Remember Bean: Kind heart. Kind thoughts. Kind words.
Those were some of the last words our daughter spoke to her two-year old son before heading off on a week-long vacation and entrusting the care of her son to the grands. It’s no easy thing leaving a toddler behind. Parents have to be willing to trust that their child will be loved with abandoned and monitored like a first baseman looking to steal second. Look away for a minute and you’re sure to regret it.
Raising four kids of your own to successful adulthood does not in and of itself qualify a person to be trustworthy enough to keep a grandchild for any length of time. In fact, a person’s work history as a parent may disqualify them completely from the job of being a grand. I’ve heard from more than one friend how their children don’t trust them. They usually say with with a “Oh Brother!” eye roll and smirk. It’s a conspiratorial thing grandparents do when they are around other grandparents – eye rolling.
First-time parents are usually the worse. I was the same way around my children’s grandparents with the first one. By the time two and three arrived on the same day, I was begging for a grandparent intervention. Of course, the amount of help you are offered as a parent decreases exponentially with the amount of children you have, which is why Old Mother Hubbard lived in a shoe with all those kids out in the middle of a field, far away from anyone else. Nobody wanted to be her neighbor.
The very week I had twins my mother sat on our front stoop in Portland and told me she was headed back to Anchorage to live and work. My mother had a thing for front stoop confessions. She had sat on the front stoop of our home on 52nd Avenue in Columbus, Georgia the afternoon I graduated from Columbus High and told me she was leaving for Oregon. I was 17. Had it not been for Judge Rufe McCombs, who offered me an alternative home, I don’t know what I would have done. I was enrolled at Berry College in Rome, Ga. for the fall term. Mama didn’t ever even visit the college. How I would get there and manage all the finances, etc. was my problem, not hers. Is it any wonder she hightailed it back to Alaska when I brought two infant daughters home? She stayed in Oregon long enough to see that they were healthy and then boom! she was gone again. She said something to the effect that “I always seem to be leaving you when you need me most.” Hard to argue with that.
By the time the youngest daughter was born, I couldn’t hire a babysitter. No one was willing to care for four children under the age of five, no matter how much I was willing to pay them. The only person I knew who had more trouble getting a sitter was a girlfriend who had five boys. We often joked that no matter how many people we hosted at our homes nobody ever reciprocated. Who could blame them? That’s probably why all my road trips were to see my sis at the beach. She was always thrilled to have us come visit. The more people, the more fun to be had has always been her motto. Of course, it probably helped that she ran the preschool/daycare for the church. It was good practice. By the time her boys got into sports teams, she was serving dinner to the entire teams every weekend.
I met women all the time who have dozens of grandchildren. Just the other day I met a woman who told me she had 17 grandchildren. She didn’t look old enough to be a grandmother. I met her because the grandson I was caring for was singing as I shopped. She was struck by Bean’s happy spirit. That is the thing almost everyone who encounters our grandson speaks to – his happy spirit.
It’s easy to say he was born that way. (Wouldn’t that make a great song title?) And while it is true, Bean came into the world with a certain disposition, it is also true that his parents work daily to cultivate a happy spirit within their son. They have taught him to say “Please” and “Thank you.” They have taught him to pick up his toys. They have taught him to love all people.
And so when his mother goes to leave him for a week alone with the grands, it’s not just mantra she is repeating to him – it’s an instruction: “Kind heart. Kind thoughts. Kind words.”
Bean can repeat it word for word, but more importantly, he understands what those words mean. Bean knows when he is having a kind heart and when he is not.
Those are words of conviction, no matter a person’s age.
I need to be reminded of those words and ponder what that means for my behavior on a daily basis, every bit as much as Bean does.
Kind heart. Kind thoughts. Kind words.
Those are words to live a happy life by.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY and the forthcoming CHRISTIAN BEND (Mercer University Press).