My Own Hands

This is perhaps the worst kind of blog cheating, but I’m posting something I wrote years ago. And a few months ago I committed the worst kind of editorial license cheating when I excerpted some of this for the editor’s column of MiaDon’t leave yet – I have good reason for the reprint. I’m posting it because I’m watching my little girl slide along the edges of becoming a young woman. She vacillates back and forth between the two and I vacillate with her, wondering if I’m prepared. I made it through with the first girl, but times were a little different (okay, now I sound old). Maybe it’s just my perception, but it seems like girls are being encouraged to possess a Jekyll and Hyde mix of “be a sweet princess but be sure you look really hot along the way.” I’m constantly evaluating campy Disney television shows that focus on shallow messages of teenage angst while I scrutinize clothing in the girls department of Kohl’s that looks like something my daughter would wear if she were opening for Miley Cyrus. I feel surrounded by this confusing “girlie-girl” culture, as writer Peggy Orenstein calls it. So there is my lament. I wrote this piece years ago when my first daughter was moving toward adolescence. We survived it then. We’ll survive it again.

My grandmother gave me a ring when I was in high school. It was silver with a tiny diamond in the center of a rectangle onyx stone. I wasn’t much of a jewelry gal, but this ring was elegant and chic – like nothing I had ever seen. My grandmother modeled it for me before she handed it over. It was stunning, and she waved her long graceful fingers in front of me then twisted off the ring and handed it over. “It’s yours now,” she said. I put the ring on and modeled it just as she had done, waving my fingers in front of her. But it was all wrong. My fingers are short and stubby and a little bulky at the knuckles. The long rectangle stone seemed to swallow my hand and it no longer looked elegant and chic – just misplaced. I put it in my jewelry box and took it out every now and then to admire it, but it really only made me wish for different hands.

My mother also had long graceful fingers, and as a child I would sit in church and place our hands together – palm to palm – and think that someday my hands would grow to look like hers. But they haven’t, and they never will.

I never thought much about my hands until I compared them with my mother’s, or tried to wear the same ring that fit my grandmother. It made me feel like I had been given hands that were inadequate for the job. Sometimes, my grandmother and mother made me feel the same way about being a woman because they made things look so easy. My grandmother knew how to can green beans from my grandfather’s garden and make wedding ring quilts and sew buttons on shirts while she was standing up. She tapped her long fingers on the back of the pew in her small country church as the organist played the hymns. She knew them by heart and sang with a joy that made me want to stand on my tiptoes and sing just like her. With dignity and hope, my own mother had braved the loss of an infant and the consequential news that she could never have children. She was unselfish and made meals for people when they were sick and sent cards to them on their birthday. She pressed my father’s shirts – even the polyester ones that didn’t need ironing.

As I watched the women in my life, I wondered if I was adequate for the job. I don’t have much domestic fortitude – I gave up sewing after a failed attempt to make a nightgown in home economics class left me with a nasty scissor scar on one finger, and I’ve never understood the concept of canning. I also buy belated birthday cards by the handful. Now that I have my own daughters, I know they are watching me for cues about what it means to be a woman, but much more than that, they are watching to see what it means to love God and act like Jesus. This is what my grandmother and mother were really teaching me all along. They could have made it more complicated, but they kept it pretty simple. In their long graceful hands, they took mine and now I take my daughters’ hands and do the same. And yes, even though my hands are very different from my mother and grandmother’s (I can promise you I will never iron polyester shirts), these hands are the ones God made for the job.

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