Mom's-Eye View: To Have and to Hold Parenting Magazine July 2008
They hand us rocks, toys, leaves, and tell us to hold on tight, but what we're really guarding is their trust
By Madelyn Rosenberg, Parenting
I am holding in my hand a small fish. He is the yellow-green of a new spring and he is made out of plastic. He's a fancy-tailed goldfish, if I am correctly remembering the manual that accompanied my own childhood fish tank. He hails from China, most likely from the same factory that manufactures high-bounce balls and rubber-chicken key chains.
Please note, I am assuming the fish's gender here. He could be female, but he belongs to my son, who is holding tight to my non-fish hand and who has already imbued his scaly new friend with all of the chromosomes and hormones that he himself possesses.
The fish is a reward for enduring the horror of the dentist's chair, and therefore is to be treated with the utmost reverence. In other words, I must under no circumstances lose him.
"Do you still have my prize?" my son asks. We have made it from the dentist's office to the parking lot and already he's worried, recognizing that I've had a tendency to lose things. I open up my hand?sweaty enough to give a real fish the salty-sea environment he deserves?and reveal the toy.
"Got him right here," I say.
My son has given me many things to hold over these past three years. Sticks. Acorn caps. Rocks. He gave me a millipede before he knew what to call it, which is the main reason it made it safely into my open palm. Rose petals. Dandelions. Mulch. Toy trains. Spiky dinosaurs. A chunk of coal. Always they come with the command: "Hold this." And I have.
I have never been a holder of things. From the time I was a small child, my mother would ask, "Where's your raincoat? Your Snow White watch? Your left shoe?"
I rarely had the answers.
"Where are your pants?" she asked when I was in junior high. "How could you lose a pair of khakis?" I have no idea how I lost them, or why I rode home on the bus in my fashionable green gym shorts. I only know that the pants were gone.
I lost a plaid shirt, a necklace of my grandmother's (which still haunts me), and a gingham sundress. "You were always discombobulated," my mother says. "Nothing's changed."
But it has.
I still can't keep track of my wallet or my car keys. But since the birth of my son, I find that there are many things I no longer lose. My mind has become a global positioning system.
It's in the blue bin in the closet, I say. It's under the car seat.
It's in the basement under the stairs on the second shelf.
In two seconds I can find all of my son's squished pennies and the red guitar pick he got at the Farmer Jason concert last spring. His milk-weed pod is safe in my night-table drawer, though the seeds have scattered and the fluff escapes each time I reach for a bobby pin.
I let the millipede go and can no longer lay my hands on him in the physical sense. Still, I assure my son that we know his exact whereabouts: He's coiled up tight, a circle of onyx under a lucky rock; he's happy and he's free.
Because the millipede isn't just a millipede (nor is the fish just a fish or the guitar pick just a pick). My son is giving me his trust, a sweet intangible tied and double-knotted to every stick and acorn cap. I close my hand tight around it, even when it wriggles. If I can hold on to it forever, I will.
We leave the dentist and go on to our other errands: the post office, the bank, the grocery store.
"Hold this," my son says, and I reach for a helium balloon, big and red, the type of balloon a small boy is supposed to have. I juggle it along with his hand and the bags of groceries. The air outside is cool. The wind whips at the balloon, making it dance and pull.
I hold tight to the string. My son watches with solemn eyes, making sure I don't let go.