Family traditions provide comfort for many of us. They travel through the years to calm us and evoke memories. One of my favorite family traditions is one that I shared with my grandmother. She was a loving but imposing woman. I think everyone who knew her was at least intimidated by - if not scared of - her. One of the greatest gifts she gave to me was a game that we played. Most likely, she taught it to all of her grandkids but she did me the favor of acting as though it were our little secret.
My grandparents were devout Catholics and every visit involved heading to church. It was in this taut and hallowed silence that she taught me the game. We played it wordlessly, without even looking at each other as we held hands in the pew. She would begin by squeezing my hand.
3 squeezes. I. Love. You.
I answered back with 4 squeezes. I. Love. You. Too.
2 more squeezes from her. How. Much?
Now was time for the big finale. I squeezed her hand with all of my childhood strength the quiet setting allowed. She showed off her acting skills by portraying amazement at both my strength and the depth of my love. We repeated this scenario over and over during our visits.
I loved the intimacy and simplicity of this so much that I taught it to my own boys. We have played it in church but also on our walks to school, while standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for the bus or just watching a movie. It hasn't changed at all because the best childhood games never do. Just silence and love.
Today you had an accident. You screamed. I fought to hold off panic. There was blood and I knew right away that this was not good. You were not fine and would not just be walking this one off. We needed to go. Needed to get you down the mountain and into a hospital so that someone could tell me you were going to be ok and then begin to fix you.
Both the paramedics and the ER doctor were able to do that. They looked into my eyes and said that you had a broken nose but your eye was ok. As we waited in the hospital room, you were still in a lot of pain. My attempts at humor, stories and (heaven help us) singing were not helping this time. You were hurting and you just wanted quiet. So we sat waiting for the CT scan that would put my panic to rest and tell me your head and your brain were ok. We held hands and sat together silently in that sterile room. I was staring down at you but your eyes were fixed on the circle of light above you. We let the time pass. We let the silence calm us.
Without looking over, you silently began the familiar ritual.
3 squeezes. I. Love. You.
My eyes filled with tears.
I love you too, little man.
Stephanie Olson is a mom of two boys who lives and writes in Seattle. She spends her days addicted to both hard news and gossip, avoiding yard work and trying to come up with rules that will allow her boys to wrestle happily without killing each other.