The relationship I had with my grandparents was special but different from what I want with my grandchildren. My grandparents were distant in geography and connections. I seldom remember ever talking to them on the phone. I do not remember them ever playing on the floor or tossing a football or sitting at a table working a puzzle together. And even though they were in their 50’s or 60’s, I thought of them as old.
I have been determined to be different.
Bonding with My Grandchildren
With my 3rd grade granddaughter who lives five hours away, we have weekly FaceTime reading sessions. She is currently reading to me Roald Dahl’s Matilda, one chapter a week.
One of our ten-year-old twins is teaching me about skateboarding terminology and techniques. Our ten-year-old twins are developing projects we can do together from their home in Charlottesville.
The two three-year-old cousins know that Papa Bill will bring his two favorite puppets to talk with them on FaceTime. And then there are the two cousins that will both turn 14 during the next few months.
Dresden and Maddox
Dresden and Maddox are very bright, deep thinkers. Yet in other ways, they are typical fourteen-year-olds.
They live daily with technology. They love going into their bedrooms to seek isolation from siblings. They love to talk on their phones with friends (in isolation from annoying siblings, of course).
Like many schoolchildren, both Dresden and Maddox are at home this fall. On this front, they are sometimes grumpy yet joyful…although they don’t display the joy often for fear of being perceived as happy and secure.
They both have unique interests. It is those interests that provides me an opportunity to connect with them. Because they’re in a non-typical school environment this fall, I’ve given them a challenge. Instead of just being students, I’ve challenged both of them to be my teacher over the next four months. Each month I will ask them to teach me three things about an area of their interest.
Dresden is an excellent surfer. He lives in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. His dad has traveled to several countries to surf and has been his only instructor. So my recent question to him was this: “Dresden would you teach Papa Bill 3 things that are requirements to be a great surfer?”
Maddox lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was selected to be on a junior debate league sponsored by the University of Virginia Law School. Both of her parents are well read, and have encouraged her to be the same. So I asked her, “ Maddox, would you teach me three things necessary to be a very good debater?”
Our process is this: I call them with the question, then give them two days to think about their answer. I then call them back for my learning session.
I will admit, I was not sure what to expect from two fourteen-year-olds. Would they slough this off as a grandfather gone crazy? Would they answer with no reflection? Would I ever be able to keep them on the phone for a 15 minute discussion?
What happened amazed me!
Patience, Timing, and Reading the Currents
When Dresden answered, the phone, he told me “Papa Bill, I’ve thought a lot about your question. Here are the three most important things you must practice to be a great surfer: patience, timing, and reading the currents!”
I was shocked. I thought it would be something about the length of the surfboard, or even living in a place with large waves, maybe even having the right tattoos. But as Dresden showed me, that isn’t the case.
Most of all, he floored me with his thoughtful response.
Dresden continued, “Papa, sometimes you have to stand on the beach of float in the water for thirty minutes to find just the right wave. If you do not have PATIENCE, you will get frustrated, and anxious therefore wasting a lot of energy on bad runs. But Papa, once you see the right wave building it becomes all about TIMING. If you are too fast or too slow the size of the wave doesn’t matter. You have to hit it just at the right time. And Papa, if you haven’t read the CURRENT correctly you will miss everything.”
I listened, flooded by emotions as I realized the insights of this fourteen-year-old.
His tone was serious. He had thought hard about his answers. They were not fluff.
I asked him more details about each. I told him how these same three things were so important to the way I ran my business. I then shared how these lessons would serve him well in every aspect of his future life. I was thrilled!
And then I called Maddox to discuss her insights about debating. Would she be a thoughtful as her cousin?
Lessons in Non-Judgmental Debate
Maddox answered the phone with just as much seriousness as her cousin.
“Hi Papa,” she told me. “I’ve been thinking about your question and I have three insights to share. First, it is very important in a debate to always attack the beliefs of your opponent but not the person. Both of you are in a position to compete against each other on the topic but NOT TO JUDGE the person. Secondly, in debating you must RESPECT the other individual and both of you cannot take the argument personally. Debating is not a personal adventure but an intellectual one. And thirdly, great debater’s CONTROL their emotions, remaining calm, staying cool and never raising your voice.”
As I listened, I had tears in my eyes.
This fourteen-year-old was telling her grandfather how adults should act in our country during these turbulent times. In fact, I asked her if she understood the relationship between what she just taught me and what was happening in our country. She knew the connection.
Our discussion branched into politics, and I felt her frustration about my generation not practicing how to disagree non judgmentally and with respect. It amazed me that this fourteen-year-old could offer so much insight for such a turbulent time, could cut right to the heart of the issue and offer a solution that would serve us all well to practice.
It’s Time to Learn from Our Kids
One month into these conversations, I remain amazed by my grandchildren’s thoughtfulness, care, and consideration. Every phone call involves sharing wisdom, teaching lessons that could serve all of us well, whether we’re fourteen or sixty-four.
I have always heard to listen to the wisdom of the old timers…maybe, just maybe, the shoe should be on the other foot!