Osprey Family, Duck, North Carolina, 2013
Last summer our grandson, then four-years-old, came to stay with us for the first time. His parents were working long hours to open a dental practice, and they grudgingly consented to allow us to fly him from Denver for an extended summer visit. We shared him with my husband’s ex-wife, and for several weeks, he enjoyed two trips to the beach and visits to nearly every kid-friendly attraction in the DC area.
A picky eater, our grandson had learned to try new things, much to the delight of his two grandmothers. When I discovered he loved my homemade blueberry muffins, I sent him back to his other grandmother with some of them. She told him he could have one after dinner, and when she couldn’t find them, she discovered that he had hidden the container underneath his bed so that he could have one whenever he wanted.
For most of the visit, we had great fun, and when one set of grandparents needed a break, the other stepped in and took over. But near the end of the visit, all of us were tired, and our grandson was more than a little homesick. One morning at breakfast, I made pancakes, a food he had always loved, but this time he wailed, “I don’t want pancakes!”
My husband tried reason, and when that didn’t work, I knelt by his chair, at eye-level with him, and said, “Honey, you love pancakes.”
He said nothing. But as I waited, he pursed his lips and pushed the tip of his tongue through just slightly.
At first, thinking he was going to stick his tongue out at me, I stifled a smile.
But then he began to push spittle through his lips and with a slight Pfft, he spat just enough to land the spit in the space between us.
“Honey! Would you like it if Nana spit at you?” I asked.
To my dismay, he worked up more drool and spit again, this time a little farther but still just short of hitting me. While I had to admire his aim, I had no intention of allowing him to work up the courage to spit a third time.
And for the first time in the long visit, my husband and I went into parent-mode instead of grandparent-mode. My husband picked him up from the chair and put him in time-out, and the ensuing battle exhausted all three of us.
Before it was even dark that evening, our grandson asked to go to bed. My husband helped him brush his teeth and change into his pajamas and then retreated to the kitchen to clean up the dinner dishes while I helped our grandson choose a bed-time story.
But before we started reading, he looked up at me, his lips trembling slightly. “I’m sorry I didn’t treat you the way I want to be treated, Nana.”
I hugged him to me and thanked him for apologizing. And I realized that he had actually heard all those times that I had reasoned with him using some version of the Golden Rule.
I thought about my grandson’s behavior a lot this week. I had my feelings hurt on two separate occasions, once by a colleague and once by an acquaintance on social media. I’ll spare you the details, but in one instance the Golden Rule eventually prevailed, and in the other, it did not.
Someone who knows me well said to me—not for the first time—that I “take things too personally.” And I do. In fact, I’m not sure how not to. I try very hard to treat others as I would like them to treat me, and when I fail, as we all do at times, I’m usually pretty quick to apologize.
Though I have to work a little harder at forgiving someone who doesn’t employ the Golden Rule, I believe there’s a reason that concept is expressed not just in Christianity, but in every major religion. Here are some of my favorites from other faiths:
One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts. (Yoruba proverb)
One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire. (Hinduism—Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8)
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn. (Judaism—Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
As we prepare for our grandson’s summer visit next week—a much shorter one than last summer—I look forward to seeing how a year has changed the way he approaches the world. And I’ll remind him, as I sometimes need to remind myself, that our love and care for each other is the true story and that all the rest is commentary.
So tell me a story of your baby birds.