For summer vacation 2019 my grandkids and I made it our mission to be mindfully kind to each other and to anyone else we might encounter. For our theme song we adopted a favorite for the three of us, Kenny Chesney’s “Get Along,” specifically the chorus, and most specifically the line within the chorus that declares, “get along while we can, always give love the upper hand.” The chorus in its entirety is now stenciled on the wall in the stairway to the basement of my house, with a winding road decal next to it and a photo of the three of us looking out the windows of my truck, just for a little figurative “get along” whimsy. We can travel figuratively in our kindness, as well as literally.
We also created a chart. On the days and times the grandkids are here we may give and receive smilies or frownies to each other. Smilies are indicative of kind behavior, manners, gentle words, chores without argument, just plain old being nice. Frownies are the opposite. Arguing over anything from an idea, to who goes first when we play a board game. In short, unkind behaviors of any sort to include selfishness, wanting to always have one’s way, harsh words, insults, the list goes on. I’d love to say our charts are loaded with smilies and devoid of frownies. Unfortunately, that is not the case – even for the adult in the process (who would be me).
It’s been a lesson and a period of growth for all of us. Their parents may disagree (or not), but when the kids are at my house, they are generally well-behaved and obedient. We have fun as we go about making mutual memories. We always attempt to make chores and small jobs of work enjoyable, rather than a drudge. We communicate. We take turns. We try to maintain a balance. They are not here each and every day, so cleaning the bathroom can sometimes wait until tomorrow. While I’m a firm believer in that children should be privy to what it takes to keep a household running smoothly, and have chores befitting their age and ability, I’m also a firm believer in the fact that even those of us who have reached grandparenthood are not too old to play. So we’ve done our thing the last couple months and sad to say all three of us have a few frownies on our charts. We have spoken harshly. We have demanded our own way. We have been whiny and argumentative. We have failed, at times, to be kind to those most important to us. How then can we be kind to others?
But the lesson isn’t really about smilies versus frownies on a chart – the pride in one, and the shame in the other – that’s just a physical reminder. To us the lesson is in the idea that we are mindful, that we know we sometimes fall short and want to alter that behavior toward the positive. There are times we need to hold our tongues when the situation calls for it, or use them when it is the appropriate response. Unfortunately, there are times when anger and irritation are an appropriate response. The world is not all sunshine and rainbows. But most importantly, it’s how we handle that anger and irritation that makes for the best end result. As an aside, I will admit I never dispensed a frownie for someone’s feelings. We feel what we feel and are entitled to those feelings. What we are not entitled to is making someone else uncomfortable or miserable because of them. So for us three it was talking it out rather than lashing out. Or simply letting it go. Was that always successful? No. Did it make us aware? Yes. On occasion, we’ve all simply agreed to disagree when unable to reach a consensus on the matter at hand, and that is perfectly fine and okay. We’ve also done extremely well with basic manners – the “thank you, please, I love you” I was taught as a child and attempted to pass on to my progeny.
All in all, it’s been a good learning tool as we’ve gone about our summer business of work and play. I hope it can carry over into the school year. I hope we will all take that pause to think before we speak and when necessary, put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes. We’ll be back to school in a couple short weeks, and with that comes the added pressures associated with it - for them as students, and for myself as a staff member. We’re hoping our kindness experiment will serve us well not only there, but everywhere. That we’ll continue to add more smilies and fewer frownies.
“Get along on down the road, we got a long, long way to go…make a friend, sing a song, can’t we all get along.” We live in hope, Kenny, we live in hope.