Today’s post was going to be about children and memoir storytelling. I had it all set up like this:
The post would be the third in a series of how my grandchildren are my spiritual teachers. The first post (2011) was about learning attention and proprioception (awareness of the body) from a baby. The second (2013) focused on learning to become one with nature. I would continue the tradition of borrowing from other writers, like Wordsworth, and Kathleen Norris, and Anne Lamott to enhance the depth of my own experience. I love these little essays and wanted to write another like them.
But it was not to be.
In preparation for a talk I am giving Friday night called “I Love to Tell the Story,” I created a literal story board: copies of pictures that appear in my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.
I thought Owen, now age three, would select photos he was curious about and want to hear stories.
Alas, he was much more interested in his new Hello Kitty coloring book. In the 2.5 hours between the time he awoke and the time Stuart and I strolled him and Julia to school, Owen didn’t ask for any stories. Instead, he shed some tears. He:
- cried because I wasn’t in bed when he came to wake me up
- cried because Julia was playing with the bouncy ball he instantly decided he needed to have
- cried because the stripes on his socks were too wide
Was all lost?
Of course not! Even in their tears, Owen and Julia teach Grandma and Grandad. They give us gifts different from the ones we hoped for. But they amaze us by wisdom we can neither predict nor demand.
What spiritual gifts have we gained from a week of intensive grandparenting?
I. Let go of expectations.
Sometimes grandparents forget what to expect at a certain age or develop expectations of what will or won’t be fun for a child.
Wise parents know that children run according to their own feelings and needs. They have their own timetables for everything. Often, by going where the children are instead of insisting that they come to you, you get to explore places you would not have gone otherwise. Those places may be better than the ones you anticipated in advance. In the process, you start asking what you might need to let go in your own life.
As Dr. Stephen Cowan says, “Each season, each stage, each little rhythm of our life is a matter of letting go. This allows us to get rid of what we don’t need to make room in our lives for new information. Learning to let go is not always easy and each child has his own adaptive style and timing. Nature favors diversity.”
II. Practice in reframing.
Tears flow easily for three-year-olds. And they give way just as easily to smiles. Sometimes a little creativity is necessary. For instance, I discovered, along with Owen, that:
- it’s easy to pop back into bed and start snoring so that Owen gets to wake you up and clap his hands when you rub the sleep out of your eyes. His offer to make you coffee will jump start your day better than caffeine.
- a bouncy ball can bounce two ways; a brother can bounce it to a sister.
- questions re-orient thoughts: “I wonder if any of the other socks in the drawer look like they want to be on Owen’s feet today?”
III. Take time to smell the roses, literally and figuratively.
Such a cliché, smelling the roses. But how often do we do it? Owen examined every one of these flowers, seeking names of types and colors. He filled the glass with water and noticed that the flowers drank it with their stems. He sniffed the roses on the table.
He also exclaimed about the buds about to pop on the trees outside. Every day he examines them to see how much progress they’ve made.
His wise mother allowed Owen and Julia to dig in the dirt in the front lawn and asked them questions about what they saw.
Soon we will travel back to Virginia. We will leave with all of our senses tuned tighter (and our backs a little sorer). We will often hear imaginary laughter. And we’ll stride back into our own world with these two stepping stones to wisdom firmly in place:
I haven’t drawn any morals from this story related to memoir or to writing. But I’ll bet you can! What lessons in wisdom have you learned anew from your own children and grandchildren? Or have you had other teachers of the same ideas? Do tell!