Everything I learned, I learned from my grandson
Lucas came for a visit in July. It was supposed to be a short visit but at the end I enjoyed his company for almost four weeks. Throughout the years, I have been with my seven-year old grandson many times. He was born while his parents were going through medical school and I would often travel wherever they were– Iowa, Ohio, Florida – to help out and take care of him. This is why he is a little bit mine. He knows it too, and so that I don’t get greedy, he has gifted me his freckles. Those are all mine.
When I learned about his visit, I quickly rearranged my schedule. I pushed work appointments and social engagements as far as I could. I even freed up the time blocked out specifically for writing. There was no point in protecting the otherwise “sacred time.”. Lucas was coming and besides, I had not been able to write anything worth reading since April. There is a reason for that but this is a happy blog so I won’t get into it – not yet.
I Googled “Fun things to do with kids in Seattle” and created an activity packed agenda. I was careful to reserve time for creativity. Lucas is a dragon artist; his favorite subjects are very scary dragons. He began this phase of dragon painting in earnest shortly after his brother was born. The persistent theme was Big dragon eating Baby dragon. This went on until his sister was born. Now all his dragons seem to get along. They are vegetarians.
Lucas also likes puzzles, though not as much as I do. Right after he arrived, we bought a 1000-pieces puzzle. His goal was to finish it before he went home. Not wanting him to be disappointed, I tried to talk him into a more doable 500 pieces version. He insisted and I gave in. I figured there was a lesson for him about setting unrealistic objectives. As it turned out, that lesson, or I should say, those lessons, turned out to be for me.
We settled nicely into a little routine. First thing in the mornings, we would enjoy our “coffee” (Mexican hot chocolate), and we would either paint or work on our puzzle. After breakfast, we did our morning exercise. He escorted me as I jogged, patiently matching my slow pace, riding his bike, or peddling his scooter. In the afternoons, we were off to explore the city. He took workshops, like “making crystals”, or “painting wild life”; we visited the Science Center and learned about “black holes” and “butterflies”; we took the “Duck Tour” and built boats at the Wooden Boat Festival. He swam at the local parks, or the YMCA, and every night when we went home, he helped me make dinner. Lucas loves to cook. In fact, when he grows up, he is going to be a chef and gardener, and of course, a dragon artist. His plan is to grow his own food and have a restaurant with dragon canvases on the walls. I will be his pinche, the one who cleans after his mess. At night, after a warm bath, we read, or watched movies in Netflix. I was usually asleep before he was.
Everyday I sought “teaching moments” to convey the wisdom of my years to my young grandson. And everyday Lucas proved to me that wisdom has nothing to do with age.
Here are some examples of what I am talking about.
World War II
We are snuggled in the couch reading about the Mexican-American war (the subject of my current novel).
“So the Mexicans and the Americans had a war and killed a bunch of people?” “Yes, I am afraid so.” “Just like it happened in World War one? “Yes" “And in World War Two?” “Yes” “Abue, why do they always have to kill each other? Can’t they just talk about it?”
We are getting ready to go out and I put on my lipstick.
“I didn’t know grandmas use that! You never painted your lips before.” “That’s because when I am around you, I want to be ready to kiss you.” “So you don’t want to kiss me anymore?” “Yes I do, but I also want to be pretty” “So you don’t think you are pretty?” “… Do you think I am pretty?” “Well…you are kind of pretty…but you are old, you know?”
We are working on our puzzle listening to Ray Charles sing “Let’s call the whole thing off”
“Abue, what does “Lets call the whole think off mean?” “He is saying that he wants to break up with his girlfriend, I think…” “He doesn’t love her anymore? “I guess not…” “Because he says tomatos and she says tomatoes?” “Yes, and potatoes vs. potatoes “So he is a quitter?” “I guess…” “Well, you say papas and tomates and I am not quitting you, Abue.” “Thank you, Lucas. I love you too.” “We are not quitters, right? We are NOT quitting this puzzle until we finish it!”
He is watching the movie Hercules and wants to know all about the Greek Gods. I know nothing about the Greek Gods so I pull out my copy of the Geography of Religion (National Geographic) and we read a little bit about the major religions: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“So Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Jehovah, were all good?” “Yes.” “And they wanted all of us to be good, like them?” “Exactly” “So Abue, how come we need so many teachers to teach us the same thing?”
He climbs on his bed reluctantly, too afraid to go to sleep by himself.
“You don’t need to worry, Lucas, no one is going to hurt you, just go to sleep.” “There are not bad people in this neighborhood?” “No, Lucas, go to sleep” “Then how come you locked all the doors?”
We are at the park and two men, holding hands, kiss each other.
“Abue, is it true that two boys can marry in Washington?” “Yes, that is true, Lucas.” “Can two girls marry?” “Yes they can.” “Can four people marry?” “No…I don’t think so…” “Why not?”
We are in my library and he stares at my wall, which is covered with photos of my ancestors.
“Are all those people dead?” “Yes, Lucas, they are all in heaven” “Wow! Heaven must be like Disneyland, very crowded!”
I am jogging, panting going up a hill.
“I think I need to walk, Lucas, you go ahead.” “But you are almost there!” “I am too tired, you go ahead” “Ok Abue. Tell your brain to tell your legs that you can make it and you will! The brain is the boss of your body, you know?
And so it went. The “learning moments” came, unexpectedly, as we made pancakes, as we looked for rabbits in the trail, or as we sat outside eating corn dogs, counting the stars. Lucas curiosity ignited my curiosity. His delight in life became my delight. As the days went by, I found myself reaching for my notepad to jot down his words, his expressions, maybe a feeling, a look, a moment too beautiful to just let it pass without memorializing it, somehow. Soon I was writing sentences, then a paragraph, then a whole page. My computer lured my fingers to dance on its keyboard again, and for the first time since April, one morning I wrote. While the dragon artist painted, I reclaimed my voice.
When I reflect back on my time with Lucas, I realize that the real lesson was in the way he modeled virtues, like honesty. I am not talking about telling the truth, although he is very good at that (smile) but about transparency; about being truly who you are, always, no matter what. And I am reminded of Matthew’s words “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:3.” Not that I necessary believe or want to go to “Crowded Disneyland”, but I do want be real, like Lucas.
I have something to say to Ray Charles: two hours before we took the plane bound for Lucas’ home, we finished the puzzle. There were two pieces missing. We looked for them everywhere; we even took the vacuum cleaner apart but couldn’t find them. When it was clear that that we would be deprived of the pleasure one feels when one places that one last piece of the puzzle, Lucas looked at me, calmly, and said.
“That’s ok Abue, this means that we will have finish the next puzzle nexttime, no matter what!”