Tuesday, January 30, 2007


I often wish I had my mother’s hands. They were long and elegant. My hands are rough and clearly from a lineage of laborers. Jeanine can reach an octave with her hands, her fingers long and thin. My hands, although bigger, cannot make the stretch.

No wonder I never played piano.

The joke in our family was that only my mother’s hands would appear in the home videos. There is a vintage shot of my oldest sister being fed something in her high chair. She’s about a year old. From the side of the frame, the hands deliver a tray of food, gracefully placed in front of the baby.

The baby starts whipping all the food on the floor and again, gracefully, the hands appear to remove the tray.

I can only imagine what she was saying to my father who was filming the event.

Dammit, Bob, turn that thing off. I have to clean up this mess.

You’d never know that from the hands, though. They exuded calm and beauty. With most of the shots of us as babies, you only see her hands. Never all of her. She hated her picture being taken.

I wonder what my children think of my hands. Ben will, at times, hold his growing paw up to mine to see how far he has till having a shot at winning a thumb war. I remind him I am smarter and will probably always win. He knows better.

None of my boys want to hold my hand anymore. Where once it was a grounding safety net- I have mom’s hand, therefore I can walk into this new preschool and not be afraid- it is now a punishment, only demanded when they have been out of control in a public place. It is not a gentle hold. It is a firm, I have you and you better cool it hold.

OW! They complain until I add the look. The mother look. You know what I mean. Then they are quiet.

Somewhere in between, there was a time of I just really like being out with my mom handholding. I look forward to the day when that may return. It did for me with my mother.

As an adult, I would hook my arm around my mother’s arm. She was not keen on public displays of affection- no hugging, no kissing and certainly no handholding. As she grew older, and our visits were less frequent, she grew into hugs. And letting me hook my arm around hers.

I always felt her initial discomfort. I think it was because I was a lesbian and she wasn’t quite sure what it meant. She never did this with my brother, although she would allow him to escort her, holding her elbow to keep her steady. I would pull her close and carefully match her step. After a moment of stiffness, she would relax and lean back into me.

On a rare occasion, Ben has done the same thing to me. Pulled up close and hooked his arm into mine, leaning, walking side by pressed side. We typically have to be in another state, like California, where no one knows him.

Every once in a while, Jeanine holds my hand. As lesbians, we don’t often walk around in public holding hands. I never really feel safe except in a few places- San Francisco, Ogunquit, Provincetown. And… that’s pretty much it. I wonder if straight couples ever think about what a privilege it is to do a simple thing like holding hands.

There was one time Jeanine and I were returning from a Pride parade, long before kids, and kissed in the car at a stoplight. Some teenage boys saw us and came and pounded on the hood of the car, yelling slurs at us.

I was terrified.

I stopped any displays of public affection, for a long time.

When I reach for Jeanine’s hand now, I ask if it’s okay. Neither of us has ever forgotten that moment. It’s not a given either of us feel safe enough in the moment to take that risk.

I don’t have my mother’s hands but I have a mother’s hands. Capable of both discipline with a quick squeeze and taking a child’s temperature, one hand on forehead, one on the back of the neck.

I may never play the piano but someday, I hope, my boys will reach with their grown up hands and want to hold mine.

And someday, in my own hometown, I will no longer need to ask to hold Jeanine’s.


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