When friends and family gather one of the best measures of their collective love and appreciation is the ease with which the group resumes familiar patterns and interactions. It’s the “pick up where you left off” syndrome and it doesn’t matter if it’s been two weeks or two years, there is instant synergy. Ashley, Bessie and I enjoyed one of these engagements recently when various members of three families shared a small house for two nights. Of course dogs were included.
The ages of the people involved ranged from three years old to sixty eight. There were grandparents, young parents and young children, along with nine-year-old Bessie and the group’s newest member, Boomer, a ten-week-old black lab who seemed to grow larger by the hour. One interesting observation was the stark contrast between the way the young and older adults interacted with the children when they were misbehaving. It was fascinating, a bit like colliding cultures. Grandparents, the smart ones anyway, have to walk on eggshells in these situations.
We had some wonderful laugh sessions that brought us to tears discussing useless parental threats we’ve all thrown out there in moments of frustration, such as “If you don’t stop misbehaving Santa won’t visit our house this year”. Or, “If you don’t calm down and finish your lunch, I’ll put you outside to eat”, delivered when it’s 38 degrees and raining. Among my favorites, one almost all parents have delivered while driving in a car is, “That’s it. Keep fussing and you’ll have to get out and walk home”. Yeah, right, when you’re three miles from the destination? Of course all parents, or at least most normal, loving parents have offered similar, unenforceable ultimatums. It goes with the passionate territory where parents of young children live.
Meanwhile, the canine members of this large assortment of characters established clear, easily understood guidelines in the first few hours they were together. When cuddly little Boomer pestered or annoyed Bessie the old girl snarled authoritatively, bared her teeth and the message was clear. “I’m the boss here, got it?” Rather quickly young Boomer, a smart pup, jumped on board and they got along just fine, playing together occasionally and taking side by side naps. Meanwhile, over on the human side of the fence familiar patterns of testing between the kids and adults continued in the most normal, predictable way.
There are things my mother did to my brothers and me when we were naughty or fresh in supermarkets, in full view of other shoppers, that would probably get someone arrested today. And my father had no issue offering his brand of discipline, even in the middle of a sandlot baseball game, with dozens of spectators. I should add that I was never in question about my parent’s deep, devoted love for me, not for a moment. And I’m sure my grandparents would refer to them as soft, and my great grandparents would have even stronger comments. On it goes as theories and practices evolve and change depending on the latest research and trends.
There will forever be one topic on which all grandparents can agree. I’m referring to the “I certainly wouldn’t have handled it that way” phenomena. This of course is in response to attempts by the younger parents to keep their children in line while trying to impart important life lessons. As I think back to the dogs in my life, beginning with a cocker spaniel named Zippy when I was three and continuing all the way through Bessie, the old and the young established the rules of engagement exactly the same way Bessie and Boomer have. Smart animals, these canines. Perhaps we humans will get it right someday. In the meantime, behave or your stocking will be filled with coal.