November 8, 2020
This coming Friday is Grandparents and Grand Friends Day, a yearly tradition we keep, recognizing and celebrating the irreplaceable and essential influence of our community’s Elders on our lives. While every child’s learning is a path of discovery based on moments of clear and uninterrupted observation and connection with the world, always a guiding hand is needed. Always a teacher is needed. And I think back immensely fondly upon my school teachers–the kindness and nurturing shepherding of us towards acquisition of society’s bank of knowledge. But I remember perhaps even more powerfully–I feel it viscerally, in my heart and gut as I think about it–what my grandparents shared with me and how I’ve seen my parents and my in-laws act as grandparents themselves with their grandchildren. There’s a certain freedom a grandparent or other family elder can have to nurture and shape the youngest family members. Grandparents can be playfully mischievous. They can get away with things the parents–who still feel like they have to be good role models, to behave, to perform that parental role–can’t quite just yet. My grandmother, who was an otherwise entirely formal child of the early 20th century, taught me to touch my nose with the tip of my tongue (dare me to do it some time, and I’ll show you). My father-in-law delights in spoiling his grandchildren (harmlessly) while their parents dance the eat-your-vegetables dance. But Elders’ playfulness also can come from wisdom, which is to say knowledge applied, tested, based upon, and earned through long experience.
Playfulness with young grandchildren can build a heart-connection that can lead those grandchildren later willingly and eagerly to accept sage counsel from an anxiety-free (sorry, parents), if not entirely disinterested party. You may have heard the adage that the job of the high school student (sometimes the adage specifically calls out Seniors) is to fire their parents as manager and hire them as consultant. Grandparents and Elders often are in a position to skip over that manager role altogether and cut straight to consultant, to counselor, to the voice of good counsel, counsel that those immersed in the day-to-day rearing, raising, managing, containing, and protection children can’t always have the distance, patience, energy, or, simply, the knowledge to provide. In truth, Grandparents’ and Elders’ greatest assistance to their grandchildren comes indirectly through advice, counsel, and support of their own children–the parent generation.
When multiple generations are able to serve, support, and sustain each other, take care of family and community members laterally, extend compassion and understanding to each others’ struggles and celebration to each others’ joys and accomplishments, we often find we get much of what we need in this life. And when multiple generations aren’t there or aren’t able to be there for each other, the extension of family, the crossing of family trees and lines to build a broader community sustains us. But I think it’s easy sometimes to think of the Vermont Commons family as a two-generation experience, because it’s the most obvious community in our day-to-day work together. We host Grandparents and Grand Friends day each year as both a practical reunion and a reminder ideologically of how we are not whole, how we are incomplete without our parents’ parents and others from their generation, and the generations before, who make us who we are.
Grandparents, Grand Friends, Beloved Elders, we are thinking of you, we give you thanks, and we look forward to having you be with us, next Friday, November 13th!
Dexter P. Mahaffey, Ph.D.
Head of School