In the backyard where we sat reclining in lawn chairs, the shade speckled the grass. The weather was so perfect and serene that it was hard to reconcile the moody children around us with the sun-drenched sky.
If there was something to be argued about that morning, my daughters were on top of it. They bickered over tiny disagreements, and to say the least, I was irritated.
My mom, however, exuded peace. Perhaps the act of watching me receive my just rewards was highly enjoyable, or maybe grandparents simply understand the triviality of these moments. Whatever the case, I envied her calm presence.
As I helped settle yet another disagreement, she ventured inside, returning moments later with a tray of cool drinks. She’d filled small cups with icy lemonade for the girls, and set the tray down near our chairs. Immediately, my daughters were captivated. A tray! How fancy! And could they please carry this beautiful tray over to the gazebo where they would play house with it?
“Sure,” I said. “But I’ll carry it for you so it doesn’t spill.”
Of course, this wasn’t acceptable. It ruined their fun in balancing and carrying such a delightful treat across the yard. It also provided another bickering opportunity.
Quietly, my mom offered some advice before I pressed forward with my insistence upon not letting them carry the tray.
“Why shouldn’t they try it?” she asked.
I laughed. “Really? The five-year-old and the three-year-old with a tray of spillable drinks? It would be lost before they got halfway there! Then we’d have to refill the cups, creating more work in the long run.”
“So what?” she countered. “We’re outside; the mess won’t matter. And I don’t mind refilling the cups if it means they’re playing happily. Learning a bit of independence…”
And there it was: independence. The trait I wish for my girls to possess even as I block their path with my own worries. I want them to learn how to do things on their own, without my express permission or guidance as they grow, but it seems so daunting to actually let that process happen. What if they spill or break or hurt or fail?
The fact is, when they fail, they learn. When they see cause and effect through their own actions, a new path of understanding is forged within their minds. If they try to mix all the colors of paint on their palettes into one, indistinguishable brown, they’ll remember that outcome. If they try to stack a pillow on top of a box on top of a chair in order to reach the cookies on the counter, they’ll learn about instability. If they try to carry drinks across a knobby, grassy lawn, they’ll either learn how slowly they need to walk to avoid disaster, or how sticky they become when lemonade drips down their legs.
And those lessons will remain intact, even as the verbal lectures they receive – trying to impart the same wisdom – will dance right out of their heads. Physical memory teaches so much more than lectures ever can.
So, my girls carried the tray across the grass. They balanced it onto a precariously leaning table, and the drinks spilled. My mom smiled and shrugged. It wasn’t a problem. Because they’d learned a piece of a life-lesson.
And I began to understand a grandmother’s peaceful demeanor: let the children learn their own lessons and life will eventually become a lot more simplified.