One doesn't stop learning till the last breath. Unfortunately no one has been able to come back after the last breath to tell what was the learning experience he/she had when taking that breath. Life, to my mind, is a continuous learning experience. The teachers are very many, some elder than you, some your peers, some younger than you, and even your children and grandchildren. It has been my experience that in life sentinel events take place and it is for you to discern and decipher the hidden meanings and implications of these events. Of course, a wise man should assimilate these experiences and modify the behavioral patterns accordingly. If you do not do that, you are bound to get nasty surprises in your day-to-day life.
The incident that I am now going to narrate happened in 2002. My wife and I were visiting our elder daughter and her family in Florida. The visit was also prompted by our daughter having her second baby, the first one being born in 2000. Our son-in-law and daughter were very adamant that we should not be around during delivery. Since I am a physician with a fair amount of experience I was quite keen to be there for the delivery knowing that my daughter had been through a cesarean section for the first baby and that, in all probability, she will have a repeat cesarean section for this baby also. However, we were expressly forbidden to be there for the delivery. Therefore, we landed up there five days after the baby was delivered. Our daughter had returned home by then with the new baby. Being bereft of any help in the house our daughter was finding it extremely difficult to manage her elder daughter and the new baby together. She was also physically very weak. The son-in-law had to rejoin his work within one week. Suffice to say that our arrival made things better. We could take care of the logistical arrangements at home and attend to the needs of our daughter and the elder granddaughter. Slowly but steadily our daughter improved her physical condition and over a period of a few weeks she was up and about and taking care of her chores.
One morning I was sitting in the drawing room reading a book when I heard my daughter talking to the elder granddaughter. Initially it sounded as mild rebuke for some minor mischief the child had done. And, therefore, I did not pay much attention to it. But my daughter carried on and kept upping the ante. Soon the decibel level of her voice also increased. She was berating the little one and threatening her with dire consequences if she ever repeated whatever mistake she had done. It did not stop with that. My daughter kept on at it for quite a few minutes, increasing the tempo every minute. Although I was engrossed in reading the book, I could not help listening to this tirade. When it crossed my tolerance limit I called out to my daughter and said “Buchu! [her pet name] I think you should stop this right now. You’ve shouted at her enough. After all she is only a two-year-old kid”. I stated these words with some vehemence.
“OK Dadda!” acknowledged my daughter. And she promptly stopped berating the little one. I could hear the suppressed sniffling of my granddaughter. I got up and went to her, picked her up, opened the door and went to the backyard all the while consoling her and telling her that everything will be fine. Soon she was back to normal playful mood. Incidentally, I have always wondered at the capacity of young children to put negativity behind them within seconds. How I wish grown-ups like us can do that by leaving behind our unsavory baggage when interacting with people! I brought the child back into the house and she went back to playing with her toys. I too settled down in my armchair with the book I was reading.
I could hear my daughter tinkering around in the exposed kitchen, a typical arrangement in any American house. Suddenly she called out to me and asked me “Dadda! Care for some coffee?” I replied that I would love to have it. After some time, she came to the living room with two mugs of steaming coffee and handed over one to me. She said “Dadda! I want to sit in your lap”. I said “Sure Darling! Come right over”. In a jiffy she was snuggling up with me holding her coffee cup. We talked about some inane matters for a few minutes all the while sipping our coffee. Then my daughter suddenly asked me “Dadda! Do you remember the days we spent in Bhutan when I was a little child?” I replied in the affirmative. “Oh, it used to be so cold there!” she said. I nodded my head. “You know Dadda, I have vivid memories of my childhood there”.
I was desperately trying to figure out her drift and as to why my daughter had suddenly started talking about Bhutan. I did not have to wait long because she carried on “I cannot forget one incident which happened there. I don’t know Dadda whether you remember it or not”. It was then that I started getting an uneasy premonition of what this daughter of mine was getting at. All the same, I asked her what was that specific incident which was etched in her mind even though she was a three-year-old baby at that time. She said, “You remember Dadda, I used to sleep between you and Mamma along with Kakku [her younger sister]. One night I got up and did not feel like going back to sleep. Mamma tried her level best to put me back to sleep; but I resisted and started crying saying that I did not want to go back to sleep and that I wanted to play. You were fast asleep all the while till I started crying loudly. Then you got up and asked Mamma what was the problem. When Mamma told you that I was being obstinate and not obeying her directions, you told me to stop crying and go back to sleep. After that you turned to the other side to go back to sleep. I stopped crying for a few minutes and then started back again with great vigor. What you did then was quite amazing. You turned and with your huge hand picked me up from the bed as though I was some small toy and put me down on the carpet next to the bed. You promptly went back to sleep. I remember lying there in the semi-darkness and crying for some time more when Mamma got up and put me back in bed. You were fast asleep by then. This incident, Dadda, I have been unable to forget. I used to feel quite upset about it for a few years but now looking back in retrospect I feel that you were quite right in taking this harsh step at that time.”
She said all these things without any rancor and with a smile on her face. But the impact of the whole statement on me was quite heavy indeed. It did not take me much time to realize that in her own sweet way my daughter had told me not to interfere with the way she was bringing up her daughter. The message was quite loud and clear, although couched in a very palatable package. I looked up at my daughter who is still cuddling in my lap and told her “Beta! I have understood precisely what you wanted to convey. I will ensure that you will not get another opportunity to remind me about this issue.” My daughter broke into a huge smile, give me a hug and said “Dada! You're simply the best!”
After this incident, I have studiously and consciously avoided interfering in the way my children and their spouses are bringing up their children. Even when my wife and I spend long vacations with my children we make it a point to keep quiet about the way our children treat their children, even if we do not accept it. The point is that grandparents all over the world tend to be more relaxed and less strict when it comes to disciplining the grandchildren. I am convinced that in the long run this misplaced leniency can cause problems to the growing children. As parents most of us have been quite strict with our children and did not broach any indiscipline. But as grandparents it is altogether a different ballgame. My wife and I have understood it completely. As a result our holidays without children are exceptional because we, in no way, interfere with the disciplinary routine of the households of our daughters.
All of you there who are grandparents please take note!