A Final Thought: Your grandchildren are listening


By Mitch Allen

My wife traveled to Georgia for a long Mother’s Day weekend to visit her parents and attend an annual family reunion, so last Friday night I had dinner alone at one of my favorite Akron restaurants. Seated next to me at the bar were three young men. By “young,” I mean early forties. They talked about what young men talk about—wine, women and song (and sports).

But they saved their fiercest opinions for a debate over how long to cook pasta, each man quoting his grandmother, each insisting that his grandmother was right. I couldn’t tell if any of these grandmothers were still walking the planet. I suppose you’d have to be pretty old to have grandkids in their forties, but it didn’t matter. These women were very much alive, their words of wisdom rising above the clinking silverware and restaurant chatter as if they themselves were seated on the barstools.

That’s the way it is with words. They travel longer than we can see, a phenomenon my wife and I call “ancestral power.” The words we speak to children are never neutral; they are blessings or curses that last forever. The warm advice and support my grandmother Dorothy gave me echo in the DNA of my own grandchildren as surely as her words now echo among the rocks in the rings of Saturn.

And the anger and frustration my great-great-grandfather felt when helping his father in the kitchen on some Alabama farm 120 years ago is still with me when I try to teach my own grandchildren how to make biscuits.

I soften the words: “No, not like that.”

But they do not hear me.

They hear instead the ancient chorus trapped in the fine, all-purpose flour, a great-great-grandfather’s whisper, “Are you stupid or something, boy?” casually, as if he’s not casting a spell.

That’s right. Our words are spells, the two most powerful among them, “I love you” and “I’m sorry.”

I know we say that our kids never listen, but they do. They’re always listening…and learning, not only about how to make pasta, but how to live a life. Unfortunately, the human socialization process necessitates wounding with words, so except for those of us raised by wolves, we are all wounded. It’s just a question of how deeply and in what direction.

It’s an important question because our gifts are in our wounds.

Thankfully, we grandparents can leave much of the wounding to our kids—the parents—well, except for the big stuff, like screaming at the top of our lungs when a toddler is running toward the street. But if my grandkids want to blow bubbles in their chocolate milk with a straw, I’m not going to say they can’t. The world is already eager enough to tell them what they cannot do, should not be. They don’t need me for that. Instead, I’ll say, “The only time you should ever blow bubbles in your chocolate milk…is when you want to.”

Like those young men at the bar, your grandchildren will quote you when they’re forty. They are quoting you now. Their children’s children’s children’s children will quote you. They will walk in your footsteps, sunbathe in your shadow.


Categories: Smart Living