We had seven days together with two of our five grandchildren
We had seven days together with two of our five grandchildren over the Independence Day holiday week. Because of where they live, the tyranny of distance, and that I’m still working full time, we generally don’t have a whole week with them in one fell swoop.
Being a “yeah-yeah,” the pet name they have given me that is the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of the word “grandfather” borrowed from a kids’ cartoon even before they could put together coherent sentences, is one of the best roles I’ve ever had. Being a dad was — and is — great. But being a “yeah-yeah” is even better in some ways, given the fistful of time (my age), a shake or two of experience, and a dash of wisdom hopefully thrown in to the recipe that is me.
I love being around our grandkids. They inspire me. True, the kids are so full of energy they reminded me why, in his great wisdom, God intended children to be born to young people. But they also reminded me of several lessons that I probably innately knew when I was younger but, like many parents just barely hanging on with my fingernails to get through the day, I didn’t focus on these lessons as much as I wish I had now that I have the perspective of 20-20 hindsight.
Inspired by the book “30 Lessons for Living” (Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, NY, 2011), by Dr. Karl Pillemer, who spent years interviewing hundreds of older Americans to collect their lessons for living, I’d like to pass along three “yeah-yeah” lessons of which I was reminded during my grandkids’ visit this past week.
It seems only yesterday they were born. And now, even scarily sometimes, they act like little adults even at 5 and 8 years of age. They reminded me that while the days can be long with kids, the years are short. The kids asked me to play with them and spend time with them — me, old man me! — several times a day. They wanted me to play hide and go seek and to pretend I was monster chasing them. They asked to ride on my back and to play Pokémon and to read books to them and to get into the kiddy pool with them. They wanted to hold my hand.
So lesson No. 1 they reminded me of is to play with kids while you have the chance. Some of the sweetest words in the English language are, “Yeah-yeah would you like to … .” The time is quickly coming when they won’t want me to get on the floor with them to play. No better gift can be given to kids than the gift of time. And that works both ways.
Lesson No. 2: The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Somewhere along the line, though, beginning as teenagers we become know-it-alls. But the kids are so curious and inquisitive and interested in everything. They inspire me to watch bugs, find shapes in the clouds, and ask questions. Refreshingly, they know they don’t know everything and aren’t afraid to admit it.
One of the lessons Dr. Pillemer heard often when interviewing the elderly was reinforced by my grandkids during their visit and is lesson No. 3: To succeed in life, you need to be more than talented. You need to be nice.
Because their parents expect the behavior, the kids are polite. They generally say “please” and “thank you” and “yes sir” and “no ma’am,” civil behavior that too many of us have forgotten from our own parents’ and elementary school teachings. Some might say today this kind of nice, polite behavior is old-fashioned. But the kids reminded me of its importance regardless of the naysayers.
Dr. Pillemer reports research that has shown it takes 10 positive interactions to make up for one negative one, “so the ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship is critical.” Kids seem to have a natural understanding of this research. The elderly reported in Pillemer’s interviews to have grown to realize the importance of being nice even if it was forgotten in youth.
The most important lesson my grandkids reinforced for me, then, is to treat other people with respect. They don’t recognize differences in other kids, treat most everyone equally, and are willing to play with anybody who will play civilly with them. They may not have developed much talent yet, but far more importantly — even at ages 5 and 8 — they provided a refresher for an old “yeah-yeah” of how important it is to be nice.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.