When I was a new mommy, I invented a quiet little signal, two quick hand squeezes, that grew into our family’s secret “I love you.”
Long before she could debate the merits of pierced ears or the need to shave her legs, my daughter, Carolyn, would toddle next to me clasping my finger for that much-needed support to keep her from falling down.
Whether we were casually walking in the park or scurrying on our way to playgroup, if Carolyn’s tiny hand was in mine, I would tenderly squeeze it twice and whisper, “I love you.” Children love secrets, and little Carolyn was no exception. So, this double hand squeeze became our special secret. I didn’t do it all the time - - just every so often when I wanted to send a quiet message of “I love you” to her from me.
The years flew by, and Carolyn started school. She was a big girl now, so there was no need for little secret signals anymore... or so I thought.
It was the morning of her kindergarten class show. Her class was to perform their skit before the entire Lower School, which would be a daunting experience. The big kids - - all the way to sixth grade - - would be sitting in the audience. Carolyn was nervous, as were all her little classmates.
As proud family and friends filed into the auditorium to take their seats behind the students, I saw Carolyn sitting nervously with her classmates. I wanted to reassure her, but I knew that anything I said would run the risk of making her feel uncomfortable.
Then I remembered our secret signal. I left my seat and walked over to her. Carolyn’s big brown eyes watched each of my steps as I inched closer. I said not a word, but leaned over and took her hand and squeezed it twice. Her eyes met mine, and I immediately knew that she recognized the message. She instantly returned the gesture giving my hand two quick squeezes in reply. We smiled at each other, and I took my seat and watched my confident little girl, and her class, perform beautifully.
Carolyn grew up and our family welcomed two younger brothers, Bryan and Christian. Through the years, I got more experienced at the mothering game, but I never abandoned the secret “I love you” hand squeeze.
Whether the boys were running on the soccer field for a big game or jumping out of the car on the day of a final exam, I always had the secret hand squeeze to send them my message of love and support. I learned that when over-sentimental words from parents are guaranteed to make kids feel ill at ease, this quiet signal was always appreciated and welcomed.
Three years ago, my daughter married a wonderful guy. Before the ceremony, while we were standing at the back of the church waiting to march down the aisle, I could hardly look at my little girl, now all grown up and wearing her grandmother’s wedding veil, for fear of crying.
There was so much I wanted to say to her. I wanted to tell her how proud of her I was. I wanted to tell her that I treasured being her mom, and I looked forward to all the future had in store for her. However, most important, I wanted to tell her that I loved her. But I was positive that if I said even one word, Carolyn and I would both dissolve into tears.
Then I remembered it - - our secret signal. I left my place and walked back to Carolyn. As the organist began to play Ode to Joy, I took Carolyn’s hand and quickly squeezed it twice. Our eyes met, and she returned the signal.
There were no tears, there were no words exchanged, just a secret “I love you” that I created one sunny afternoon, when I was a new mother.
I am no longer a new mother... but a new grandmother. Today, I was strolling with my little grandson, Jake. His tiny hand was holding on to my finger, and I couldn’t help remembering his mother’s hand in mine over thirty years ago. As we walked, I gave his hand two quick squeezes and whispered, “I love you.” He looked up and smiled.