My mother’s hands. They shuttled heavy bags of groceries to and from the car, leaving lasting lines where plastic pulled taught from the weight. Some days her hands rested on our foreheads, testing for fevers or soliciting calm after a day of play. And other days they settled softly on piano keys, to infuse the house with “Threads of Love” and hymns of praise. But I learned of their true super powers when I witnessed them dip in scalding water to lift a dropped fork or wash a bowl. “Wait until you’re a mom, you’ll be able to snatch noodles from a pot of boiling water,” she said. And as she released the drain stopper and let the water loose, her wedding diamond spun to her cupped palm where bubbles still clung, like pearls.
In my work at St. Olaf College, I am fortunate to be surrounded by good music and deep thinkers. Kenneth Jennings, the former conductor of the St. Olaf Choir, recently passed away. A colleague told me that the current conductor of the choir, Anton Armstrong, once compared Dr. Jenning’s hands to a potter’s, “used with an artist’s gift to mold something beautiful, fragile, exquisite.” I’ve always thought of the conductor as a magician, calling forth music from those who stand before him. But perhaps a potter and a magician aren’t all that different – both use their hands to create their work of art.
I’ve been thinking about hands a lot these days. Often it comes as a secret wish to possess more than just two in order to accomplish all I now must do with this new title as mom. Tonight alone, one hand made dinner while the other held a clingy one-year-old, my hands shuttled zucchini slices to someone else’s mouth (and thankfully didn’t have to pick them out of the rug), tested bath water until it was juuuust right, served as a harness because someone was a little exuberant in his rocking chair, and squeezed little feet in that particular way that helps him unwind from the day.
But I am happy that my hands are always busy and full. When you’re doing the work of shaping a young life, it takes patience, a little craft and a lot of acceptance for the mess along the way. Whether plunging your hands in boiling water or soothing a teething toddler, the work of parenthood is always worth it. Because in the end, like the potter at the wheel and the conductor before the choir, aren’t we too molding something beautiful, fragile and exquisite?