My son was 5 years old, the summer before he started kindergarten, and we were playing at the park. He was holding my hand and squeezing in intervals. I would alternatively squeeze back the same number of times he had or one more or less. He grinned each time, looking me in the eye as if we shared a secret. Finally, I smiled back and squeezed over and over and over again – an attempt to be over the top and funny. He looked upset and said, “You don’t get it.”
“I guess I don’t,” I replied, “Tell me.”
Punctuated with three hand squeezes he demonstrates, “This means ‘I-Love-You.'”
I nodded in response.
“Then you can do this ‘I-Love-You-Too,'” he explained with four squeezes. “You can’t do it as many times as you want to. That does not mean anything,” he finished.
“Okay. Can I do ‘I-Love-You’ or is that just for you?” I asked as I squeezed his hand three times.
“Well, I guess you can if you really want to. But that is mostly for me. You are the one that does ‘I-Love-You-Too,'” he explained.
I nodded and waited for his three squeezes to my hand so I could respond with my four and mouth the words “I-Love-You-Too” confirming I learned my part. He smiled in return. We had a secret code.
He held my hand often during those years – crossing the street, in new situations, walking in a store, when he was sad or felt sorry. One time he told me quietly following a hand squeeze exchange, “You can’t teach this to the other kids” referring to his siblings. “Okay” I agreed. We kept this exchange going for many years, secret until now. In the middle of a party or in the middle of nothing at all, he would grab my hand and the familiar pulse would follow “I-Love-You” with my reply, “I-Love-You-Too.”
Years have gone by and my son is older. His hair is long. He is super cool and wears a baseball hat backwards every day. He starts plenty of his sentences with, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but….” He plays the guitar and throws a baseball like a champ. We don’t have the occasion to hold hands anymore and I had forgotten about our secret code – it had slowly faded into the past along with many sweet remembrances you never think to write down or that can’t be captured with a photograph.
A few weeks ago we were on vacation and walking in Hollywood. As we came to an busy intersection, the light changed and signaled our turn to walk. Some maternal instinct from the past charged into my hand and I impulsively grabbed the hands of the two kids on either side of me. My backward hat son looked at me like I had lost it. I kept holding tight, shrugging my shoulders and shaking my head as if to say, “I’m the mom. Of course, I’m crazy.” Part way through our walk across the street, holding hands and swinging our arms, I felt his hand begin the “I-Love-You” squeeze and with no hesitation my hand remembered her part, “I-Love-You-Too” she squeezed back.
He smiled and asked, “Remember when I taught you that?”
“I do” I replied and smiled in return.
“Me, too” he says and kept holding my hand as we walked down the crowded sidewalk.