Grandparenting provides an endless series of satisfying experiences exceeding anything I could have anticipated. I scrum around with a pair of two-year old inexhaustibles, rarely having to deal with negative moods or sudden non-social impulses. I don’t have to urge, cajole, or command ( ha!) them to eat their vegetables, nor do I have to supervise their putting away toys before bedtime. I don’t even have to negotiate their slumber hour, either. Since they see me only occasionally, I’m the agreeable adult who never pushes them to behave in ways contrary to their own wishes. That accounts for our always having a good time together.
Naturally, something new about them grabs my attention whenever we visit. Their steady development is a wonder to behold. Actually, I observe them more closely and purposefully than I did our own kids, who, at that age, motivated verbal reactions to their shenanigans more than philosophical contemplation. That largely differentiates the domain of parenthood from that of grandparenthood. Fortunately, meaningful cues I sometimes missed in Gill and Alan didn’t disappear in the moment. Whatever was helping make them the individuals they were evolving into managed to reappear when I was more open to detached observation. But just try detaching yourself from your own kids.
Parenthood is an apprenticeship for grandparenthood, the time when experience compiled as a novice can be employed with loving objectivity. With our two-year-old twins, Della and Marcus, I try, in a variety of indirect ways, to encourage useful habits like sharing and exercising patience and, as well, I try to stimulate curiosity. I love to sit back and watch them trying to unravel why what’s happening is happening. I’m intrigued by imagining how what transpires in their minds leads to their actions. Recently, for example, Della wanted to play catch and moved from person to person, tossing her ball to each of us in turn. I was surprised that, at so early an age, she displayed this social instinct. How had it taken root within her? Trying to comprehend internal influences powering her behaviors and those of Marcus--believe me, those actions are anything but identical-- is a puzzle I never grow tired of trying to solve.
Attempting to understand their internal motivation doesn’t mean I over-intellectualize what I see. Sure, I’d really like to know the roots of their behaviors, but I’m also completely vulnerable to externals, particularly to their cuteness, a commodity they distribute casually and in abundance. I’m a grandfather, after all, not a professional psychologist. Their laughter and impishness purely and simply make me happy, especially, I’m sure, because they reflect senses of security and serenity. In their actions and responses, they stimulate great wonder and greater love.
At their current stage, I’m particularly interested in how they use the tools of language. They’ve progressed from sputters to random sounds to a growing number of what they understand now are words that make their wishes known.
Soon, of course, they’ll discover that single most welcomed and most dreaded word in any parental vocabulary: “WHY?” The reason for the duality is obvious. For parents, it’s often a confrontational word, an offspring’s demand for justification: WHY must I go to bed now? WHY do you want me to eat those string beans? When exercised that way, any answer likely will be unsatisfactory in the estimation of the inquisitor. But there’s an elemental significance to the word that overpowers the occasional angst accompanying it. In this usage, the word expresses desire to understand something that doesn’t cohere, that simply doesn’t make sense. It signals desire to transform the unaccountable into the understandable. It’s the intellectual opposite of the easy way out that, unfortunately, some people--kids and adults--take when confronted by anything requiring more than superficial explanation. Rather than seek for themselves, they opt out with a quick, “I don’t know.” In other words, if an answer isn’t obvious, why stress? Someone else will tell them what to think.
In young people, that’s a worrisome habit, a prelude both to stifling curiosity and evading responsibility later for delving for answers to hard questions. Obviously, our current society has been severely damaged because millions of intellectual indolents have invited manipulators, eager to brainwash their developing cults, to control their mental voids. I do understand how difficult wrestling with that magic three-letter word can be. It requires digging and adjusting to deferred satisfaction. But failure to take it on results in crucial parts of life remaining deliberately unexplored. Frustrating as “why?” can sometimes be, I want Della and Marcus to feel comfortable in using it. I want them to excavate for answers, to speculate, to conjecture, and, particularly important, to realize there’s nothing wrong with being wrong if that’s a result of honest intellectual exploration. Re-exploration should always be an option. The mind should be resilient.
The world you’re entering, Della and Marcus, gets harder to negotiate by the day. Your activities, I hope, will help repair the damage it’s already sustained. Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I’m confident you’ll both take my advice and embrace “why?” as perhaps the “whysest” word in our vocabularies. It’s the key to understanding and explaining the intricacies of life. Unlock as many closed doors as you can.