With all apologies to Lamaze, Fisher-Price, Playskool and Baby Einstein, they’ll have to find some other baby to peddle their wares to because my 6-month-old daughter has apparently decided that playing with my hands is preferable to any of her actual toys.
During bottle feedings she’ll grab whatever fingers of mine she can gather up and then bat them around like a wooden paddleball. When she’s in the crib, she snatches my hand with both of hers and inspects it at close range, running her fingers along mine as if she has to memorize every inch because she suspects there might be a quiz later. If I’m holding her when she falls asleep, she’ll clutch my hand to her chest as though it were an old security blanket or teddy bear.
Every time she shoves away her Surprise Inside Elephant or Jacques the Peacock and gives a little kick of glee because my hand is available for her entertainment, it reminds me just how much I loved my mom’s hands when I was little. As far as I was concerned, the graceful beauty of my mom’s hands was unparalleled.
For years my mom would go for manicures every Thursday to a woman named Fran until she switched salons and saw Lisa. I never thought she needed to go weekly because her nails always seemed so flawless they could have been used in a commercial for Lee Press On Nails (except hers are real). I loved the smell of the clear nail polish she’d sometimes apply at night in order to maintain the manicure — the chemicals were the smell of chic, I used to imagine.
My mom was born to wear jewelry like she’s secretly a member of the Cartier or Van Cleef families. Small and delicate don’t do her justice. Rather, she’s fit to wear rings and bracelets from the United Kingdom’s Crown Jewels collection, only on her they’d probably look a little more elegant than on the Queen of England. The same pieces on me look like they were straight out of a supermarket candy machine.
I used to figure her jewelry looked so awkward on my fingers and wrists because I was a kid. But when I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago I tried on the rings that were sitting on her dresser and I still look like I’m playing dress-up. Clearly there is no correlation between age and sophistication.
My mom can also make wearing a Band-Aid look sophisticated. It seems like she wears them often because with great frequency she either cuts or burns her fingers while cooking. I can forever picture my mom standing over the kitchen sink either pressing an ice cube into a scorched palm or applying pressure to a nicked finger wrapped in a paper towel. She has some faint scars on her fingertips and knuckles, but she manages to wear them with a grace that can only be achieved knowing the wounds were earned while preparing meals that would put the Barefoot Contessa to shame.
It’s those same hands that took art classes at Lincoln Center when I’d be away at sleep-away camp every summer. My mom would send me her creations, like the handmade kite that I held onto until from when I was 9 or 10 until just a few years ago. She’d also write me letters several times a week when I was at camp so I wouldn’t feel so disconnected from my parents while I was away in Maine for eight weeks at a stretch.
It wasn’t so much what she wrote that comforted me as much as seeing her handwriting. I still get a little wave of warmth when I open up the mailbox and see her script on an envelope. Sometimes she’ll send me newspaper or magazine articles and stick a little Post-It on top with a short note. I don’t save much these days, but I usually keep the Post-Its because just looking at her writing feels like home.
When I was at my parent’s house last month I was lying in their bed watching my mom as she read a book while unconsciously stroking her pointer finger on the armchair like she was controlling a computer mouse pad. It’s something she’s done for as long as I can remember and for as long as I can remember, I could watch her do it for hours.
If nothing else, I hope I’ve inherited enough of my mom’s magical ways so that when my daughter is 35 years old she’ll also still want to hold my hand sometimes when we’re walking down the street together. It might just be at that moment that I’ll know I’ve done something very right.
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