We were walking in the pasture the other day, following the cows back to the barn, when Monika asked me to hold her hand.
"That way I can walk as fast as you walk, Mom," she explained.
So we walked, hand in hand. I realized that this was the first time in a long time that I had held Monika's hand for longer than it takes to cross the road.
As I held Monika's hand, I asked myself, as I often do, How did she get so big?
When my children were new babies, they would wrap their little fingers around my thumb while we sat together in the rocking chair. I would marvel at their tiny hands and wonder about all the ways they would use those hands in the future.
My babies' hands are bigger now and they've mastered so many skills.
Monika's hands paddled her through her first swimming lesson last week and they're hanging onto bars in her weekly gymnastics class. But their biggest accomplishment, at least from my perspective, has been learning to milk cows.
Whenever Monika is in the barn, she asks to milk Star, Sandy and Garnet. She brushes off their teats and then dips them. She can't quite strip milk yet, but she practices. Then, she waits a little while and dries their teats with the paper towel, counting out loud to make sure she wipes each teat enough times. Then Glen or I hold the bottom of the claw while Monika attaches the milker.
Usually, either Glen or I stand in the stall with Monika. But the other day, she told me, "Mom, you don't have to stand next to me. I can do this by myself."
So I stepped out of the stall and watched, while I prepped another cow, as my confident, independent little girl prepped her cow all by herself.
Dan's hands have been busy this summer, too. They've spent a considerable amount of time digging in the "mine" he built on the lawn down by the cow yard. You should see the boy handle a post-hole digger and shovel. We might never be able to mow the lawn there again - the holes are that big - but that mine has provided hours of entertainment and skill building for my future miner.
Dan's hands have been wrapped around the handlebars of his bike, too. He recently taught himself how to ride his bike in two days' time. And he might be a later learner when it comes to biking, but he's more than made up for the delay. I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before his hands are building jumps and such to drive his bike over.
Dan's confidence and independence are growing, as well. We were walking Lego, his fair calf, up and down the driveway the other night with Dan at the halter and me holding onto the end of rope, just in case. At the end of the driveway, he turned to me and asked, "Do you suppose I could do this by myself?"
I asked if he meant leading Lego by himself and he said yes. On the way back down the driveway, I let go of the rope and let Dan walk with Lego by himself. Lego isn't the tamest calf yet, but Dan kept her under control. I told Dan that if he keeps practicing, he would be able to lead Lego at the fair all by himself.
Daphne, too, is mastering new skills at record pace - drinking from a big girl cup, eating with a fork, spreading jam on her toast - and insisting upon doing it all by herself.
Her little hands are always busy. She loves trying on all of the shoes in the entryway and walking around in them. She likes holding the kittens in the barn and is learning to hold them gently, instead of squeezing them around the neck.
I know Daphne's little hands - and Dan and Monika's, too - will continue to master new skills.
I will take every opportunity to hold their little hands in mine. And I'll keep wondering, How did they get so big?