My older daughter bites her nails when she concentrates, which is often. Her fingers stretch out like a piano player’s. She surprised me at a birthday party once by playing a song on the piano. She said she’d learned it off the computer. She practices her cursive; she doesn’t want to, but I insist; it’s part of her homework. Her hand moves slowly across the paper, looping and crossing. Her fingers curl around the sides of books the same way they cling to rock walls and trees. Her hands fling mud, attract creatures. Animals and insects come to this child. Her hands, unlike my own, can pick up bugs. Sometimes her hands fly to shield her from my temper. Her hands swing her from monkey bar to monkey bar and pull her up ropes. She has strong hands, my older daughter, my oldest child. Her fingers flutter Hot Cross Buns on her recorder. Her fingers write poems, stories. Her fingers paint, and draw. She’s had her own art show at a coffee house. Her hands keep a journal, more faithfully than mine. I hold her hand as we walk, but she pulls away after a while, no offense mom, as she runs ahead – there’s just always more exploring to do.

My younger daughter draws pictures in the air to make me understand: like this, Mom. Her hands move carefully, as if holding something fragile. She carries glass proudly: see what I can do. Her hands stroke the cheeks of those who cry, throw kisses to those who laugh. Teddy bears and baby dolls rest safely in such hands. Her hands create drawings full of precious detail: tea parties, smiling suns, kittens and puppies. Or sometimes they draw orphans crying tears over parents passed away. What can I say? She watches a lot of Disney movies. She lays her hands under her cheeks when she sleeps like an eighteenth century cherub. She glows like a Cassat painting. Her hands know how to ties shoes. Oh, but her fingers suffer the affliction of the females of my family. Her fingers betray her worries, bits of skin hang off around her nails, wounded from picking, fidgeting. She is a Pisces, born in the Year of the Dog. She is sensitive and loyal. Her fingers are raw. My younger daughter has hands that break my heart.

My son, his hands twiddle his hair, my hair, the hair of whoever picks him up. And they always pick him up. His hands grip my back in a big squeezy hug. Nobody can give a squeezy hug like my son. His hands pull me tightly toward him making me feel like the world is safe for a moment. Intact. Whole. His hands knew how to throw a ball the first time they gripped one. Now they throw everything: rocks, beanbags, books, food. He used to grab my face and twist it to him; listen to me. Now his fists punch me when he is mad. Why is it his fingernails grow so fast, gather so much dirt? His hands clutch the dog; he loves her so. His hands curve around his pen and draw monsters that make him laugh. There is more flesh on his hands than mine, soft, fat, square baby hands. No, he is not a baby, he is a kid, and he holds up three fingers to prove it. But his other hand twirls his hair and I know that he is mine.

Leave a comment


  1. alison

     /  August 20, 2007

    I loved this. I’m enjoying all of your writing so much. Trying to make myself hold one or two of these back, for tomorrow or as a reward for accomplishing something at work. Thanks for the blog and other goods.

  2. jennifersavage

     /  August 21, 2007

    Thanks for the kind words!

  3. autumnmoon

     /  March 31, 2008

    You have a beautiful way with words…… hands that break my heart…….. I think I need to paint something to go with that image…..

    Stumbled across you accidentially….. what a lovely find on a gloomy Sunday morning.

  4. Thank you – and hope the Sunday morning gloom gives way to sunshine.

  5. mmmmm… I can just picture the twirling hair and the gaze. Beautiful writing. xo S


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