by Jim Bass
Seems like yesterday that Emily was a toddler. The last of our three children, she was the straggler, eleven years behind number two son.
From the beginning, she was independent--not defiant, but self-sufficient. If I offered to help her on with her coat, she'd demur and use her own technique, laying the coat flat on the floor and flopping onto her back and sliding into place, then bouncing to her feet with a satisfied smile.
On a trip to a Yosemite, we were descending steep stairs and I offered my hand. "I'll hold my own hand," she said, and proceeded to do just that. There's no point in arguing in with a child that refuses to be treated like a child.
On her first day of kindergarten, my hand became became her lifeline. Had her mitts been bigger, mine would have been crushed. Timid and uncertain, she insisted I remain until her class was called inside. Happy me.
The handholding continued the next day and the next, long after she was comfortable in school. Taking her to school, I could have pulled over and dropped her off, but I never wanted to. I always parked and walked her to class. And we held hands, well into fourth grade, maybe longer. All along I remember thinking, how lucky can I get?
Then came three years of middle school and the contact diminished. Each morning I drove her to her friend's house where she'd hook up with others and walk to school. No more hand holding, just me and my corny gags: hiding behind the door in my office when she came to get me, etc. At first my stunts earned groans, then eye-rolls, then sighs and then zilch.
Today is promotion day, where 8th graders march through a ceremony and get certificates. I will be there but I have no regard for celebrating such pseudo-milestones; after all, "an eighth-grade education" is a term we apply to an uneducated person.
Parents will jostle with camcorders and cameras, preserving yet another set-piece "Kodak moment." Photos of staged events have never resonated with me. Real moments, real memories are too delicate to be recorded in chips. They survive via remembrance and retelling.
Next year she begins high school, only four blocks away. No more rides. No more handholding. At least for another 15 years, when she may be offering her hand to me. Will I accept her gesture of help out of a chair or down a staircase, or insist on not being treated like a child?
I hope I'm wise enough to know I can't hold my own hand.