Being an adult means we’ve likely forgotten what it meant to be a child. How wise we were. How creative and imaginative and full of wonder we were. How trusting, how eager to love and to be loved. How perfect.
I have been tending my Grandlings on and off for about 14 years. In that period of time I have been taught, or retaught I should say, by them. My first Grandling taught me more about myself and this world I live in than I ever learned in my life…to that point. Even when I parented my own children. The older we get the wiser we get, or at least we are supposed to, and mostly I concur. But true wisdom comes, I believe, when we allow ourselves be taught in utter simplicity by our grandchildren…or any child.
For two weeks, I had the joyful pleasure of caring for a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old while their parents were in Viet Nam. I nurtured, I guided, I taught, I diverted and I loved those babies. For two weeks, I had the joyful pleasure of being nurtured, guided, taught, diverted and loved by those babies. Here’s what I discovered.
I’d forgotten how much I love to play with Play-Doh…how therapeutic it is to knead it and roll it, stretch it and actually create something with it. My Grandlings think I am Michelangelo and they sat transfixed while I formed something that sort of resembles what they requested I make. I always loved the smell of Play-Doh.
I learned to suspend disbelief, to get caught in the delightful purity of pretending…of playing without regard to anything other than the joy of simply being in the moment. I cannot tell you how many zombies I managed to annihilate over a two-week period of time. The house was zombie-free, as was the yard, and we all slept better knowing that we were safe. My weapon of choice was one my Grandling crafted from Legos; or in a pinch, i wielded a mighty wooden spoon. I have been an ant placing food on an offering stone in my backyard after watching “A Bug’s Life” with my Grandling so many years ago. I was also Mags and he was Mags’ dad after we watched the Herbie the Love Bug movies. I am very good at pretending and jump right into play immediately. My Grandlings know a good pretender when they see one.
I realize how very eager a child is to learn about her world. When I took care of one of my Grandlings in Portland three days a week for nearly a year, we had adventures whenever the sun shone as we explored her neighborhood and the area of the city where her mama worked. I let her touch the roughness of bricks and tree bark, press her tiny hands down on spongy green moss, she traced the smooth inside of a sea shell with her little finger and gently held a dandelion in her hands before plucking off the petals. I took picture after picture of wonders while she patiently waited in her stroller, knowing that her Mimi was all about capturing anything beautiful. I would tell her over and over again, when we saw something beautiful, as we made discovery after discovery, “Oh, wow!” Her very first words? “Oh, wow.” I cannot even express how delighted I am that those were the first words out of her precious little mouth.
I watched in purest pleasure as I blew bubbles one afternoon and my Brandling, at first wondering and then embracing, chased after them. The gold from the house reflected in the surface of the bubbles…Midas’ golden orbs floating in the sky ; or a hundred rainbows captured in a single bubble. We laughed together and sitting there, with bubble juice running down my arm, I was both captivated and enchanted by this simple joy and obviously by her delight. I don’t know who had more fun.
My Grandling sat before my computer one morning, studying everything so intently that he was unaware of anything around him. He was learning, absorbing and I could almost hear the wheels turning in that beautiful mind of his. Would that we all had that same devotion to learning something new and celebrated the process of learning anything…whatever it is, so that our minds grow and our world enlarges, no matter how old we are.
I made a chart for my two Grandlings. I wanted them to be aware of what they were capable of…how they could change their behavior for the better, how they could become. Rewards are good things…for all of us; they are a means to help us celebrate a small or large victory as we move ourselves forward to betterment. I was amazed, as I made them aware of the things they could do, of just how important it was for them to get that sticker by their name on the chart. Pretty soon, it wasn’t about the sticker as much as it was me noticing that they were doing something even without the thought of reward. The good behavior had become ingrained in them and they noticed that they were changing and they liked it. I thought of my own life…and how I think I’m pretty okay and don’t need to push myself towards any changes in my life, but how wrong I am with that kind of thinking. I can always be better. I can always improve. I can always see where a change needs to be made and then make it. They taught me that.
I learned how quick children are to forgive…even when they are wronged. Their love completely encompasses and swiftly smothers a wrong. I became aware that I didn’t really need to reprimand with words as much as with a look. The offender quickly hugged the offendee and all was right in the world. Would that we were as easy to forgive as children are. Adults think they have to carry grudges for past wrongs for so long that they’ve quite forgotten what the wrongs were…where they refuse to let go and find some perverse satisfaction in holding onto it and carrying the weight of all those wrongs. Our souls and spirits and hearts would be so much lighter and freer if we practiced the art of forgiveness with the same genuineness and love that children do.
My Grandling, age 2 ½, repeated everything I said. Only she said it much cuter than I did. She did this to learn. Her vocabulary and her brother’s vocabulary increased dramatically while I was with them. We talked ALL the time. Not just when we pretended, but when I read to them and asked questions about what we were reading, when we played outside, when we discovered our world. I talked when I was doing anything and I was astounded at how much they talked back to me, using many of the same words and in more complete sentences.
To a four-year-old boy, there is absolutely no funnier word in all the human language as “poop.” It would send him into fitful paroxysms of utter joy, which would set me off, more at the sound of his laughter and his sweet face full of smile. Pretty soon I slipped the word into conversation whenever I could. It delighted me. And him. It really is a funny word. Poor Winnie-the-Pooh…and poor A.A. Milne, who will never know how the word “Pooh” would set generations of boys laughing hysterically and will, as long as their are boys. On our daily walks to the mailbox and then around the block and back home, it became the duty of a very diligent 4-year-old to discover the whereabouts of every bit of dog poop that lurked in the rocks. And then we would laugh ourselves silly. Holy cow.
I love having a child’s hand in mine. There is nothing I love more. I love it especially when they don’t balk at having to do that, by feeling constrained when they would rather fly off like little birds in any direction. When they hold my hand willingly, slipping that precious warm little hand into mine, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and smile. Utter bliss. Nothing better in the whole world…
…. Unless it’s kisses. Unrestrained, wet, sloppy, slightly snotty, sweet, smiley kisses…man. And when they give them to me without my asking…simply because they love me so much that they can’t help themselves…those kisses are the sweetest. The very sweetest. I am a kissy Mimi. My Grandlings know that. Baby bums, necks, tummies, mouths…anything’s fair game when I am around.
A child’s love…there is nothing purer, finer, more holy than a child’s love. It is a sacred trust. They give that love so willingly. Love was one of the first words my children learned. It is among the first my Grandlings have learned and those heartfelt utterances, “I yuv ooh,” “I lah yoo” “I luff ooh” melt me. Utterly. I know exactly what they’re saying and their precious words go straight to my heart.
Smiles. Children smile from the time they can mirror the smiles of adults at about age two months. They never quit. I realize that adults don’t smile anywhere near as often as children do. That’s unfortunate and sad. Children are eager to give their smiles away; they smile more than they don’t. I have tried to smile more at people I meet on the street now because of all those smiles given to me by my Grandlings; and I see how a smile can warm a heart, chase away a frown, make a moment better or heal and owie…whether it is a skinned knee or a skinned heart. It quite surprises people when you smile at them. And most of them smile back.
Children’s laughter. There is no finer sound in the word than a child’s laughter. J.M. Barrie wrote that fairies are born from children’s laughter. I could not agree more. A child’s laugh is enough to banish sadness, chase worries and anxiety away, change our outlook and our hearts. I never tire of hearing their laughter. And when hearing it, I am enticed to laugh away with them. Belly laughs, tears-in-your-eyes laughs, chuckles, surprised laughter…whatever it is, I wish someone would find a way to bottle it and sell it. People sell dirt and water…and we never thought people would sell, let alone buy, something that. Why can’t someone capture the magic of a child’s laughter that we could open up when our own laughter eludes us?
Why is it, when we’re older and still fumbling at learning how to live, that taking joy in an accomplishment, in a success, in the pure and simple act of doing a great good thing, is looked upon as prideful, as something we no longer do or shouldn’t do…as if we aren’t allowed that joy of being pleased with ourselves or with what we’ve done. A child builds a tower and looks up and smiles, expecting you to take joy in his accomplishment. To clap. To praise. To encourage. We aren’t allowed that as adults. We cannot accept our own applause on the stage of our lives when we accomplish something that pleases us..that we’re actually proud of doing. A child claps. A child dances. A child looks to me with the hope that I see what he’s done and that he’s pleased with himself and he want me, for that brief shining moment, to take part in the exultant celebration of that accomplishment. From now on, I’m going to allow myself to do that….to clap, to smile, to dance because of something I’ve done and taken joy in…even if there is no one else around the see. Especially if there’s no one around to see. It’s a solitary celebration.
Grandlings are the reward of our old age. They remind us how to live, how to enjoy the wonders of this life, how to be better to ourselves, how to take advantage of each moment and be mindful of everything that matters, how to be surprised by joy.