“Do you work outside a lot?”
“Um, no, not really.”
“A teacher, then?”
“Just a hard-working mom,” I quipped.
“Well, you use too much hand sanitizer or something because, honey, your fingerprints are terrible. They’re unusable! I mean, look at those cracks!”
I looked over at the scanned computer image. I saw the familiar whirls and loopy circles of a fingerprint, my fingerprint. It was true that there were a few lines dissecting those little hurricane patterns, but I didn’t see the problem.
“Is that not what fingerprints normally look like?” I asked, growing increasingly defensive of my apparently mutant fingerprints.
“Oh no! You have way too many cracks! Honey, you’re too young to have hands that look like this. They should be smooth.”
“Well, I need my fingerprints taken. And these are my fingerprints. So, won’t this image work?” I responded.
“I just don’t think they’ll accept them. But I’ll send them in.”
And then our conversation turned inward—with the lady behind the counter muttering about how this image would never work and me passive-aggressively whispering to the man behind me, “Well, I can’t be the only one with this problem.”
I have not failed a test in many years, but as I left the fingerprinting place I could sense the distinct taste of failure—a little disbelief mixed with an incensed, whiny “It’s not fair—how was I to know you’re supposed to have smooth fingerprints?!”
Once in the car, I looked at my hands more closely. Are these old lady hands? Can this problem be solved with the right hand lotion? The truth is I have my mother’s hands–overworked, baggy knuckled, a bit bony, sinewy hands. They are cracked, but not dry and they are skinny but not delicate. These hands are tools, not accessories.
When I picture my mom, I picture her hands. I see her wiping down kitchen counters after many hours of cooking. I see her hands outstretched over the piano, reaching for a chord. Her hands guide fabric through the sewing machine or they clap and point with a story that she’s telling.
My mom is a doer. Part of this is a symptom of raising seven kids. When I was growing up, she never sat down because there was always something to do. But now that there is far less to do around the house, she still finds things to do. She takes art lessons and sews pajamas for grandkids.
But my mom is not busy just for the sake of being busy.
The other day we were talking on the phone and she mentioned that she was going to a Spanish lesson. “You see, there’s this lady in our church who just moved here and doesn’t speak a lick of English. Imagine how lonely you’d be! I mean, she was quite accomplished in her home country. So I thought, ‘Well, we can try to learn a little Spanish so she doesn’t have to do all the communicating! Now a group of us gets together and tries to learn a little. Of course, she’ll have to learn English. It’s really on her. But there’s no reason we can’t try to make it a little easier.”
That’s why she is busy. Because when she sees a problem, she thinks something must be done and she needs to be the one to do it. So she’ll take Spanish lessons or send a heartfelt card or deliver a warm loaf of bread.
I thought of my mom making that bread in the years that I was growing up. I can’t count the number of times I walked into the kitchen and saw warm loaves cooling on the rack. To me, they just magically appeared. And I never thought about the work involved as I gleefully smeared a thick slice with butter and homemade jam. But now that I’m a mom, I know that she gathered the dough and shaped each loaf, one-by-one, in her hands, over and over again, so I could have a warm, soft, buttery, tangible expression of her love for me.
That’s what her cracked, strong, decidedly unmanicured hands do. They create love. And I hope that’s why my fingerprints are full of cracks, too.
I don’t sew like my mom, but I did my best to make homemade stockings for Christmas this year. Because I learned from her that handmade is best.
I don’t cook all the time, but I do make homemade bread because when I see my daughter gustily spread it with butter and honey, it feels good.
And I when I see something that needs to be done, I look down at my hands and think, Alright, well, what can I do?
They say that one’s fingerprints are completely individual, that no two fingerprints are the same.
But I hope that’s not true. I hope my fingerprints will someday look just like my mom’s. I hope they become cracked and worn from a lifetime of helping and lifting and doing. Because if they do, that will mean that I will have also developed my mother’s heart–her great big, energetic, optimistic, service-rendering heart. And for that, I would gladly fail any fingerprint test.
QUESTION: What positive attributes have you inherited from your parents? What attributes do you hope to pass on to your children?
CHALLENGE: Write a short note thanking your parents for one positive attribute you learned from watching them.
Edited by Rachel Nielson.
Image from Pixabay; graphics by Anna Jenkins.