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Monday, November 5, 2012

On Mindful Grandfathering

I was on Lifeguard duty yesterday for my youngest grandson, aged 8. He is actually very competent in our home pool, more like a dolphin than a boy. So I was there for emergencies, like if he misjudged a leap onto a floating body board, or slipped on the tiles around the pool. Despite my residual minor paraplegic symptoms, I can swim, I do have a an ancient life-saving certificate, a less ancient first aid certificate, and I have been a doctor for 45 years.
The truth? I was just there to be, quietly sitting on the swinging hammock reflecting (and watching with interest).
We had been cleaning the pool with a Barracuda - an erratic device that goes all over the shop, but does seem to reach everywhere eventually - rather symbolic of an 8 year old boy rushing hither and yon. The main cleaner, and most of the connectors had been removed, but some of the blue 1 metre tubes remained floating on the surface. He filled up the tube and blew through one end, creating a fountain. This was repeated again and again. Then he found some ants on the pool surround, and methodically went round the pool flushing them away by blowing the water through the tube. Not satisfied he went back round the pool again. No commentary; just quietly involved in small boy play - calm, composed, content. I observed.
Changing tack, he whacked the water with one of the blue tubes, then whacked a large floating blow-up ball, then repeated it all. Then he joined the two ends of the tube to make a small circle about 30cms across, and put it over his head, wriggling through - again and again. That was apparently easy, but I was asked a question: "Grandpa, do you think I can get through this?" (after 20 minutes, the first acknowledgement of my presence). "I am sure you can." (Gosh that was a clever deduction) He wriggled through again and again, each time not unmaking the circle, and with a grin from ear to ear. The game changed. Standing on the side of the pool, he jumped through the hoop a dozen times, mostly surfacing with an intact hoop, and that grin. The game changed. He dived from the side of the pool, full of confidence, through the hoop, again most times surfacing with it intact, and that grin. Then he went back to searching for ants to blast away with gushing water. "Grandpa, I can't wait till midnight tonight. They are releasing 'Halo 4' and my Dad pre-ordered it. We should be able to get it tomorrow, and then we can play it. It's my favourite game."
Then the game changed. He noted the round circle of plastic on either side of the large blow-up ball: "That's just like an eye." Me: "So it is..." He retrieved a soccer sized plastic ball, and repeatedly aimed it at the eye. "Yeah, got you" Again, "Yeah, got you" Me: "Mmm, I think you missed by 2 inches that time" Big grin: "No I didn't...." Repeated success, all the time keeping afloat in the pool, keeping his balance. "Yeah, got you" Me: "Mmm, Got a feeling you missed again" Big grin: "No I didn't...." The game changed. Leaping out of the water, he punched the eye each time it appeared. "Yeah, got you". Then, with varying success he kicked Karate style at the eye - repeatedly.
"Grandpa, I loved this weekend. Wish we could stay here all the time." Wow, what a compliment...
So what did I do? Not much, except watch and reflect. My grandson did not need me to ask questions about who paid for the water he was 'wasting' on the ants, he did not need me to say: "Poor littler ants; what do you think you are doing?" Or: "You won't stop them, they will always come back." He did not need me to say: "Careful, don't slip when diving like that." He did not need me to reprimand him: "If you go on like that you will burst that blow-up ball." He did not need me to curb his enthusiasm or his aggression, or challenge his excitement over 'Halo 4' (whatever I may believe).
He needed me to understand the need to be aggressive - just to get it out of your system. He needed me to know just a little about 8 year old boys who may need to 'regress in the service of the Ego', from time to time, pretending to be 5 or 6 year olds. He needed to release loads of energy, while pretending to be a dolphin for nearly 50 minutes. He needed this short time of release before going back to school tomorrow (where his teacher has made the mistake of thinking he had ADHD, rather than acknowledging the boredom of little boys who are too bright, too quick for their own good, and get frustrated). He needed this time of replenishment before doing battle with the other 8 year old boys at school.
Oh, and he needed the optimism related to playing Halo 4 with his Dad tomorrow.


  1. Graham,
    Enjoyed the blog. I do like the concept "let a kid be a kid", and confess i lean more towards the "stop doing that now" camp.
    ...but in my defence i have two rambunctious boys!! If i dont nip the behaviour in the bud early - they soon bounce off each other, and tears ensue.
    It does leave me wondering whether this is common. That is, with one boy (read active child), care givers feel more able to let them run a little more wild. Where-as with two (boys in particular), care-givers are more inclined to rein the gremlins in early.
    What is the long term impact, on behaviour / personality? For single vs non-single children. Just how significant is the sex of the child(ren)? Something to muse or ponder over anyway.

  2. Thanks for your relevant comment. I appreciate the issue. What I did not write into the blog is that my grandson's sister came to see what he was up to, she could not resist some provocation and competition - which wound him up. Serendipity solved it, because it was time to bundle them into the car and take them home.
    I think when there are two young people, and they are both bright, and both want to compete, it is still best to observe and reflect, and refrain from intervention - at least until there a crescendo to physical acting out. I try very hard to reflect what I see, and try to get the two of them to reflect on what they think they are doing, and how their interaction will help them or the sibling.
    Distraction sometimes helps. But I think raising your voice, or physically intervening, or 'losing it' yourself does not help either of them to learn reasonable, gentle behaviour. It is likely to escalate things or at least 'pattern' them to repeat similar behaviours when they are parenting or grandparenting.