I’ve always said that the key to a more vibrant life is to view the world through the eyes of a child. Spend any time at all around kids and you’ll be amazed at their sense of wonder and imagination. You’ll be amused by their innocent perspective on the realities of life. And you’ll quickly figure out that some of them have been playing football without a helmet far too long.
We’ve all known people who subscribe to the philosophy that kids should be seen and not heard. I think we’re all guilty of that to a certain degree. It’s a natural thing. Sometimes we just don’t want to be disturbed. Or maybe we’re in the middle of something that requires our full concentration, like driving or balancing a checkbook (or driving while balancing a checkbook). But it bothers me when I think of the number of times my kids and grandkids have tried to get my attention, only to be met with, “Not now.”
Oh, they go off and find something else to do, seemingly unaffected by the brush-off. But I’ve noticed in my grandson that it has a cumulative effect, and lately I can see the immediate disappointment in his eyes. He’s heard those words far too often. And then I have to ask myself why I didn’t make time to listen to him sing a song, or tell a story, or ask yet another question. And the hard truth is it’s a habit. The words almost come automatically.
The thing is, I’m cheating myself as much as I’m cheating him. I can’t begin to count the number of times he’s said something that I found truly amazing, especially considering his age. Other times I gain a little insight into the emotions he tries to hide, and things that he’s having trouble putting into perspective. Sometimes I laugh. And other times, he catches me completely off-guard and does something few people have ever done – he leaves me utterly speechless.
Last year, we were driving home from church after a service that was dedicated to a member who passed away the previous week. He was pretty quiet at first, then finally said, “Grandpa, I have a question for you. When you die …” He hesitated, as if he wasn’t sure how to phrase his question. A hundred thoughts were running through my brain. Would this be a question about funerals and burial, about Heaven and Hell? I quickly shifted into the role of educator, ready to give him whatever spiritual guidance he needed.
“What, buddy? What about when you die?” He said, “No … when YOU die …” Alright, this was a question about me specifically. I wasn’t quite ready for that, but okay. My mom always said if a kid can ask a question, they’re ready for the answer. So I asked him again. “What about when I die?” He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, when you die, can I have your motorcycle?”
Wham! Here I thought we were about to have a discussion about mortality and eternity, and he was just getting dibs on Grandpa’s possessions. Before the day was out, he asked the same thing about my pool table. I began to wonder if he knew something I didn’t. “No son, you can’t have my motorcycle or my pool table. Besides, I’m not planning to die any time soon. And get that toaster away from my bath water.”
The truth is, I’ve had more laughs over that conversation than he’ll ever know. From his perspective, it was just an innocent question. In fact, I should take it as a compliment that he enjoys the same things I do. But the important thing is he enjoys them because we do them together. We’ve always been really close, and that’s something for which I’ll be eternally grateful. Because I know the day is coming when hanging out with Grandpa won’t be so much fun. And then I’ll wish I could buy back all those times I told him “Not now.”
The moral to this story isn’t that we should take time now to lay claim to our grandparents’ possessions. Well, unless they’ve got a really cool motorcycle. The point is that we need to spend more time with kids, listening to them, sharing with them, building memories that will last beyond our own lifetime. We need to look at the world through their eyes, and learn to find amusement in the things we tend to overlook. And along the way, maybe we can learn to see a ray of light in times of sadness. After all, we don’t really have to bury Grandpa’s motorcycle with him, now do we?
It’s been almost forty years since Harry Chapin penned the lyrics to Cat’s In the Cradle. I think of that song often, especially when my grandson asks me to ride a bicycle with him or play catch, and I don’t really feel up to it. I think of how that song illustrates the fact that behaviors are passed down from one generation to the next, and how much I want him to enjoy the closeness with his own grandchildren that I enjoy with mine. Most of all, I think of the laughter we’ve shared in the times when I said, “Come on” instead of “Not now.” Those are the times he’ll remember long after I’m gone.
And if by chance my motorcycle happens to outlive me …
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon