My in-laws came over for dinner last week. An ordinary meal, nothing special. But when my son swung wide the door to greet them, their eyes lit up bright against the darkness.
His grandma scooped him up, right there on the doorstep, and squeezed him tight; his grandpa grinned and ruffled his hair, waiting his turn for a hug and kiss. For a moment I felt a twinge of envy – what a gift to be greeted with such delight.
Later that night I chatted with my parents on the phone, played to the cheap seats and tossed them a few cute-kid stories: the news from preschool, the baby’s latest milestone. In the telling of one tale, I mentioned offhandedly how my son’s teacher said he seemed shy at school, keeping to himself rather than talking with other kids. No surprise to his parents who know him to be a cautious soul. But my mother interrupted my story, gentle indignation coming through the phone line: No – he’s just fine! What could those other kids really have to say to him anyway?
I burst out laughing. Of course. A grandparent’s eyes see only perfection.
. . .
I’m reading Anne Lamott’s latest, Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son. She writes about her astonishment at discovering what it means to be a grandmother:
Kids are hard – they drive you crazy and break your heart – whereas grandchildren make you feel great about life, and yourself, and your ability to love someone unconditionally, finally, after all these years. A friend of mine said, “When I return, I am only having grandchildren, not children.” A grandchild is like a fine jewel set in an old ring.
The beauty of his head – how it rests in the crook of my elbow – almost makes me want to flog myself, out of a desperate, unbearable love. All grandparents I’ve mentioned this to have felt this. He’s a Fibonacci spiral, like a nautilus shell – one of those patterns in mathematical expression with a twisting eternal perfection.
. . .
Grandparents can look into a child’s face and see nothing but promise. All the possibility they hold. All the perfection they might become. They don’t see dirty fingernails that need trimming, messy hair that needs washing, torn jeans that need patching, sticky floor that needs scrubbing. Grandparent eyes skip the surface and gaze straight to the heart.
And grandparent-seeing goes beyond biological preference. I’ve caught the same sight in the eyes of older folks at church, the library, the grocery store. Maybe it’s simply the wisdom of age, the perspective we lack before adulthood matures. Or maybe when generations have enough space between them, skipping over the middle where the worry and the busy get stuck, they can connect more freely, immediately, instinctively.
Last Sunday a kindly couple watched as my youngest threw a tantrum in the gathering space. While he hollered and kicked his legs on the carpet, glaring up at the ceiling, they smiled down at him beatifically behind their spectacles. Surprised, he met their gaze from the floor, then flipped over and raised his head to stare wide-eyed. He suddenly smiled, a broad goofy grin. All forgiven, without even a word exchanged. The couple laughed softly to each other, walked away satisfied. My boy turned to watch them go, finally at peace.
I think God must see us the same way: always looking above the dirt and the distraction and the disappointment, gazing into the good, seeing the soul that matters. Like a grandfather, unable to resist ruffling our hair; like a grandmother, stubbornly in our corner.
God the Grandparent who sees straight to the heart.