When my kids were babies, I read many of the books that chronicled a child's development on a month-by-month basis. I weighed my children’s growth in terms of percentiles and target ages based on data collected by the medical community. When they entered school, I monitored their growth by test grades, percentiles, and benchmarks set by the educational system. And every year, on their birthdays, I noted their changes in height on the wall in my laundry room.
I looked forward to all these changes-- the crawling to running to driving a car, the ABCs to multiplication facts to 10-page annotated research papers, the height, the independence--and I expected them.
Then I watched my 18-year-old son shake hands with his grandfather, his uncles, and my husband’s boss, and I noticed that my husband had begun extending his hand to our son’s friends. The grips were firm, the facial expressions serious, the older one commenting about how grown up the younger one had become. This developmental stage—the one that marks a child’s transition to adulthood, as recognized by another adult—came so gradually, yet so suddenly that it caught me by surprise.
I suppose I should have anticipated it. After all, Ken and I taught all three of our kids how to respond to an outstretched hand when they were young. We emphasized the importance of smiling and looking into the other person’s eyes. We demonstrated grips that were too limp, others that were too strong, and others that lasted too long.
I told them that shaking hands was a grown-up thing to do.
I guess I just hadn’t considered the level of respect that comes with it.