Neagley: Being Present

May 21, 2015

A kindergarten teacher told me that in her thirty-seven years of teaching she had never had an open house like the one she had last year. As the children proudly encouraged parents to look at their various accomplishments, the parents were preoccupied by their hand held devices. She said the children’s disappointment was clearly evident. Since then, whenever there’s an event for parents, the teacher posts a sign saying, “Please, no cell phones”.

Another story was told by a friend. Upon arrival at her son’s home she was met with, “Mom, you’ve got to help us. Your grandson won’t be allowed to enter pre-school in the fall if he isn’t potty trained. Believe me, we’ve tried everything!”.

Barely settled in from her flight, she scrambled to absorb the details of their predicament. On previous visits she had seldom been asked for child-rearing advice. What could a grandmother possibly know, especially if she had operated a pre-school for years? Her daughter-in-law swept into the room and reiterated the urgency of the problem. She gestured toward the wall where monthly calendars had been taped. A square had been checked indicating the one day that the four-year old had been successful with his training. A cabinet displayed several prizes, evidently on hand as tools for bribery. The other grandparents were also there and chimed in on how stressful the training had been for all involved.

The following morning her son and daughter-in-law departed for work, leaving her with the two grandchildren. She began her intervention by simply noticing her grandson’s shivering legs or other signals that he had to “go”, and calmly asked whether he wanted to make a trip to the bathroom. While there, she looked at picture books with him to take the pressure off.

When the parents arrived home at the end of their work day, the little boy was potty trained. “How did you do it, they asked? Really, you have no idea what we’ve been through. You’re amazing! You have to tell us what you did!” Not wanting to offend her son and daughter-in-law, she shrugged off the praise and said, “I don’t know. I just noticed when he seemed antsy and asked if he thought it might be a good idea to go to the bathroom.”

Later, when the other grandmother pulled my friend aside and whispered, “You have to tell me what you did”, my friend admitted that she had simply turned off her cell phone and was just there, being present for her little grandson.