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Letters To My Daughters: Hands

Dear Lila:

When I die, I want to be holding my two special quarters and be buried with them. And Fluffy Unicorn. And your hands. 

You said this to me today. It was mid-bath, while I rigorously scrubbed frothy peppermint shampoo in your head. Shampoo to kill lice. Shampoo that I could not seem to stop massaging into the nape of your neck and the curves around your ears, so irritated at the thought bugs on you, my daughter.

You created this creepy list of burial wishes, most likely, because this morning we talked about Ancient Egypt and mummification. We talked about how the pharaohs would have their tombs filled with the treasures. Treasures for the afterlife.

And, as of this afternoon – fifty cents, a Pillow Pet and my hands – these are your earthly take-a-ways. These are what your six-year-old heart sees as enough for eternity.

Now, I’m not certain of any of this, but I believe I can probably say with 82% accuracy that those two special quarters of yours will be lost down the rusty twist knob of some gumball machine as the grocery store sliding doors open and close and I usher you to make up your mind.

And Fluffy, she will likely make her exit by way of blankets numbers one through four, picked up by the garbage truck. Either by disintegration or Dharma.

But, my hands? These are yours to keep. Will be yours, one day.

I realized this as I sat you down before me and I began the nit-picking process. I saw my pale fingers, clumsily dividing your dark, damp hair into pieces. I saw my unmanicured, unmoisturized hands. I saw a mother’s hands. My mother’s hands.

I remembered my own mother and sitting at her kitchen table in the house where I grew up. I remember the medicinal smell of that delousing treatment and the feel of her fingers rubbing it over my head, and then tugging that nit-comb over and over. My mother’s hands.

My mother, she told me last night, when I called and mentioned your unfortunate situation, had do to it all summer when I was eight. All of us girls had lice all summer long. I don’t know how she didn’t get it herself, she spent the entire summer treating our heads.

My hands. My mother’s hands. Her mother’s hands.

Lila, you will have these hands.

But, my wish for you is that they won’t serve you only as a shampoo scrubber and lice nit-picker on the head of your own little girl.

No, I want you to have hands that know the weight of things. I want you to understand that your hands can carry and your hands can let loose. 

And I want your hands to know what things to let go and what things to hold fast. I want your hands to know which boys to send the way of those two quarters, down the rusty twist and clink of wasted youth – and which one man will be worth reaching for, over and over and over again.

Mostly, I want you to know that you are not your hands. I am not my hands.

Hands fumble and drop things. Hands let go when they shouldn’t and linger when they ought not. And even though I want you to have hands that always do what’s right, hands that never find themselves too close to the fire. You are my daughter, we are human and we are both apt to break.

Thankfully, we’re not living for an afterlife of treasures in tombs, but for a heaven that’s greater than anything our hands can hold.

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