THE TAO OF GRANDPARENTING
“Thou saucy clay-brained fustilarian”
Bob and Barbara Mesle
written several-plus years ago
A Grandmother’s Perspective
Tell your own stories because it will force you to pay attention. Pay attention to your own life happening. Pay attention to human beings. Pay attention--it’s the beginning of all art, of all beauty, of all love. I have a feeling that is what being human is all about,” our good friend Joey said. Grandchildren encourage me to pay closer attention. Grandparents are among those who need to remember who likes nuts in their brownies and who doesn’t, who finds the tags in their shirts irritating and who doesn’t, who wants yogurt on their cereal and who wants milk. Grandparents remember that children possess the ability to experience the world around them in unique ways.
When I’m around Asher and Elliot, I witness first hand that Creativity is the most general notion at the base of all that is. This spring break I played a game with Elliot that I’d played with one of my college classes---creating and hurling “Shakespearean insults” at each other in fun. “Thou saucy clay-brained fustilarian” was our model. I’m not sure even I can define “fustilarian” satisfactorily, but Elliot, 4, “got” the idea. He could make up similar crazy taunts: “You carrot-headed, dirty-eared Mimi-roll-baker!”
These little boys are in the present and they are becoming. There is nothing static or inert about their realities.
Grandparents also witness in a visceral way the inter-relatedness of all of creation. The connection is clear in their physical bodies. Bob’s mother is deceased, but her hazel eyes light up Elliot’s face—though his eyes are also like those of the Italian side of his other Grandmother’s family, the Miglores. So far, six-month old Asher’s eyes remain clear and blue like my Dad’s, Bob’s Dad, and like Asher’s English relatives, the Harveys. Elliot has the taller, leaner bones and frame of his Dad’s side of the family, and Asher seems to be cut out of sturdier stock, like his Mama and Uncle Mark were as babies. Their emerging personalities are, of course, composed of a complex hybrid of all of these people and relationships. And yet Asher is like no one other than himself , just as his older brother is uniquely Elliot.
In a class once I learned that the three jewels of Taoism were compassion, moderation, and humility. Are these not the components children require to thrive? Asher and Elliot encourage me to be more mindful and peaceful. Once on the morning we had to depart, I said to Elliot, “I am really going to miss you.” His response: “But, Mimi, you’re not missing me now.”
When I pay attention to who Asher and Elliot are and to who they are becoming, when I remember to really know them, the harmony of the world sings out to my heart.
A Grandfather’s Perspective
I dipped the tip of my little finger into the chocolate brownie batter and gave my finger to baby Asher (6 months old). He sucked hard and happily. Is this his first chocolate? Probably not, in this family of chocolate lovers. Elliot, his older brother by 4 years, had eagerly licked the bowl, and was anxious to eat the baked brownies. But when I offered the chocolate finger tip to Asher, Elliot scolded me. “Mama and Da wouldn’t give him that.” “I know,” I replied. “That’s what grandparents are for.” Short visits allow extra treats.
Right now, Elliot has his hands in dough, helping Barbara makes rolls for dinner. She is showing him how to make half a roll, dip it into flour, fold the dough in on itself, dip it in oil and tuck it into the space in the pan. Two halves per space. Let them rise, and soon, in the oven they will smell wonderful, blending with the smell of roasted garlic in the spaghetti sauce Elliot helped me make.
The grandchild who can be named Elliot or Asher is not the true grandchild, for not even the swiftest waterfall changes more quickly than a young child.
We are Baba (Bob) and Mimi (Barbara). We are grandparents. (We never were until 4 ½ years ago.)
A child, like every person, like everything that is, is a cumulative flow of experiences and relationships. We live in Iowa, 3,000 miles away from Asher and Elliot in Los Angeles. Every day they become themselves anew in our absence. So, when we might be saving more money than we are for retirement, we spend it being with them whenever we can.
Every night that we are with them one of us reads a bedtime story, and the other sings “la la’s” (lullabies). Elliot get’s to choose who does which. My voice has decayed with age, so I whistle my lullabies.
We envy our few friends whose grandchildren live near them. We often think that cultures in which families live together for three or four generations are doing something wise, although they must surely have problems of their own. But Barbara and I both have jobs, loyalties, and long-time friendships where we live in Iowa. Our children, in typical American style, have struck out to create lives and careers where opportunities open up. We tried to raise them well and then set them free to author their own life paths. Like good Confucians, we value family, and like good Taoists, we go with the flow. Like good Whiteheadians, we understand that most of life is who you live it with. So here we are, on spring break from teaching, spending time with Elliot & Asher in LA.