For almost two weeks recently David and I were full-time caregivers for our little grandsons: Jim, age five and Liam, age 2. Their parents, our daughter EA and son-in-love Chris, were enjoying a trip to Italy for their tenth wedding anniversary. That’s right, Italy, not somewhere a mere couple of hours away! And yes, I agree we get the parents and grandparents of the year award, thank you very much.

The experience was wonderful overall and priceless in many ways. I had approached the weeks with a large amount of fear to be honest. I was afraid my limited energy would be far less than the task required, and I was fearful my patience would be even more inadequate. I know that God did for me what I could not do for myself by providing extraordinary measures of both, and I’m very grateful.

This extended, undistracted time with my grandchildren was rich with poignancy, delights and many lessons. This week’s Encouragement Email shares some of the things I learned from young Jim and Liam, and next week I’ll share some of the takeaways I absorbed about myself.

The most charming thing about these little guys is how much they adore and depend on each other. The first thing Liam said when I walked into his room every morning, after his so-precious-I-could-hardly-stand-it, “Hi, GrandMarnie!” was“Where Jim?” And Jim was even more attached to Liam. When they were separated for different age classes at Vacation Bible School, Jim wailed “I want my brother!” the whole first session. All of us need our person – our go-to safe haven.

From hours spent at the playground and in the pool, I rekindled an appreciation for play. These little guys found every new object and activity fascinating. Jim’s imagination is limitless, and his attraction to super heroes (and the associated bad guys) and level of knowledge about them and their back stories is truly impressive. The best play moment for me was dancing in the rain, which was first a collision of umbrellas until we ditched them for open mouth abandon.Most of us don’t indulge often enough in healthy play.

I saw firsthand how hard it is to learn to self-regulate. When Liam is upset he folds his stout arms and pouts adorably, except for the occasional times he loses it and thrashes with fierce energy. He is two, after all. At age five, Jim is learning a higher level self-regulation, and it’s quite visibly taxing. His parents have taught him it’s OK to be angry or upset and to verbalize that, but it’s not acceptable to say hateful things, hit or throw something. The (usual) result is that this little guy clenches his teeth and balls up his fists and emits a growl as he struggles to regulate his inner experience and outer reaction. It’s like watching the hidden workings of a huge turbine to see the internal gears slow down instead of exploding. What a privilege to be fair witness to such a crucial developmental step! Too many adults need to learn self-regulation at a five-year-old level, at least.

Little Jim and Liam find great value in repetition. We watched the same episodes of Mickey Mouse and Sesame Street so many times I can recite the dialogue (brought to you by the letter B and the number 9). They loved the reminders that their parents were in Italy and practiced saying the word. Both boys thrived on the repetitive routines of bedtime, meals and loading into the car. They were thrilled to hide in the same place most rounds of hide-and-seek, and they loved hearing the story of how their mommy played with the Sesame Street house they fought over. Repetition helps the brain and body remember and offers comforting structure for stressful times.

I remembered that snuggles are precious and being invited to “Sit with me, GrandMarnie!” is better than any other invitation imaginable. I cherished their enraptured faces as I read Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and other classics I shared with my own children.

And even when I was impatient with them or corrected them too emphatically, sweet Jim and Liam showed me I don’t have to be a perfect GrandMarnie. I get to be the best GrandMarnie I’m able to be in the moment, and that’s good enough. Self-acceptance is a marvelous thing.

Such poignant lessons from two little guys less than three feet tall!

Marnie C. Ferree