The daily news’ motto: If it bleeds, it leads. Along with the TV detective series telling the stories of abused children growing up to be abusers, our failures as a species to raise happy children grown to functional, kind and compassionate adults dominates our storied landscape. I understand that since TV’s mandate is to attract viewers and newspapers to attract readers in order to survive economically, they need to hit us in the brain stem, where flight, fright or freeze overrides all other systems of thought and feeling, they need to lower us down to the chakras at the base of the spine dealing with survival, sex and power. I understand that. And get hooked into it myself with some of my viewing and reading habits (but thank goodness, not all).
But back in the real world, my life has been spent observing and thinking about what makes children happy and figuring out how to give it to them. I’m not talking about giving them everything they think they want (like daily ice cream!), but taking seriously what they deeply need. Things that both meet them where they are and lead them to where they might be. Things that are worthy of their attention, that help cultivate both skills and attitudes that will serve them their whole life, that uplift them, that hit their “intellectual, imaginative and humanitarian promise:” as spoken in our school’s Mission Statement.
As an adult in the relationship, I need to happily level down to their world of fantasy and play while lifting them up to a culture beyond the pop fashion, the old warhorses of civilization made forever new by each generation (note Greek myths, nursery rhymes and The Music Man below). It’s a delightful game of ping-pong, me sharing the classics and them sharing the latest. But as the adult in the relationship, be it as a teacher or grandfather, I get to serve first.
This the thinking behind another glorious week with a grandchild, this time 7-year-old Malik come to San Francisco by himself (see tomorrow’s post) two weeks after his sister Zadie had spent time with us. If I lived on a farm, I’d have both of them just follow me around in my daily chores and not necessarily make a special schedule of activities. But being retired teacher city-dwellers, both my wife and I begin the visit before the visit making a list of things we think they would enjoy that we’d like to share with them. Some— like going to a museum or sitting for an hour while I play piano at the Home for the Aged or watching an old musical— they never would have chosen for themselves, but in every case, ended up liking it— and in some cases, loving it. We look at what’s happening around town (the circus), consider the meals, make a list of possible videos (not every night) and bring up some of the books and board games from the basement.
Garrison Keillor famously celebrated growing up in the 50’s when parenting was not a verb and I get what he means. My childhood also was mostly “get out of the house and play” with no adults in sight and we kids were more than happy to do so. Today’s parents are helicoptered around their kids taking them from this adult-organized sports team or lessons or class to that and the kids are squeezed in the middle by too much verb and not enough noun. But there is a middle ground that gives space for kids to just play on their own and thoughtfully considers what might both delight and uplift them. In our house, grand-parenting is very much a verb, not a casual title we take lightly.
The bottom line is that it works. The grandkids are so happy to be with us and we are so happy to be with them. That’s the beginning, middle and end of the whole deal. Our version of the verb is not transferrable— our lifetimes as art and music teachers prepares us for a unique way to be with kids. But perhaps the list below summarizing the kind of things we did in Malik’s recent visit might serve as an outline for grandparents considering how to spend time with their offspring’s offspring. If so, enjoy! Malik certainly did!
• Sit-down home-cooked meals and two special restaurants/ helping cook waffles and pancakes
• Walking or biking every day in fresh air/
• Reading books— Greek myths/ Nursery rhymes/ children’s books
• Cards/ board games— Go-fish, Trash, War, Othello, Sorry
• Videos— Mix of classics and contemporary: Peter Pan, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Music Man, The Emperor’s New Groove, Lightyear (in the movie theater)
• Museums (De Young/ Legion of Honor)
• Art projects— drawing postcards/cards/ sewing a stuffy
• Music— xylophone jam, memorizing Hello Muddah Hello Faddah, listening to me play piano at Jewish Home, listen to jazz band in the park
• Shows— Circus Bella
• Special SF tourist events: Cable Car/ GoCar/ Japanese Tea Garden/ Conservatory of Flowers
• Sports—Frisbee golf, basketball, watching highlights of the Warriors / Celtics NBA Championship playoffs
• Free play— legos/ action figures/throwing sticks in the park
And of course, ice cream!