Supper Table Wisdom with Four Under Seven

I’m the father of three children. I consider myself an “experienced parent” – with those three children. Notice, I didn’t say “expert”. And I would never say I was a “pro”.

I’m reminded of the time our youngest child returned home from two weeks at Camp Joslin. This is a camp for children with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes. He was diagnosed when he was eight years old, and the summer I am recalling was his second or third year at the camp. He proudly announced upon arriving at home: I am a professional diabetic. He then proceeded to give himself the wrong dose of long-lasting insulin having confused it with the short-acting medication. When he realized what he had done he panicked. He knew this would mean he would be staying up very late eating low doses of bread with peanut butter for the next five or six hours. His mother, brother, sister and I have had much fun with him over the span of the last 25 years reminding him of that incident.

I am not a “professional parent”; I am NOT a professional when it comes to raising children with diabetes. However I do have some experience parenting three particular children, one of whom has diabetes.

We have had the happy occasion over the past week to be at the supper table several times with our four grandchildren, ages one, five, six and seven. I have been observing my children as partner spouses, as parents, and … well, as my adult children. And because of a conversation with colleagues earlier in the week about our cultural obsession with competence, I couldn’t help but be aware of the difference between “experience,” “expertise,” and “competence”.

There is no doubt that we can make generalizations about things, describing characteristics or inclinations that are true about a broad swath of some segment of our society. Some things are true about mostly every two-year old. But the truth of these generalizations doesn’t make anyone – even the discoverers of such truths – an expert on the individuals who comprise that particular cadre.

Perhaps the real irony that kept staring at me like the chicken nuggets on my supper plate was the fact that these four children were teaching me a lot more about myself than I was learning about any of them. That’s the competence that needs to grow in us. Can we make that generalization – that what we are most apt to learn from our relationships with other people is what we need to know about ourselves?

Some things I’ve learned this week:

  1. Language isn’t nearly as precise as we think it is. For example: Did you wash your hands? That doesn’t necessarily mean to a five-year old what it means to me.
  2. Regarding language – it’s amazing how a one-year old understands “No”, and then does the same thing over and over again.
  3. Eat all your macaroni. The assumption we made – incorrectly – was that instruction would include the cheese and the other ingredients in the Mac & Cheese we were having for supper and not just the pasta.
  4. Everyone go to the bathroom. I would assume that meant one would relieve one’s self, not just show up in the room where there is a toilet and a sink and call the task “done”.
  5. And I was reminded how the “supper table” is more of a suggestion than an actuality when a one-year old is having a meal. Food is apt to end up anywhere.

At one point the six-year old said to me that I was spoiling their fun. I explained to him that’s what grandfather’s do – we are “fun-spoilers”. The expression on his face had me burst out laughing. He had no idea how much fun I was having.

The three older ones are players of Monopoly. We found ourselves at the waterfront walking on the board walk discussing places to ambulate, expensive real estate, and what you did when you were “bored”. Isn’t the English language strange? I mused aloud. “NO!!!” was the response from the experts.

When Jesus said we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven lest we become like little children, I can offer an alternative: If you can’t “become” a child again, have supper with three or four of them. You will be amazed at how brilliant they are, and at how much you still have to learn – especially about yourself.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.