Soon my grandson will celebrate his six-month birthday. Actually that's not quite true. Chances are only his family will celebrate this milestone. Charles, on the other hand, will continue his daily pursuits oblivious of the date and its significance. On that day he will smile and on occasion laugh. He will expend awe-inspiring effort to drag himself a few feet across the floor until he is able to crawl there. And we will, of course, clap our hands at his every accomplishment.
Shortly after his birth a friend asked me if I had processed the fact that I was a grandmother. My response was that I hadn't even processed the fact that I was a mother and thus felt far removed from "getting it" that my daughter was now the mother of a child who was by definition my grandchild.
Life is a lot to take in.
Shortly after his birth, I held my grandson for the first time. A tiny hand grasped my index finger. Since that overwhelmingly powerful moment I've been thinking a lot about hands.
We wring them. We wave them. We clap them. We hold them. We make them into fists. We use them to replace or accompany speech. We salute or insult with our hands. If we've lost control we say that things got out of hand. If we want to pass responsibility to another person we say we will hand it off. The height of a horse is measured in hands. We shake hands with another originally to indicate we had no weapons and now to show positive regard. Charity without respect can be called a hand out. In negotiations we don't want to show our hand too early. If we are experienced it might be said that we are old hands at it. When we help out a friend we have lent a hand. Decisions can be made by a show of hands. If our hands are tied we are unable to, for example, lend a hand. When we have too much to do we might say that our hands are full. Supervisors who work alongside staff might be said to be hands on in style. When we refuse or fail to take action we are possibly sitting on our hands.
Hands have power in language and in life.
During the past almost six months, Charles has accomplished magnificent things with his hands. He can now pull his mother's hair. He can tug his father's necktie. He can grasp and release his rattle. He can stroke his dog's nose. He can pick up a spoon and with his other hand fill the spoon with pumpkin. He can also pick up more pumpkin and rub it into his hair. And, of course, he continues to grasp my fingers. His grip is stronger and much more deliberate than on the day of his birth but still mesmerizing and mystifying.
He is learning at six months the possibilities of his hands.
Of course, we all continue to learn the potential of our hands. With our hands we play violin concertos and write novels and turn pages and knead dough and butter bread and comfort and caress. And with our hands we pull triggers and hit and inflict unbearable pain.
For the rest of his life my grandson will continue to discover the potential of his hands. He will assign them their tasks.
In that way we are all like Charles. We must each decide the work of our hands.
As I celebrate his first six months of life and wish him decades and decades more I also wish him the courage to use his hands for good.
But I'll explain all of that to him in a few years. For now I'll just enjoy having him hold onto my finger while I wipe the pumpkin out of his hair.