We stood by the side of the road, my younger son and I. Cars raced past and we waited, his little hand clenched in mine.
As soon as the traffic paused in one direction, cars raced toward us from the other direction.
So we held hands and we waited.
I was a little tense, a little impatient, standing on the side of a busy road, eager to get to our car across the street, but not that tense, not that impatient. Mostly, I was content to just stand there with my son, happy to have an excuse to hold his hand for a few extra minutes.
My younger son is a hand-holder. He doesn’t yet wiggle free or squirm away when I grab his hand to lead him through a parking lot or across the street, and he will gladly accept an outstretched hand to guide him through the library or the grocery store.
For now. I know that is all about to change.
He is growing up, as all children do. He is learning to be more autonomous, more independent, more secure. That is a good thing, a necessary thing. And there will come a time when, like his older brother, he won’t need my outstretched hand for safety or security, when he won’t want my hand for affection or comfort.
Of course, this is all typical and acceptable, necessary even.
But while less frequent hand-holding is a sign of a well-adjusted child, it is also a lesson in the bittersweet art of letting go, a study in the practice of balancing independence with connection – skills that take a lifetime to perfect, skills that I am still struggling to develop. Because let’s be honest, it’s hard to be vulnerable, to know when to ask for and accept help, while trusting that we’ve got what it takes, that we are stronger than we ever imagined. It’s hard to let go of the either/or, hard to live in the world of both/and.
And it was with this knowledge – and an awareness that this hand-holding thing will soon be just a memory – that I stood on the side of the road squeezing my son’s warm little hand, watching the cars race past. Eventually, there was a pause in the traffic coming from both directions and the two of us ran across the street. When we safely reached the other side, he dropped my hand, inherently knowing that my hand was no longer required.
And so it goes, this growing up and away thing that kids do, that we all do.
While I know there will soon come a time when my son will stop physically reaching for my hand, I have a simple prayer that both my children will never, ever stop reaching out. I pray that, as they grow up and away, they will never be too proud to reach for an outstretched hand, given in kindness and with good intentions; that they will never be too self-consumed to offer an outstretched hand, even if it’s uncomfortable or scary or painfully hard. I pray that they will learn to balance vulnerability with confidence, that they will learn to let go of the either/or’s and embrace the both/and’s of life. And I pray that they – that we – will never forget the incredible strength and goodness that can come from one small act of kindness, from one simple attempt at connection, from one tiny outstretched hand.
This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge. Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for her photos. Make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is both stunning and inspirational.