December 17, 2009

Life Lessons From My Granddaughter

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.  -- Silas Marner, G. Eliot

2009 1535 22 capwo unexpected and unwelcome visitors crossed my family’s threshold during a three-year period some years back: disease and death. When they left, they took both my father and my husband’s father with them. In their wake they left overwhelming despair and sorrow, which would have been unbearable had it not been for one other little visitor who made her first-time appearance during that same time.
Zoe June Myers first entered our home as a 3-week-old wriggling, gurgling armload of joy, and nothing has been the same since. Our home and our lives have been filled with the laughter and love that only a grandchild can bring.
Zoe, however, brought more than felicity and exuberance. She possessed a profound wisdom that she has been generous enough to share with me. I learned more important lessons from her during the first two years of her young life than I have throughout my not-so-young one. I learned to truly appreciate and fully comprehend the Bible text: “And a little child shall lead them” (Isa. 11:6, KJV). Here are only eight of the more important lessons I learned from my granddaughter:
1. The mundane need not be monotonous. Although Zoe, even by totally unbiased opinions, is a bright child, at that tender age she was not solving complex mathematical equations or finding a cure for bunions. She did what most 2-year-olds do—but she never did it the same way twice. She would sometimes “read” through her books 10 times in one sitting, but to her they were never boring or repetitive. A tower built with the same 12 blocks never fell quite the same way each time. And any 2-year-old knows that there are at least 37 different ways to go down a slide! The novelty of life is there, if we would but look for it.
2009 1535 222. Slow down. Anyone who has young grandchildren knows that they are never in a hurry. A simple lunch can last an hour, a bath with bubbles at least two, and a walk to the mailbox, well . . . what’s the rush, anyway? Why would you run—unless for the sheer joy of it, of course—when you can skip, frolic, or just plain dawdle? When was the last time you stopped to look at a caterpillar, or a pinecone, or a shiny stone, let alone pick it up and put it into your pocket to share with someone else later?
3. Learn/try something new every day. Some of the greatest granddaughter achievements were learning to count to 11, being able to stand on one leg and then the other, and making it from her chair to the felt board and back in Sabbath school class without being trampled by the hoards of other children who were all a bit taller. Now I know that it’s much easier for tots to learn something new every day because most everything is novel to them, but do we adults make any effort at all? Perhaps it has something to do with the accompanying praise. Maybe if someone gushed “Good girl!” or “Good boy!” every time one of us not-so-young’uns made an effort, we would all continue to try, in spite of flops and failures.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Independence is of paramount importance to a 2-year-old. A shoe may go on the wrong foot, puzzle pieces might get jammed in incorrect spots, and food might just slip off a spoon again and again. But it matters not, as long as you are doing it yourself. Every once in a while, however, Zoe would ask, “Gramma, help?” And Gramma would—without question, without hesitation, without grumbling. Zoe knew that all the important people in her life were ones she could count on when she found she simply couldn’t quite manage on her own.
5. Have fun. My son and his wife had been working on what I thought were some rather abstract concepts with Zoe. She had learned the concepts of “sorry” and “excuse me,” and had indeed mastered those terms. So when she inadvertently stepped on Riley, our miniature Schnauzer, she would of her own volition say, “Sorry, Wiley.” (A bit of work was still needed, though, because she would also say, “Oops, sorry” to the refrigerator when she ran into it with her tricycle!) But the one that really amazed me was her use of the word “fun.” Even before Zoe was articulating intelligible words, my daughter-in-law would ask her if she was having fun whenever she was doing something enjoyable, and sure enough Zoe would smile and nod her little head enthusiastically. And to Zoe, everything was fun: visiting the animals at the zoo, day care, being chased, Sabbath school, a Sunday at Gramma and Grampa’s house—absolutely everything. How many of us adults can say we had fun at anything we did today?
6. Pursue a passion. Zoe was obsessed with airplanes. When she was still a babe in arms and was “out of sorts,” my husband would spend much time walking her around the backyard. Because we happen to live right in the middle of the flight path of what seems like half the planes that land in Toronto (Ontario, Canada), Grampa introduced Zoe to the flying machine. Before long, whenever she would hear a plane, we all would have to drop whatever we were doing and run to the window to see if it was a big plane or a baby plane. We had to do it every time. Unless we were fortunate enough to have cloudy weather, we sometimes spent the better part of the day doing this. She was also passionate about her books. She had a supply of books with her wherever she went. She was lost without them. Sometimes she would “read” silently, sometimes out loud so that Lambie, or Dottie, or Grampa could enjoy them too. Both her passions brought her immense enjoyment.
7. See things from a different perspective. My combination German/type-A personality tends to cause me to feel that there is usually a right and a wrong way to do things. And yes, my way is usually the right way. My granddaughter, however, quickly cured me of this rigid and arbitrary way of looking at things. While Zoe was flipping through her coloring book one day, she came across a picture of Alice in Wonderland, which I had beautifully and painstakingly colored in pastels. Zoe took her black crayon and very carefully and deliberately scribbled over each of the eyes. I withheld my shriek of dismay. She beamed with pride. “Zoe,” I asked curiously, “is that pretty?” “Yup!” She beamed again. It was her favorite picture in the book at the time. It became mine too.
8. Be grateful for everything. Not only was Zoe appreciative for half a chocolate chip cookie or five potato chips or eight grapes, she quickly learned to say “Thank you.” She even made the connection—albeit a tentative and abstract one—that prayers are a time to express gratitude for daily blessings. And Zoe did not deal in vague generalities. Not for her a quick “thank you for the park”; instead, she was specific, expressing gratitude for the slide, the sandbox, the swing. Rather than categorize, she enumerated and itemized. Her mommy was intuitive enough to know that listing things may have been merely a ruse for extending the bedtime ritual. Nevertheless, Zoe was obviously cognizant of the fact that there are a myriad of things for which to be thankful each and every day.
Love Beyond Belief
Ask me about my granddaughter—both then and now—and be prepared to spend the next half hour listening to the wonderful things she has done lately, the joy she has brought me, and how proud I am to be her grandmother. I have brag books filled with pictures of her that I shamelessly pull out at the slightest sign of interest—because I love her beyond belief. As trite as it sounds, when I first held Zoe in my arms I thought my heart would burst. And yet the love I have for her miraculously and undeniably continues to grow on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. She gives meaning to my life. And I guess that is the most important lesson Zoe has taught me: if you really love someone, it will show. Which is why when I stop to ponder how willing I am to share with virtual strangers the outstanding feats of my granddaughter, I am overcome with shame that my zeal may not be as fervent when it comes to sharing the wonderful things God has done in my life. Not quite so prompt to tell of His love. A little hesitant to put out the Book that has countless snapshots of the One who can make all the difference in our lives.
I pray that this lesson will not go unlearned, and that when I tell people about Zoe, I also will tell them about the loving, compassionate God who brought her into my life when I needed her most. 
Enid Myers writes from Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, where she teaches kindergarten. The family’s joy has since been doubled by the arrival of Zoe’s sister, Raven. This article was printed December 17, 2009.