I took the grandkids out shopping the other day. We were looking for flowers and some gifts the kids could give Grandma Lu for her birthday. We stopped in to the local Ace because hey, it's Hurricane Utah for Ghu's sake and the list of gift shops here is pretty dang thin. And I'm a cheap bastard. There, I said it.
As we perused the scintillating selection of Grandma birthday gifts we ran across some cheapo detective's magnifying glasses. You know, the kind that Inspector Clouseau uses to find a Clue? The kids have been watching the Great Mouse Detective for days now and were instantly awestruck. Goggle eyed and everything. They picked them up and turned to me with the question obvious in their eyes. I decided it was a teachable moment. I told them they could have the magnifying glasses or get a gift for Grandma but not both. They decided on the glasses. I asked if they were certain and was assured that they were. Purchase made we headed home, me a little disappointed in their choice. The boy began to snuffle almost immediately and after a moment went into a full cry. It turned out that he had felt rushed and didn't want the glass after all, he wanted to get something for his Grandma. We went back to the store and I told him he'd have to throw the glass away (It was cheap and I was trying to make a point). He stood at the trash can for a full minute, staring at that wonderful implement of cartoon detection and then, oh so reluctantly, dropped it in the trash. I hugged him and told him how proud I was. He smiled and I could actually see the relief pass across his face. We went back inside, trailed by the girl, and he joyfully picked out a gift that said Grandma right there on it. He was now happy and content with his difficult choice. Heaven.
The girl was stubbornly sticking by her purchase, all the way home. When we got into the driveway she re-considered and began to cry as well. Those soft, heart breaking tears that melted my knees and almost made me cry. She wanted to give up her now beloved glass for a Grandma gift as well. We loaded back up and off we went. When we got there I gave her the same ultimatum. Magnifying glass for gift. She walked slowly to the trash can, legs as leaden as a condemned prisoner walking that last lonely mile. At the decision point she chickened out and said she was keeping it. I reminded her that this meant no Grandma gift. She paused, looking down at her feet and slowly twirling her magnifying glass in her small fingers. I turned back to the truck and saw her out of the corner of my eye turn and make her way back to the trash can. She slowly raised the glass, perhaps saying goodbye, and then dropped it in. I hugged her and told her I loved her and how proud of her I was. I took her hand and we went in the store to shop. She brightened almost instantly as she perused the offerings and thought about just what she'd get for her beloved Grandmother. Gone was the memory of her disappointment and hesitations. Of course her gift also had to say Grandma right on it as well.
Two happy children who had made the choice that giving was more important, and ultimately more satisfying, than receiving.
Tears and uncertainties. Weighing personal gratification against selflessness. Hard choices and difficult lessons for 5 and 6 year olds but when do we teach such things if not now? When the opportunity to provide a life lesson appears what do we do? I was torn I admit. My job as Grandpa entails such lessons but I was as torn as these two precious children. A big part of what I do is provide a guilt free environment for them, apart from the discipline their parents must instill. Grandpa buys them stuff, whatever they want (and even what they don't know they want yet). My heart nearly broke and yet in the end, when the tears had dried and the joy of learned (or perhaps realized) selflessness has taken root in their still unformed minds, the value of the lesson was self evident. It was the right thing to do regardless of the pain that all involved had to endure. As hard as it was for their Grandfather to deny them something they wanted, to make them choose between two diametrically opposed options, it was joyous to see them grow into the challenge and know that in their small chests beat the hearts of children who will grow up recognizing that the needs of others sometimes takes precedence over their own.
I am so very proud of my grandchildren. I was before but now I am seeing them now for the first time through the lens of their inevitable maturity. Growing up is hard to do, no more so than for those of us who wish they would stay children forever. I even made it up to them later. I went down to my shop and dug into the boxes holding the detritus of my career. I found magnifying lenses, evidence notepads, a fingerprint kit and some other items that will allow them to experience the joys of crime fighting and case solving that they have been watching cartoon mice perform. A salve to my conscience and an acknowledgement that all things have their place and their time. Joy.