"No, You Are Not Just Jack"
I have been amazed at being a grandparent over the past two decades. It has been a fun time for me. Ayanna was my first.
Today, she is a sophomore in college. In those two decades, we have had fun together. My debut as a grandfather occurred when I was in my early 50s. Today, I am in my early 70s and have danced with death a couple of times. Life is seen differently including being a grandfather due to aging and two near-death experiences.
Enter Jack and Owen. Jack is four and Owen is two. Today, being their Papa is different. I am not sure that there is an actual difference or rather that the difference is on steroids. At any rate, it is a wondrous relationship. As a grandfather, you see caring for grandchildren differently than when you were a parent. You can see many of the mistakes that you made as a parent or were made when your parents were raising you.
That being said, experiencing being a grandfather for me is one of the great blessings of life...especially at this end of my life. Having danced with death, I definitely appreciate life and know that I will not able to lead death in all our future dances. Therefore, I cherish the time spent with particularly the younger two. Ayanna and my kids have had lots of time with me already. Jack and Owen have not.
In addition, Jack is at the age that I was when both my grandfathers died. I have three photos of them with me and one faded memory of my Grandfather Oakford. That is all I have of them.
Surely, they loved me, but I do not possess memories of them and that love. That puts my time with Jack and Owen at an emotionally different level. Trust me.
Finally, I do not want either of them to think less about themselves. Therefore, every time I say good-by to Jack and Owen as I hug them, I tell them that they are special and that they are the greatest grandsons.
One day probably 6-months ago when I was saying good-bye to Jack and Owen, I again told Jack just how much I admired him. His quiet retort was, "No, I'm just Jack." My quiet response returned quickly. "No, you are not just Jack." Jack accepted my response without a countering reply. Perhaps, he did not want to push the issue or that he would just let it ride. In spite of Jack's denial of my admiration of how much I admire him, I still hug him and Owen when saying good-by and comment about my enthusiasm of them. Jack has not challenged me with his just Jack comment again.
Several weeks ago, I showed Jack and Owen the drawing that I have of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh.
I put the picture in a loose-leaf notebook that contains famous paintings, which I use in my art history class for Jack and Owen. I have used these pictures with Jack for over a year and have recently started with Owen. Jack knows the painters and the names of the paintings of more than four dozen paintings.
However, this notebook contains other pictures like this one with Christopher Robin telling Winnie-the-Pooh to promise him several things.
The following week, we went over paintings that were in the loose-leaf binder. We had not done that for a month or so. Therefore, as I started our art history lesson, I was not sure just how many he would remembered. Jack rattled them off as if he had just studied them for several hours.
I was amazed as we went through van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, Turner, Leonardo, Vermeer, and Chagall. To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. Jack's ability to recall both the names of paintings and the artists overwhelmed me. You know the feeling when something extremely positive occurs and for a moment you are speechless.
I looked at him as Dr. Marchand had looked at me when he told me that I had seen the light after returning from Myanmar. I blurted out, "Jack you are a great kid. You are loving, interested in things, and smart. You absolutely amaze me." I made that declaration without forethought; I just blurted it out.
However, Jack's response was not verbal. It was written all over his face as if in capital letters. From my expression of sheer enthusiasm about him and his abilities, Jack's face said to me, "Maybe, you are correct about me." He accepted my compliment with the look that he believed it. Bingo.
Now, this breakthrough of absolute understanding and acceptance occurred with a 4-year child whose parents are very loving and affirming of him and his brother. His extended family loves him and his brother at an extremely high level also. Jack and Owen live in an exceptionally loving bastion of care and support. In that absolute happenchance of us going through pages of paintings, Jack realized something at the very core of his being. There was indeed something great about him.
All children in this world should know that they possess greatness in many areas of their lives also. However, I wonder how many have come to realize that truth. We need to reflect honestly about what we see that is positive about all people, especially children. We all need to be the Christopher Robin to those Winnie-the-Poohs in our lives. In our own ways, we need to sit with those little ones and say, "Promise me you'll always remember that you're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."