A decade or so ago, after almost forty years of marriage, my wife left me. Oh, it was nothing permanent, thank goodness—just a weekend excursion she took with one of our daughters, who was visiting us in Florida with her two girls. They left me to look after our grandchildren.
I was delighted, of course, not only because I love the girls, but because I knew it would give me an opportunity to put into practice all those theories about dealing with children that I’m forever espousing to my wife.
Hah! So much for that plan!
It wasn’t that my theories were without merit. They were based on an assumption that children—and adults, for that matter—are responsible for their own behaviour, and should be held accountable for the consequences of that behaviour. Pretty simple, really. Our world might well be a better place if more people subscribed to that thinking.
Now, before I go any further, please don’t get the impression that I ever told my wife how to raise our own two daughters. Far from it! She always brought her own common-sense approach into play during the many hours she spent with them.
But I couldn’t resist the opportunity—after I’d been away from fatherhood for so long—to put my theories into practice, dispassionately and all-knowingly, with my granddaughters.
However, I didn’t reckon on the fact that my daughter had learned the lessons of effective parenting only-too-well from my wife. And the extent to which she’d been successful was brought home to me that weekend.
Right from the get-go, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any fault with my grandchildren. On both mornings, they got up and made their beds, got themselves washed and dressed, and then wakened me. Gently, with a kiss.
After breakfast, which they helped me make, they cleaned off the table without being reminded. Then off they went, outside to play until it was time to walk to the pool—their favourite pastime. The closest we got to a confrontation was when they asked if they could go barefoot. I told them about fire-ants, and they readily dropped the subject.
It was quite frustrating, because I wasn’t getting any opportunities to practice my pet theories. Finally, however, I figured my chance had come. We went out for dinner that first night, to a local place offering bbq ribs as the house specialty, and that’s what we ordered. It was the perfect moment to direct the girls in the proper etiquette for dining out.
I tried to begin when the salads arrived, but I wasn’t fast enough.
“Use the small fork for your salad, Gramps,” offered the youngest before I could tell her the same thing. I nodded obediently.
When I tried to say something else a few moments later, the oldest said, “Gramps, you shouldn’t talk with food in your mouth, remember?” I nodded again, in guilty agreement.
Then, a minute or so later, while I was still watching for some breach of etiquette from them, the youngest piped up again. “Please don’t let the fork scrape against your teeth, Gramps. And your napkin should be on your lap in case you drop something.” I hastily complied.
When the platter of ribs arrived, I received more advice from the oldest—even before I had done anything wrong. “It’s okay to pick up the ribs in your hands, Gramps, but don’t lick your fingers. Just wipe them on your napkin.”
“Gramps, don’t eat so fast,” said the youngest a few minutes later, “or you’ll get a tummy-ache.”
This went on through the entire meal. I was lectured to, scolded, and encouraged, all at the same time, by my own grandchildren. Worst of all, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Probably because, eating so fast, my mouth was always full.
But then, at long last, I found a way to seize the upper hand. It was time to pay the bill, and I was the only one with money! Confidently, I marched with the kids up to the cashier, flashing a broad smile at her as I pulled out my wallet with a flourish. Rather than returning my smile, she merely looked at me—somewhat curiously, I thought.
Nevertheless, I paid the bill masterfully, adding just the right amount for a gratuity. As we left, I bestowed one final, beaming smile on the cashier. And again, she didn’t return it.
After we climbed back into our car, I turned to the two girls.
“There!” I said. “That’s how you settle up after a good meal.” I just knew they’d be impressed, and I smiled condescendingly at the two of them.
“Ewww, Gramps!” they chorused in unison. “You’ve got a big piece of meat stuck between your front teeth!”
Alas, being a grandpa isn’t always easy!