And so, it happened. The day I was dreading. My
eight-year-old, dimple-faced boy dropped my hand yesterday as we approached his
It wasn’t as obvious a drop as my older son gave me when he
was that age. I think he feigned a stretch or a shrug or a jacket-adjustment,
when he decided he was too old to hold his mother’s hand in public. Whenever I
tried to re-grasp his hand (thinking the loss of it must have been some kind of
mistake), he kept it flat and lifeless like a fishmonger’s filet, with a
decided lack of reciprocation. I got the message—over and out.
At that time, I had a four-year-old and a baby in a
stroller, so losing hold of my firstborn’s hand didn’t feel so traumatic. In
fact, it probably felt freeing. Losing hold of my lastborn’s hand doesn’t feel
as freeing, though. It feels like the end of an era. It feels like rain.
As a woman who loves children (especially her own) I should,
ironically, consider myself lucky. I had close to 15 years of holding little
hands in mine. Walking my kids to school in the morning (except, I admit, for
meltdown mornings) has given me some of the sweetest imprints of my life. I’ve
loved the thoughts exchanged, the observations, the seriousness, the excitement
of it all.
Over the years, I’ve learned of mad crushes: “I get so
nervous when he stands in our group at recess. Do you think that means I love
him?” I’ve learned of hidden hurts: “I really miss Uncle Gary. I try not to
think of him getting sick. It makes me so sad.” I’ve learned of how much we mean
to each other: “I’m really glad you’re my mom, Mom.” All this while holding
hands across a sequence of blocks.
Now that I’m down to just one—the older two make their way
to school without me—I think I’m walking slower. We never rush. We ease our way
down Broadway. I’ll stop and fix his head of too-long, unruly blond hair. He’s
often late. We’ve even been known to stop for donuts along the way and sit in
the tiny shop window, people-watching until our last crumbs are consumed. This
sort of behavior would never have happened a few years back.
It’s probably melodrama now that makes me feel like losing a
hand-hold means losing a life phase. And yet, it’s kind of true. My high-school
son is off on his own more times than he’s home with us. On the rare occasions
I catch hold of his hand, the size and feel of it shocks me. When did he grow
up? My darling, middle-school daughter, who has a busier social calendar than
her older brother, will grab my hand, from time to time, but it’s fleeting.
Usually it’s just for emphasis, like when she’s retelling a day’s highlight or
gushing about a new pair of shoes.
And now my little guy is leaving. Well, he’s only in third
grade, so he’s not going anywhere physically (not even to sleep-away camp), but
he is making his move emotionally. There’s probably a very wise parenting
expert out there who would tell me this is all good. It’s developmentally
sound. But I think there are generations of parents before me who would agree
that this moment really stings. The unclasping of the hand is yet another
milestone. It’s what happens—it’s what has to happen—for your child to be able
to walk away and become who he’s meant to become.
I think I might cry. Or have an ice cream. I’ll be that
woman, without a child by her side, at the Mr. Softee truck on 89th &
Mary DiPalermo, mom to
an elementary-, a middle-, and a high-schooler, writes and shares her special
parenting perspective on New
York Family’s blog “Parenting in
Progress.” She lives on the Upper West Side.