
Another class of children walking in a line as straight as popcorn approched, and that’s when it happened. His little fingers went stiff and his hand was straight like a board. I was dumped right next to the water fountain at Possum Holler Elementary School.
I didn’t see it coming and he gave me no hint this was the direction he was taking. Wanting his freedom at 9 years old, he left me hanging, clinging to air. It felt like a thunderstorm.
My heart dropped, because I knew exactly what was going on, but I kept a brave face and didn’t comment. Didn’t he understand I needed to hold his hand for the rest of his life? He was so adorable and I needed to have that little bit of connection while he was still little and then maybe even again when he was walking across the stage at high school graduation.
When he finally grew into a giant college kid, we took him to visit Italy, where everyone holds hands and walks arm in arm. At first, our boys thought it was strange, but eventually, when they saw a grown father and son walking arm in arm and school girls and ladies on their way to lunch, and old Nanas with their middle aged daughters holding tightly to each other and strolling down rough cobblestone streets, Harrison took notice and offered me his hand, which was now, much larger and stronger than mine. It felt like sunshine.
I did the mom-swoon and had dreamy eyes with little hearts for pupils. It made up for being dumped all those years before under the florescent lights in the school that smelled like cafeteria rolls and sweat.
I realized part of his plan for keeping a firm grip on me was to keep me moving and prevent me from stopping to look in every single store window, but it was also to keep me from twisting my ankles on the cobblestones. And I know good and well, that deep down inside, it was also an excuse to be my little kid again and hold his mom’s hand.
The school was big, and he was small, so I held his hand for love and protection. And now the world is large and I am small, and he continues to let me hold on to him for the same exact reasons.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.