Who are our grandchildren, these little people who barge into our lives and kick over the traces just as we’ve gotten settled, just as the pattern of our days has become staid and predictable?
They are a blessing, of course. No matter what we’ve done, no matter how much we’ve accomplished, we don’t deserve them. Their arrival in the world is a manifestation of God’s grace—his undeserved favor to us.
They are the future. When we imagine what the world will be like 10, 20, 30 years from now, we may be poorly suited for that world, but they are likely to fit into it well. They will be active in society’s playing fields long after we have retreated to the sidelines. We already have glimpses of who they will be, how their personalities will blossom to fullness in the years to come.
They give our lives meaning. The struggles and accomplishments of early adulthood may no longer energize us, and, with Ecclesiastes, we may decide that all our work under the sun is vanity. Nevertheless, we find new purpose in them. We become eager to teach them life lessons, share with them family traditions, and tell them stories of the lives we’ve lived. We hope that the words and stories we provision them with will sustain them in the years to come.
They are us. In looking at them, we can see ourselves. Their faces and features reflect our own; their temperaments are like ours in their grain and consistency. Sometimes that frightens us a bit, especially when we think of how poorly we’ve used that impetuousness or gregariousness or shyness or frivolity that they, too, share. But these similarities also give us hope—hope that they will get it right, and that their doing so will console us.
They are not us. No matter the similarities, they are unique individuals, knitted to a pattern all their own then trimmed by circumstances peculiar to them. They will flourish only if we and others appreciate them for who they are and don’t try to force them into a mold that, whatever its appeal, is poorly suited to them.
All these features are true of our children as well as our grandchildren. We are older and more reflective by the time our grandchildren arrive, though, so the significance of these characteristics resonates inside us with a deeper, richer tone.
Ten years ago I met my first grandchild. I drove to my son and daughter-in-law’s home three days after he had been born. He was a few weeks premature, and was scrawny but fairly long. When I arrived he was busy with the essential tasks of the first weeks of life—eating and sleeping, crying when discomforted. What I remember most clearly was him lying on his back on the changing table, pumping his arms and legs. As I stood alongside, he opened his eyes and saw me. We made eye contact, and his arms and legs slowed almost to a stop, like windmills that lost the breeze. He seemed as fascinated with me as I was with him. “Welcome to the world,” I thought. He had changed my world just by entering it. As he has learned and grown, and as our relationship flourishes, he still changes it, as do his younger brother and sister. Happy birthday, Calvin. You are a most wonderful treasure.