I’m sure some tourist who went to Hawaii some five years ago are still talking about that toddler who had an hour-long tantrum because he forgot to bring his Batman hat on the hike. That was my grandson Malik and now at seven years old, he is my hero. One of the happiest and most resilient human beings I know.
For example, when Alaska Airlines lowered the age when you can fly alone, he was thrilled to come spend a week with Pop-Pop and Mima without his sister. He was put on a plane by his other Grannie in Salt lake City, the plane taxied off and then got a flat tire, went back to the gate and all the passengers disembarked to wait for two more hours before it was fixed. He called me on a little watch/phone gizmo his Grannie had bought him and was happily eating a burger with a flight attendant, non-plussed about the whole thing. It was some five hours since Grannie left him at the airport before he arrived in San Francisco and while all the adults in the story were stressed and worried, he was cool as a cuke. What changed to make the Batman-hat tantrum change to the resilient first-flight alone at seven years old?
Well, maturation for one. One of the pleasures of kids growing older is gaining more control over their bodies, minds and emotions. Things like breaking the reading code— which Malik did in an astounding way, moving from the stilted short sentences of the Bob Books to whole pages of Harry Potter in an explosive 5-year old breakthrough of a couple of months. Then all the Montessori tasks of increased independence— tying shoes, cutting carrots, cutting with scissors, baking a hurry-up cake (or helping Pop-Pop with pancakes)— that make a child less dependent on the presence of adults. Knowing things gives a pleasurable power to one’s life, increased body coordination that had him making over 50 baskets the other day at the adult basketball court, riding a bike, swimming, skateboarding, etc. Who cares about a Batman hat when there’s so much to do each day?
It also helped to be away from his sister, with the full attention of his doting grandparents. Despite the claims of the book Siblings Without Rivalry (a book that Cain and Abel failed to read), it was a pleasure to bypass the constant bickering and Zadie’s plaintiff “MALIIIIIK!!!!”
Finally, I think it’s also a matter of temperament, just the way he has grown into a happy, self-possessed and resilient kid. It truly was extraordinary how in 6 full days, there wasn’t a single tear, whine, eye-roll, confrontation. He ate all his dinner, helped out when we asked him and generally responded to our requests to do something or stop doing something the first time, something that had never happened before. Not wanting to jinx it, I didn’t say anything about it out loud, but on the last day, I decided to take him to the Conservatory of Flowers and met my first resistance. “Why do we have to go there?” he whined, even as he had no idea what there was. That’s when I told him that he was about to make the world record of no upsets or no whining the whole visit, so I invited him to respond with, “That’s a great idea, Pop-Pop. I can’t wait!” when I repeated the question. I did and he did and he actually really enjoyed the place with its giant lily pads and insect-eating plants. So we made it over that hurdle without knocking it down.
On Saturday, our last day, we awoke at 4:30 am to get to the airport for his 6:15 flight. The traffic was flawless (though still I wondered the story behind each of the hundred or so cars we saw out on the road so early on a Saturday morning) and so we arrived at the ticket counter at 5:05, only to encounter an uncomfortably long line. I’ll spare the details, but even as we got our ticket with 45 minutes to spare and no checked luggage, a man insisted we would not make the flight and would have to re-book. There were Malik’s first tears. Though he loved the week with us, he had been three weeks away from home (a visit to the other grandparents before us) and was ready to see his parents, his room and even his sister. He was sad, I was pissed off, we had to re-book for a 4:00 flight that afternoon. Before we left the airport, I took him off to the side and said, “Let’s have a hug. Do you want to cry a little with me?” And he said with a bright voice, “Hey, when we get back to your house, we can finish the movie (The Music Man) we couldn’t finish last night!”
And that was that. He was back to his bouncy, happy self. I made him pancakes while he watched, joined him at the end of the movie, we both tried to nap a bit before he started jumping on me and off we went to the movie theater to see Lightyear and have lunch in a mall where I never go, but seemed to be a treat for him. Then to the airport and this time he got on and the plane actually left on time.
In a country where more and more grown adults are throwing tantrums akin to “I WANT MY BATMAN HAT!!!!” this seven-year-old young man is my new hero. We all have a lot to learn from him.