Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Grandkids Teach Us

My Grandson, Bryan, is now a freshman at Luther College.  When he was about 5 years old we went for a bike ride on the Red Cedar Trail near Menomonie, WI.  He was riding a bicycle that once probably had training wheels - and rode the entire 7 miles of the trail that day, always in the lead, his short little legs pumping like crazy.

The Red Cedar is an old railroad bed like so many bike trails, following along the river of the same name, and the bridge is a neat place to stop and rest, watch the water flow below or spit into it, throw rocks, or in the case of a 5-year-old, skip merrily across the bridge.  You don't forget days like this, and as the youngsters grow to the point of high school graduation and heading off to the next level there is the sudden realization - there you were, 50 years ago.

Bryan is a musician who loves to perform.  A solo in front of an auditorium full of people is performed with confidence.  Nerves of steel.  But on a day last December when he wanted to buy some clothing and we walked into Amundson's in Decorah, his knees turned to jelly.  He's just not used to decision-making in a clothing world that means more than baggy jeans and sweatshirts or tees.

We're also talking kind of serious money for the clothing you might want to wear somewhere other than showing up at jazz band practice, another part of the decision-making process.  And that's not the only thing that would concern him.

In December, 1994, two months before he turned two, I was in Madison, WI, where I saw and picked up a pair of red and white striped overalls, the kind with Bucky Badger on the bib.  I thought they were so cool, the perfect Christmas gift for a cheesehead.  He didn't.  He felt them, got this yuck look on his face, and only wore them one time because his mother made him.  If the fabric doesn't feel just right for him, the article is useless.

So combining his idiosyncrasies and his inexperience makes the Decorah mission interesting.  Yeah, been there, done that, but that was me.  This trip into the clothing store was a convergence of sorts, like his first time out of the box, yet it was a heartfelt commitment on his part.  He just knew he needed an upgrade, even though he wasn't sure what that meant.

But he's a wise kid, wise enough to know he can lean on people he trusts when he makes decisions, and even wiser in choosing quality people to associate with - and trust.  He is open to discussing his goals and objectives, seeks input, seeks learning, and seeks advice, from friends, teachers, family on all matters, including clothing.

Later that evening in December we talked at length about the challenges he was facing, how he was working to finesse the time demands while considering a higher level of classwork and how it could fit in, if at all.  He's already shown a propensity for good thinking and linear work in his writing, and this course could further refine those talents.  He talked through the pros and cons of our challenges without being defensive since for all practical purposes he had already made his decision, and it was a good one.

Home at Christmas, he weighed in on the limitations of the education and training received in high school, his disappointment that certain instructors left the door open for him to lay out his own training, instead of challenging him to compete and learn at a higher level.  He had concern the instructor had failed him, largely due to his own limitation to be able to push Bryan to do more and be better.  The college experience is drawing it into focus.

He also brought home his December shopping success: dress pants, long-sleeved shirt, and v-necked sweater, as if to say, "Grandpa, I'm growing up now."

Perhaps it's the same personal growth and maturation your parents were hoping to see from you those 50 years ago.  For me, the hope is that he mimics any good decisions I may have made, and avoids the bad ones, and so far he's way ahead of my schedule.  What I've learned during the process is that there are no do-overs, except today to have the joy of watching someone you love who takes it to the next level.

There we were 50 years ago, making our way in a world of decision-making, with or without good advice, with consequences that were sometimes good, sometimes not so good.  Watching Bryan has allowed me to see myself revisit the process from afar, Alice through the looking glass.  Wishing that I could fully protect him, I am silently glad that I cannot.  Instead, I just learn about me.

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