My 9-year old granddaughter, Morgan, asked me (each night she gets to answer the question, “Who would you like to put you to bed?”) to come to her room as she prepared to go to sleep.
Once there, I said, “Want me to read you a story?” “No”, she replied.
Seized with what I thought was a brilliant idea, I said, “You want to read to me?”
“Want to talk about something”?
“Nope, I just want you to sit at the end of the bed, I’ll crawl under the covers and I want you to put your hand on top of the covers, on top of my right foot and just be quiet while I read”.
So, I did as she asked. After about 15 minutes of no sound except for the turning of the pages, she sat up, closed her book, reached to turn off the light and said “I’m going to sleep now, thanks, it’s been a long time since someone has touched my foot as I read, good night and I love you”.
I said “I love you too”, and left as I was asked to do.
Ok, I am thinking, you asked me to come and be with you as you go to bed, but you don’t want me to read to you (as I used to), you don’t want to read to me; you just want me to put my hand on your foot and keep my mouth shut. I’m really not doing all that much “grandfathering” am I?
The next day, my 5-year old granddaughter, Leah, asked if I would be willing to come play with her. I said sure, and hand in hand, proceeded to the play room. We both sat down at the play table, she got out pens, pencils, scissors, and paper. I asked if she wanted us to draw something, she said “No”.
I asked if she would like to color. She said “No”. (I had picked up those cues from watching her play with her grandmother, but she must have intuitively known that I am not all that good of a draw-er or color-er).
She took some scissors and began making a series of snowflakes. I asked if she wanted me to cut some out too. By now you can probably guess her answer. “No”.
Ok, I am thinking, you asked me to come play with you, you won’t give me any paper, pens, pencils, scissors…….go figure.
So, I sat there……. I noticed as she was cutting that small bits of paper were falling onto the desk and floor, so I began picking them up, and finding a clue stick began making a link of all the little pieces of paper. She looked at me from time to time, said nothing and just kept cutting out snowflakes.
My paper scrap chain was getting longer and longer, and at one point she looked over at me and said “Pappy, you’re silly”.
I then got the bright idea that I could make the chain into a necklace and put it around her neck. Thus inspired I did make it into a necklace and when I asked if I could put it around her neck, she said “No, silly, that’s not a necklace”, and promptly grabbed it, threw it into the waste basket, and the worst insult of all, laughed.
Thus thwarted by the 5-year old, and feeling like a complete failure, I just sat back in my seat and contemplated my worth as a grandfather.
Several minutes later, she abruptly said “Ok, I’m done now”, cleaned things up, got up and said, “Thanks for playing with me, that was fun”.
Fun? Ok. I guess I don’t know what fun is.
I was also thinking of the lack of training that I had for being a grandfather. My grandfathers didn’t do the “play” thing. They did the “work” thing. I remember spending hours with them, working together, seldom, if ever saying a word except for the “get this”, or “do that” (if they were in a good mood), and “Why didn’t you get/do this or that (or much worse) if they weren’t in such a good mood.
A few weeks later, my 9-year old and I spent two nights in a tent right outside the house in the yard. Again I was imagining that we might have a magical conversation. You guessed it, she didn’t want to talk, she just wanted to go to sleep and for me to make sure there were no mosquitos inside. So I examined, as she watched, every square inch of the inside of the tent, and at last satisfied, she said “goodnight” and within 5 minutes was asleep. I know because she has a nine-year old snore.
Later, as I tried to put all of this together, I remembered the one thing I think I learned about being a single father in a not so pleasant environment. To a great extent the only thing I could control then (and now) was whether or not I showed up. I remembered being told by a wise lady, “Your job is to show up and be there as much as you can, no matter what, period”. “No excuses!!!!” I didn’t do that nearly as much as my kids needed me too, I am sure, but I did it as much as I could. And I believe that in the long run that was, though not perfect, good enough.
How do I know? My then teenage daughter told me one time, “I realized one day that if you didn’t love me (as had been suggested to her) you wouldn’t have kept showing up.” That was the day both of our lives changed.
Perhaps that’s the secret. Instead of what I make up that a grandfather “should” be doing with his grandchildren, I’ll just keep showing up, and hopefully that will be enough. Perhaps more than anything else, including presents, what matters most to them is my presence.
AND, perhaps this doesn't apply just to my grandchildren. Maybe it applies to everyone you and I care about. It could very well be that what they want most is our presence, being fully present. No TV, phone, IPad, newspaper..... Maybe at the end of the day, that's actually all they want.