My daughter and my three grandchildren were visiting recently and I suggested that we take the dogs and walk over to see the new cabin our neighbor was building just up the road. Everyone was enthusiastic about going except for my youngest grandson who just turned four. He was immediately resistant. It was too hot, he said. His head hurt, and he needed his mama to carry him … he drew up his face into a scowl, and stubbornly drug his feet along while whining loudly in protest. He realized he had been outvoted and therefore had no choice except to come along, because, as I explained briefly to him, you are too young to be left behind on your own, and we are all going.” He didn't like it though, and he whined and clung to his mother's leg, begging to be carried.
Now, mind you, I've watched this little boy run up and down our five acre yard, energy unabated, chasing after the dogs and “big kids” without a thought, much less complaint, about not being able to handle it. I knew better than to fall for the “I'm-too-little-to-walk-on-my-own” story that he was conjuring up for us.
Knowing his true capabilities allowed me to be realistic in my expectation of him and to remain lovingly, amusedly, detached from his complaints.
Instead of giving into his baby act, I suggested to him in matter-of-fact tones that he was certainly old enough and big enough to walk on his own, and that he could choose whose hand he would hold as we walked along, mine or his mama's. At that suggestion, he quickly reached for his mother's hand, and started to walk, although he continued to sulk and whine.
He complained most of the way but when the “treehouse cabin” came in sight he quickly “forgot” his unhappiness and ran excitedly off with his older siblings to explore the site. They climbed energetically in and over rocks and hills to explore the new territory. All of his prior weariness forgotten, my little trooper quickly remembered his part when it came time to head back to the house and he turned back into his prior unhappy little self.
This time I took his hand. He held loosely to the finger of my right hand, while I held the leash of one of the dogs in the other hand, and we moved along at his resistant pace, the dog and I, as I spoke patiently to him about his choice to be happy.
It went something like this: “Sweetheart, I understand you do not like to have to walk with us right now, I know what it's like to not like the way things are. But the truth is – you don't have a choice about staying here with me … but you DO have a choice about whether you will be happy or unhappy. Choosing to be unhappy makes your head hurt and it keeps you from having a good time. However, I want you to know that you can choose to be happy even though you don't like what's happening. It is up to you – you choose. I won't be mad at you if you choose to be unhappy because I've done it many times myself.”
He continued to walk alongside me but continued to scowl and whimper especially when we got close enough to his mother and he thought he might get her attention. (It appeared obvious that there was some part of him that was truly convinced that if he was unhappy long enough mama would fix it for him.)
Finally, we got to the gate that leads up to the house. I encouraged my daughter and the other children to go on ahead without us, saying, “Yall go on, we'll hang out here at the gate and water the flowers…” and so they headed to the house. My grandson responded in loud protest as if he couldn't believe that his mother and siblings were going to leave without him. None of them offered him a rescue, however. His mother sauntered on without looking back: she knew her little one was in safe hands.
I let the dog off the leash and walked over to turn on the watering hose. Watering the flowers around the place is one of my favorite tasks and I started humming lightly at the pure delight of a breezy, sunny morning and the chance to pause and enjoy the life of nature here on this beautiful mountain. Meanwhile my grandson stood behind me, immobile, but whining softly in habitual protest.
Again, as an observer with no need to force him to be different, and yet, with no need to give into his unhappy story, I was allowed to appreciate this sacred moment that I was being given with my grandson. I did not feel impatient or resentful with this strong-minded little soldier. I did not feel compelled to fix it for him by trying to make him feel better , nor did I feel any need to give in to his demands, or to “discipline” him for being resistant. “Thank you Daniel,” I said inwardly to my stalwart husband, “for being such a way-shower for me when it comes to raising kids.” Feeling gratitude for my stalwart husband, I smiled at my stubborn grandson and relaxed.
I thought about Daniel's response whenever he is asked how it is that he is able to remain so calm and level-headed with even the most demanding sorts of kids (we work with children from all kinds of families). He says, “I simply remember that every moment with a child is a teaching moment.” This attitude exemplifies observer consciousness.
When we are in observer consciousness we are able to receive the gifts that each moment offers us and to take advantage of the many opportunities presented to us towards deepening our understanding of the principles of Reality and Life. I recognized this moment with my grandson as such a moment – as a precious and valuable opportunity to empower him with the understanding that he can choose his own degree of happiness, rather than allow him to go on thinking (as most of us do) that our happiness is up to someone else giving us what we want.
Finally, I turned to my tenacious little bulldog of a fella, and got down on eye-level with him, “Sweetie, you can be unhappy as long as you need to be, I understand. However I do want you to know that you can choose different. You can choose to be happy. And to help you learn about that I've decided that we are going to stay here in this great spot and water flowers until you are ready to choose happiness.” And then I simply returned to watering and weeding the flowers, humming and feeling the peace that is always available to us just beneath the level of resistance.
After another few minutes of continuing to whimper my grandson became abruptly quiet. I looked over my shoulder to see what had happened and saw him standing there with a look on his precious little face that I will never forget. It was as if he had just arrived at a new and marvelous place. He stood there looking around him as if he had just awakened from an unhappy sleep, and was wide-eyed in wonder at the world he had awakened to find himself in. He stood, looking around with awe written all over his now radiant little face, no doubt, because he was seeing, probably for the first time. all the wonder, diversity, and vibrant aliveness of life surrounding him.
When he glanced my way I quickly held out the water hose and asked, “Would you like to water the flowers?”
“Jes,” he replied.
From that moment on and for the remainder of the day he was one seriously happy little boy!
He watered flowers, played in the water, and when his big brother showed up a few minutes later, my precious little convert-to-happiness effervesced about the bright yellow butterfly he had spotted, and about how big he was now because he could water flowers, and on and on … Throughout the rest of the day he maintained high spirits, reveling in the adventures of a day on the mountain. And every once in a while he would, from out of nowhere, march up to me and say, “Gr'na, I'm a happy boy.”
I smiled then, and I smile now, just to think that perhaps yet another of our precious little ones received a lesson with an essential key that holds the potential to deliver a lifetime of happiness.
Whatever your life circumstances may be, may you find, even in their midst, the abiding happiness that peace offers.