A blessing of six grandchildren is the chance to learn again a key longing of being human: “See me.” The ache to be seen is fundamental. It shapes us from beginning to end and through everything in between.
But, oh, how it shapes us as we begin. I see this in each grandchild. And I’ve found that with each the moment when we mutually experience the seeing changes our relationship forever. I could give many examples; let me try three representative ones.
I’ll always remember Maya that day we Skyped across a continent. She was nine-ish months. I worked at getting to know her. But it was work. I had to keep experimenting with how she wanted to be related to. Then that day she kept bopping her head up and down.
Some impish urge caused me to copy her. She stopped. She stared. She bopped again. I bopped. Again she tested me. I bopped. Suddenly she grinned. Bop bop bop. Back and forth across the miles we bopped.
When I next saw her, I bopped. She bopped. We were launched. Three years later the bond grows ever stronger. What had happened? I believe that in the bopping Maya grasped that she had been seen.
August’s parents needed a babysitter for most of a day. Would I consider it? Yes. I drove five hours to figure out how to engage August. Bopping didn’t cut it. He just stared at his grandfather with a gaze that said, “You’re even more out of it than I thought.”
Experiment with this. Test that. Nothing. No crisis. We were getting along but perfunctorily. He was tolerating me. Then I got on hands and knees and followed. Everywhere he crawled, I crawled. Until . . . aha! He realized he was in charge.
Grins and grins. Crawl a few feet then turn. Is PawPaw following? Yes! More dazzling grins.
Now he walks and talks. But if he gets grumpy, all I have to do is follow him, to his room, to look at sheep, to any of his current interests. All he needs is the following that tells him, “I see you.”
My youngest granddaughter, five months, needed figuring out. She responded to typical gestures, including my go-to, walking. But again it was work, a quest for what she really wanted.
One day I added speechifying to walking. I told her — with some passion, including hand gestures — about grapes and raisins. I explained that she is a grape but raisins are grapes that have been aged and dried, that people my age are raisins, that her mother is half-grape, half-raisin. She was quite taken with the grandfatherly insights.
Then amid the speechifying her mom put her on a floor blanket. I got down with her. Her brow furrowed — What? What is he doing? — before yielding to a smile. I was joining her! I had seen her. Our relationship was a ballet from that point forward.
I ponder the state of the world. I ponder politicians who demand see me see me see me. I ponder their followers, who likewise want politicians to see us, cater to us, put us first.
I wonder if we’ve corrupted the see-me transactions of childhood in ways that destroy. I wonder what would happen if we relearned to see each other — at the primal levels that I suspect the children within us all crave — underneath the distortions of see me into which we’re so tragically falling.
Michael A. King is publisher of Cascadia Publishing House and blogs at Kingsview & Co., cascadiapublishinghouse.com/KingsviewCo.