Ever since my wife and I returned from a long vacation, our six grandchildren have been exceptionally delightful. Emmi (who just turned four-years old) two weeks ago approached me with her new routine: She wiggles her hips and with a coy smile says, "I'll be the princess and you'll be the king, okay?" She then sits me down while she prances about and twirls in a properly royal dress-up costume. She instructs me not to move but does allow me to be amused. Occasionally, she will sing some ditties about the joys of being a princess. When Emmi is done performing, she gives me permission to applaud.
While Emmi displays theatrical talent, Macy (almost six-years old) has the soul of a humanitarian. Last week, she asked me to watch a video of young Americans who ministered to groups of poor African children. In the middle of the video, Macy started to tear up, straightened her body, and vowed to go to Africa so that she too could help the unfortunate children there live better lives. I was so proud of her genuine selflessness. Her new-found, heartfelt concern for other people so far away deeply touched me.
Speaking of tears of indignation! Yesterday, when I was downstairs in my study, I heard Mia (nearly four-years old) frantically crying during a movie about a runaway FBI dog and a young boy who has befriended it. I rushed up to see if she might be scared by some of the action. On the couch, my wife was consoling Mia as best she could. In between sobs, Mia explained that she was upset because she feared that the boy would have to give up the dog, and she couldn't stand to see that happen—it wasn't right. After it turned out that the boy was able to keep the dog, Mia stopped bawling and beamed: the world was a good place after all. And when she clapped her hands, I felt like cheering too.
Today, Autumn (nearly eight-years old) demonstrated a real tenderness toward me. My wife was making and serving breakfast for three of our grand-kids. She knows exactly what they want to eat, how to cook it, and how they want it prepared. So I don't interfere unless my wife gives me the green light.
This morning, a bit overwhelmed, my wife told me to make it easier for the children to work with their pancakes. I began by cutting up a pancake, then adding some butter and syrup. Of course, that procedure was much more difficult and time consuming than spreading the butter and syrup before cutting the pancakes, as my wife emphatically reminded me. I wasn't offended at all. But later when my wife offered another suggestion, Autumn looked sadly at me, extended her arm to me, and said: "It's okay, Papa; everything will be fine." I appreciated her hug and kind words of support that showed how aware she was of our family dynamic at that moment.
What about my two grand-sons? They as well have made it a treat for me to be home from our recent travels. Elijah (almost six-years old) has always anticipated the stories I tell him about the adventures of three snakes: Schlomo, Schlemo, and Schlemina. And the scarier, the better. After not seeing me for seven months, the first chance he got, Elijah jumped on my lap and begged me for a Schlemo story. I will never forget the sparkle in his eyes and the firmness of his embrace. Papa was back, and the saga of the snake clan would continue.
This afternoon, Nick (almost eight-years old) used my downstairs computer to survey hundreds of dinosaur pics. In the past, he rarely wanted anyone to look at these photos with him. But today was different. While I was busy upstairs regaling Elijah with a Schlemo story, I think I heard Nick call out for me, but I wasn't certain, so I resumed my tale. A few minutes later, I definitely heard Nick asking for me, but because dinner was ready, I told him to go upstairs. After he ate, he disappeared once again to my study. Soon he again called for me. This time, I accommodated him. When I saw him at the computer, he was very animated. He actually wanted me to be with him as he sorted through the multitude of dinosaur pics. I was so happy to know that I was welcome, never mind sought out, to be a buddy in one of his special hobbies. Grand-kids, you gotta love 'em.
Last week, I replaced my literally burnt-out leaf blower. Before Emmi, my seven-year-old granddaughter, met me in the garage, I hastily assembled the new blower. It just had a couple of tubular attachments: one end of the larger one clipped onto the machine base; the other end fit into its smaller partner. I didn’t need to read the manual. It was a simple process, right? Well, maybe not for me after all.
The second that I flipped on the blower switch, whoa! Both attachments flew off down the driveway in different directions. After I retrieved them, I trudged back to the garage to study the manual. Like most manuals, this one baffled me.
That’s when Emmi arrived. Seeing that papa was perplexed, she asked if I would give her a chance to put the blower together. At this point, I would have accepted anyone’s help, so I consented. Without looking at the directions and without any deliberation, Emmi snapped the two attachments in their respective places, and I then turned on the machine: it worked wonderfully. None of the pieces throttled into space. Emmi grinned and patted me on the arm. We then embraced, and I congratulated her for being so smart. She modestly shrugged.
But her heroics had just begun. Before I had a chance to scatter the leaves from the driveway, Emmi said that she had noticed another blower attachment in the garage, a heavy, bulky vacuum bag. She asked if she could help me with it. Sure, Emmi had figured out how to secure the other attachments to the blower, but the vacuum bag assembly seemed to be much more complicated. At least, it would have been for me. Yet Emmi was undaunted. She opened the base—I never would have thought of that—and lowered the bag securely into the grooves. I switched the blower on, but it had no suction. Emmi calmly retraced her steps, meticulously readjusted the bag inside the blower base, and asked me to turn on the machine. This time it worked much better. Emmi waved to me, wiggled, and slipped back into the house.
My seven-year-old granddaughter was a great help. I have never had a firm grasp of mechanics. I am confident that when I become infirm, all of my nine grandchildren will be there to comfort me and to guide me. I’m sure that they will do so automatically—without a manual.
In the Nick of Time
The other day, I took my preteen grandson, Nicholas, to a thrift store. I told him that I’d give him up to 20 dollars to buy whatever he desired. At the toy section, we confronted children and parents who feverishly sorted through teeming baskets of goodies. Nick patiently waited until he saw an opening, but he found nothing worthwhile after rummaging through the piles of toys.
But I spied a brightly colored, intricately detailed large wooden schooner on wheels. It was on a high shelf; Nick probably hadn’t even noticed this treasure. I figured that he—and his six siblings as well—would be very fond of the boat. It cost only $3.50, so it wouldn’t put much of a dent into his $20 allotment. Nick, however, was not impressed. All he wanted were Legos, especially bionicle transformers. I, on the other hand, could have grabbed the schooner right then as a present for the rest of the grandkids, yet I hesitated. Perhaps none of them would like it.
Just then, one of the workers brought in a huge crate of toys. Nick raced over to it and began scavenging. I followed him. Within a minute, he had amassed loads of transformers that I helped him put in our cart. He was delighted with his cache, and surprisingly it cost less than 20 dollars.
Before we left the store, I decided, after all, to buy the schooner. If the kids didn’t care for it, I’d keep it for myself! But I was too late. A father was meticulously examining the ship while his three children were squealing to play with it. I hoped that he’d put it back on the shelf. In fact, I offered to take the boat off his hands if he wasn’t satisfied with it. I don’t think he heard me or perhaps he just ignored me. I wasn’t going to press the issue; he looked like he was a Marine on a mission. Finally, he gave the schooner to the smallest one of his sons.
I was disappointed, almost heartbroken. And my hurt obviously showed. Nick came up to me and said that he was sorry that I had lost my chance to get the boat, but he was glad of one thing: I didn’t get angry at myself or at the father. Although I have never been ill tempered in front of Nick, he obviously felt that it would have been natural for people to become angry if they faced a similar situation. Nick admired my self-restraint. Such perception, such thoughtfulness from a 10 year old! After hearing his kind, encouraging words, I quickly got out of my funk.
Wordsworth once wrote, “The child is father to the man.” I’d like to rephrase that quote: The grandchild is father to the grandpapa.
Mia, the Expression Express My preteen grandson, Nicholas, successfully played matchmaker when he was six years old; and my family will be forever indebted to him. At a kids’ park, he introduced himself to my recently divorced daughter, determined that she’d be a suitable mate for his recently divorced father, related that information to his dad, and arranged a rendezvous between them near the swing sets. Soon afterwards, Erin and Erica were married. That was five years ago. Yesterday, my youngest granddaughter, seven-year-old Mia, chose to watch The Little Match Makers, a movie in which two preteen children try to get their respectively divorced parents together. The trailer appealed to Mia because she always delighted in hearing about Nicolas’s matchmaking escapade. At first, I had no use for the movie: it wasn’t in HD, the acting was subpar, the plot was formulaic, and the pacing was sluggish. I at times asked Mia if she wanted to watch something else. She steadfastly said no. The kid had more stamina than I did. I was relieved when the movie finally began to wind down, but boy did I get a much heralded surprise. The moment that the man and the woman started to dance, Mia slapped the couch and triumphantly beamed. When the couple then embraced, Mia repeatedly whacked the couch—she almost levitated in the process—and looked at me with the most joy that I have ever seen in a child. It was well worth plodding through the movie to see Mia so ecstatic. What a matchless treat!
Autumn and Elijah to the Rescue
Yesterday, two of my grandchildren, Autumn (age 11) and Elijah (age 9) helped my wife and me secure, repair, and replace over a dozen wooden stairs to our beach house. These grandkids may not look formidable (Autumn is willowy and Elijah is wiry), but they are deceptively strong. Both of them with great determination and stamina in 90 plus degree heat expertly measured where multiple holes were to be drilled, used just the right amount of force as they pushed the power drill through the old and new wood, hammered in long, thick nails, and—wielding a sledgehammer—saw to it that the new wood was banged firmly in place. Autumn and Elijah accomplished as much as did their Papa and Nana.
My wife and I knew that Elijah tirelessly loved to work outside on projects (last week he helped me fix a broken mailbox post). Autumn’s forte has always been organizing stuff within the house, like closets and dresser drawers; but yesterday, she was just as adept doing a sweaty outside job.
Autumn and Elijah have impeccable character as well: Neither one of them would accept any money for their five hours of intensive labor. These kids must have been brought up right. That’s not a surprise. My daughter, Erica, has homeschooled them for years, instilling in them the virtues of hard work and devotion to family.
Truly a Sweet Delight
My 9-year-old granddaughter, Macy, and I watched a G-rated movie last night that we had not seen before, Christmas Lodge. It seemed to be an appropriate film: the synopsis indicated that it was a heart-felt portrayal of friendship and family values, virtues that Macy and her other home-schooled six siblings were faithfully taught and had scrupulously practiced at home.
I occasionally asked Macy if she liked the movie; if not, I would find another one for us. Each time, she said that Christmas Lodge was a good choice. Whenever the main characters thanked God for His blessings, Macy nodded her head, her eyes lit up, and she devoutly whispered that the movie was probably Christian—a far cry from the movie that she had earlier wanted to watch, Liar, Liar.
But what especially moved Macy was what the ailing grandfather said in order to persuade his son and his grandsons (all construction workers) to spend the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas to rehabilitate the beloved Christmas Lodge that their family had frequently stayed at and cherished for decades before its slow deterioration. The son kept saying that he couldn’t desert his other customers who needed his crew to do odds jobs for them. His father pooh-poohed his son’s concerns. Other companies could easily take up the slack. But the son relented when his father asked: “What would Jesus do?” At that point, Macy turned to me and proclaimed that she loved the movie because it showed Christian charity.
The morning after we saw the movie, I noticed that Macy had a lot of hair tumbling over part of her face. I suggested that she pull all of it back. It didn’t matter, she said. Soon she wouldn’t have much hair left. Macy explained that she is going to donate enough of her hair to make a wig for at least one young cancer patient. Such a lovely sacrifice: freely offering her richly flowing hair to a child undergoing chemotherapy. It has always been good therapy for me to visit with Macy. Each time, I get an insight into her kind soul. She is my hero!
Mia and the Headband
My wife, our two 9-year-old granddaughters, and I stayed overnight in Phoenix before departing for Honolulu the next day. As dinner time approached, everyone except Mia was ready to gather at the motel restaurant. Instead, Mia slowly admired herself in the mirror, trying to figure out the best spot to place a flower band around her head. She kept fiddling with it until I not too gently reminded her that it was time to go. Mia was not to be denied. This was her zinger of a response: “Don’t rush beauty.” All I could say was bravo to her adorable salvo. It took her awhile to elegantly position the headband. I waited patiently, not daring to disturb her artful, if arduous, wardrobe adjustments.
Emmi Never Waffles
My nine-year-old granddaughter Emmi displayed her dry wit and innovative wordsmithing on our way to Honolulu. As she was enjoying a waffle at the motel breakfast buffet in Phoenix, Emmi deadpanned: “I sure like my waffles medium rare.” Later on during our lunch at the nearby Waffle House, Emmi reflected that she was pretty good at being “thinkalogical.” Perhaps I should attribute Emmi’s facility with words to her creative homeschooling activities. But Emmi would be a cute firecracker no matter what environment she was raised in. Ever since I first met her when she was two years old, she has always been quick on the verbal draw. I have no doubt that there will be more quotable nuggets from Emmi as the month-long vacation in Hawaii unfolds.
Papa Doesn’t Always Know Best
Today at our condo, Emmi showed her practical side. My ultra-bright flashlight, which takes six batteries, wasn’t working. I emptied the defective batteries without observing their plus and minus arrangement—a common oversight for me. When I retrieved fresher batteries, I discovered that there were no directions about how to insert them.
At that time, Emmi needed me to check her homework. While I did so, she said she could get the flashlight to work. She grabbed the batteries, briefly checked the plus and minus terminals, and with a jiggle or two, plunked them into the empty slots, and pressed the button. And presto, then there was light! She saved me lots of hit-and-miss efforts trying to get the flashlight to operate.
Simultaneously, I finished correcting her English assignment. She made a few mistakes, but her manipulation of the batteries was an A plus.
But there is more to the story. Emmi asked me to make sure that the total points for the assignment was 100. Of course, I said. To convince her, I tallied them: I got 99, not 100. Emmi was positive that I had miscalculated. She added up the points, painstakingly explaining to me how she arrived at the right number: 100. I rechecked my addition. Oops! I had figured that 8 plus 5 was 12 instead of 13, accounting for my wrong answer.
I don’t know what Emmi’s I-Q is. But I’m convinced that it outnumbers mine.
Quality Time without any Apps
When my brother and I were teenagers, we often enjoyed playing long-range catch on the beach with lightweight medium-sized rubber balls. We challenged each other by throwing the ball as high as we could, as far as we could, against the wind, with the wind, sometimes putting as much spin on the ball as possible so that it would dip or rise at the last minute. We prided ourselves on making spectacularly accurate throws and incredibly tough catches. It didn’t matter if the ball was heading for the sand dunes or the ocean: we fearlessly pursued it. Luckily, we never had any collisions with unsuspecting people in our path. My brother and I were a seamless team.
Years later, recalling those wondrous days with my brother, I played catch with my son. But this time, we used a baseball or a football. And the backyard was our field of dreams. I was no longer as limber or fleet as I used to be, but my son was just as dexterous as my brother was. He practiced hard and was patient with me when my arthritic tosses were off kilter. With amazing consistency, he made mind-boggling catches while effortlessly navigating around trees, stumps, uneven ground, a picnic table, and a chain-link fence. I was as proud of his athleticism as I was of his academic prowess.
Although I no longer play catch with my brother or my son, I have another enthusiastic and skillful ball mate, my grandson Elijah. Whenever we get a chance, we throw a baseball to each other either in his front yard or at the foot of the steep driveway at my house. Every time that I see Elijah, he has his baseball glove handy, hoping to play catch with his Papa. I now relish those moments and will always cherish them. Elijah has recently become fiercely devoted to his skateboard. But I don’t think that I am skating on thin ice by expecting that we will still have time for a rousing game of catch.