Madeline has what I have come to call her “koala talons” — slender, dainty, beautiful little fingers that, when closed in a fist, could crush a Tahoe. Maybe you’ve felt the pinch of a parrot beak. Imagine an infant’s hand where each finger was a separate parrot beak and imagine the horrible force of being caught in such a grip. If Madeline wanted to shimmy herself up a palm tree (and happened to weigh 400 pounds), those steely digits could do the job in five seconds flat.
I became aware of the talons once she started walking around. She developed a habit of approaching me in the kitchen whenever I was standing flush with the island or the sink or counter. She would reach out her little Bronze Age vices, grip the flesh of my calf, and pull me away so I would see her and pick her up to inspect what she was destined to reject at dinnertime. If I had time to inspect myself physically, which we mothers rarely do, I would not be surprised to find pattern bruising the size of water droplets all up and down my leg.
Drew never exhibited extra-fingerly strength, but from the moment he was born has always had a nervous habit of pinching and pinching and pinching the extra flesh between my knuckles. (I’m feeling like a gladiator with all these references to my “flesh;” and I hesitate because I don’t want you to picture me with folds of extraneous skin.) Just last night he was kneading my knuckle skin as I read him “Drummer Boy” for the kazillionth time, and I wondered what kind of stress he was processing. I would be hand-crippled if Madeline ever took up knuckle-skinning with her talons of iron.
I don’t know if you’ve ever really studied your children’s hands, or your own hands. If eyes are the window to the soul, then hands are the door to the laundry room. They get stuff done. They make the world turn. They butterfly.
Yes, they butterfly. This was what my mother’s hands used to do when I was little, sick on the couch or about to fall asleep in her lap. Her gentle hands would be floating up and down my back, conveying gentle promises of love and stability, while releasing some sort of oxytocin into my bloodstream that made me woozy and full of head-water. If mothers never stopped butterflying their children’s backs, the world would cease to turn and no more children would ever be born because the effect even more paralyzing — in a wonderful way — than fear or poison. It is the gentle touch that subdues a giant. And preschoolers are giant, even though they’re not actually big.
This morning, Drew crawled up into bed with us and lay down between our heads, forming a third, smaller head in what must have looked like a three-headed Rhodes monster under the covers.
He whispered, “Mister Mommy, butterfwy my head. Do it.”
Half asleep yet sweetened by the feel of his breath on my eyelashes, I reached over and ran my fingernails just above his eyebrows. (That’s where he loves it the most.) He was still, paralyzed, for 10 minutes. I drew my head nearer to his and studied his profile up close. He was like a baby dinosaur tranquilized and supine, willing to watch his fate come towards him without moving an inch no matter what it might be.
It’s the only time I can study him at such close proximity. I administer the sedative to my little fly, the fly that has been caught in my wonderful web, and then it’s back to all things kinetic, furious and fast-paced; a; boy’s world of pitching, poking, and of course: pinching.
I marvel at the moment and at how simple it really is to connect with another person. Especially if you’re a baby koala.
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