I often write about life’s lessons learned. Although a continuous process, the most precious lessons, however, are typically learned via a method dubbed “the hard way.” In other words, good things don’t come easy–and experience is a hell of a teacher! (Usually she gives the frickin’ test first—and the lesson after.) It’s a time-proven (and dependent) system complete with a catchy tagline designed to trap the masses: with age comes wisdom. Yeah . . . well . . . I have a question . . . actually two . . . Who the eff decided this was the way it was going to be!? And more importantly, who forged my name on this “Age for Wisdom” contract? ‘Cause I know I sure as fuck didn’t sign off on a consolation prize-esque trade-off offered in exchange for the loss of smooth skin, thick hair, perky boobs and a flat stomach (not to mention the ability to remember where my damn car keys are and to maneuver without aches and pains). Moreover, the line is an outright lie and the contract is a con . . .
At 62, I have certainly attended –and graduated (with freakin’ honors, BTW!)–from one of life’s most venerable institutions of higher learning. Ergo as an alum of the renown School of Hard Knocks, I dare say I should have amassed by now a fair amount of that aforementioned age-issued wrinkles-for-wisdom insight I was promised. So how is it that a couple of weeks ago I was schooled by a kindergartner? A five-year-old? A little kid who still has all his baby teeth, who still believes in Santa and hero super powers, and who still occasionally needs help wiping his butt? Seriously?! Clearly this has to be a violation of the AfW contract! But before I pursue legal action and press formal charges, let’s examine the fraud further . . .
The actual notion of adults learning from children is not new. In fact, it’s Old Testament old—if one remembers Isaiah 11:16’s “a little child shall lead them.” The New Testament expands the concept with Jesus’ “whom shall humble himself as a child.” Children are epitomes of humility, possessive of the sort for adults to emulate, as theirs comes not from thinking too little of one’s self, but rather from not thinking too much at all. Furthermore, children hold no grudges. “In malice be ye children,” instructs Corinthians 14: 20. Anyone who has watched a pair of young brothers go at each other tooth and nail—only to turn around mere moments later and play as if nothing had happened, can attest to children’s ability to let bygones be bygones. Btw, those who do not, have been taught otherwise by example. Like the saying goes (which fyi, stems from a 1949 show tune from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific) . . . “You’ve got to be taught how to hate.”
The sincerity of a child is pure—ofttimes to the mortification of its parent. Who among us has not wanted to be swallowed up by the floor by an off-hand comment vis-à-vis: “Mommy why is that lady so fat?” Children tell it like it is. They don’t shade the truth or filter the facts. “Out of the mouths of babes” and “kids say the darndest things” . . . indeed. But the things they say are innocent (albeit brutally honest) observations. As they see it, they say it, ala the out of the blue remark: “Baba, how come you’re old?” Ouch. (And so much for thinking that $200 anti-ageing cream might be making a difference!)
The trust of a child is as equally pure. They believe their parents can do anything. And they want to be like them. Whether it’s the little boy who wants to grow up and marry mommy or the little girl (or boy—‘cause I have the embarrassing pictures to prove my 6’ plus sons did once play dress-up in my heels) or junior following daddy around with his very own Fischer Price tool belt, they want to be like us. Rodney Atkins released a hit song in 2006, that spoke to how children are sponges, absorbing and learning by example and imitation. “I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool . . . I wanna be like you . . . we’re just alike, hey ain’t we, dad? I wanna do everything you do, so I’ve been watching you.”
Along the lines of children imitating and/or resembling their parents, we speak of “mini-mes.” Duplicates in miniature—whether in terms of appearance or actions. A perfect example . . . my middle son . . . who also happens to have three sons. His middle one is beyond doubt his mini-me—same blond hair, dark brown eyes, mischievous grin. He has his ears, his shoulders, his temper and his temperament. He is the most outwardly loving and giving of the three, wearing in equal measure the middle child’s mantels of peacemaker AND troublemaker. He is outgoing, easygoing and charismatic, but prone to impulsion and peer pressure (not because he can’t stand up to it, but because he likes to please). He is endearing beyond belief. You can’t help but like him.
I see so much of his father in him. Everyone does. But as his grandmother, aka “Baba,” I see more. I see the child his daddy was. And I recognize—as others can’t—that same singular ability to succinctly sum up a situation with the perfect blend of brevity, bravado and truth. Like his dad, Dominik doesn’t give a damn what others think. Whether mistake or achievement, he owns his actions with the same innate confidence that is definitely deju vus for me. At a time when his brothers eschewed public displays of affection and dependence, Jason didn’t care. While his brothers wanted me to park down the street to let them off at school without their friends seeing, Jason would grab my hand crossing a parking lot or envelope me in a huge post game hug—regardless of witnesses. And history repeats . . . A couple months ago I drove Dom and his 9-year-old brother to the bus stop. When I leaned over to give Anthony a kiss, he pulled back—darting his eyes toward his friends queued on the sidewalk. He got out of the car with no-nonsense “bye, Baba” and never looked back. Dominik, on the hand, planted a Cocoa Puffs-scented kiss on my lips and grinned. “I love you, Baba.” Trailing behind his brother with his head swiveled backward so he could see me, he waved the entire way to the bus’s open door.
Of course, it’s entirely possible the contrast in behavior is a simple matter of age—a 9-year-old who has outgrown public cuddles and hugs versus a 5-year- old who has not. But I don’t think so. He is his father’s mini-me. And Jason never outgrew overt demonstrations of love and affection. In fact, instead of being embarrassed by the label of “Mama’s boy,” he embraced it. He wore it proudly through college. And still does. But this post is about a child’s wisdom . . . so let’s return to the story that inspired this whole piece . . .
Last month, I was visiting Jason and his family in Arizona. With my body clock on east coast time, I had woken up long before the rest of the household stirred. Even the Labs ignored me as they snored away on their respective couch cushions. Knowing we were out of milk and the 16-month-old would not be happy about it, I made a quick run to the corner convenience store. While pouring a large coffee to go, I spied the nearby donut case and decided to treat the boys. As they were out of their pink sprinkles and chocolate icing favorites, I tonged instead three chocolate-covered long john looking things into a plastic bag.
I was outside enjoying my coffee and the morning quiet when Dom found me. Always the first one up, he climbed into the chair beside mine. Happily, he took his donut and made short work of it. A while later, Jason joined us. He was soon followed by a cranky, bed-headed, “I didn’t wanna get up, why did you make me” Anthony.
“I got you a donut,” I said, thinking he’d be as thrilled as his brother.
He took a single bite and grimaced. “It has cream,” he said with undisguised disgust. “I don’t like cream.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t realize it had cream inside.”
“I don’t want it,” he answered, holding it toward me.
“Just eat around it,” I suggested.
He grimaced again and took a half-hearted nibble.
“That’s not the right attitude to have,” spoke his father. “You need to be thankful when someone gives you something instead of complaining. Baba didn’t have to get you a donut at all.”
Anthony gave his father a glare. Perhaps feeling the promise of strength in numbers—or commiseration—he looked to his brother. “Dom doesn’t like cream either.”
And then it came. An easy comeback offered as an off-hand remark, paired with a perfect shrug of total unconcern—which brought his father and me to immediate laughter.
“Yeah. But I dealed with it.”
Sure, it was cute in its wrong weak verb simple past tense conjugation—but there was more to it than the guileless grammar error. There was the message–a message that resonated long after our laughter died. (Lord, help me help my stupid self!) Was there ever a better maxim for accepting and overcoming life’s slings and arrows and disappointments?
Jason and I shook our heads and looked at one another. Though the reasons are very different, the last couple years have been difficult for us both.
“Dealed with it? he uttered softly.
“Dealed with it,” I answered.
When I got back to Philly, I chalked Dominik’s words on my kitchen blackboard. Still there, they are a daily reminder that how to make the best of what life dishes out and moving on, is just by making the best of it and moving on . . . Jeeze. Who knew?
Answer: A kindergartner who still has all his baby teeth, believes in Santa and hero super powers, and yes, still occasionally needs help wiping his butt. (But . . . if only metaphorically speaking . . . don’t we all?)