Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The chimenea about which I wrote last month finally fostered a good fire during Christmastide. Joel, my six-year old grandson who is visiting from California, inspired us to build a roaring fire in the pot-bellied chimney on the patio, and it provided a few hours entertainment for us on a chilly December day. After Joel helped Vickie build a fire with pinion wood, he gathered pine cones and sweet gum balls to stoke the blaze by dropping them down the chimney. We sat around the fire and drank hot tea with honey and lemon, a drink that Joel had never tasted. He was introduced to tea time and sat quietly watching the flames and sipping his tea.

Last year when Joel visited, he wasn’t as composed, and I’m amazed at the rapid changes in child development that take place within a year. Last year, he wriggled, tapped his feet, ran around the living room -- was a child in perpetual motion. This year he’s a little old man who has learned to sit at the table, use a knife and fork with dexterity, and join in table conversation. When he tires of adult talk, he asks to be excused and amuses himself with the figures in my manger scene, creating a drama of his own by talking all the parts of the figures at his station behind the TV set where no one can hear the dialogue of characters in an imaginative play he has created.

At dinner a few days ago, Joel seemed pensive during most of the meal and suddenly blurted out, “I’m glad to be over here. This little girl at the other house (his other grandmother’s place) punched me in the stomach two times, and her mother didn’t even make her stop. When she finally did, the little girl kept on hitting me. I asked my dad what to do and he said to ‘block her.’ Then the little boy who’s visiting hit me too and followed me around everywhere. He has a bad cold. You know I have asthma, and if he keeps following me, he’s going to give me Double Asthma.” At that point, everyone at the table cracked up, which encouraged Joel to confess more “tell all.”

“Do you think your grandmother is Dr. Phil?” someone asked, and we laughed again. “Don’t hold back,” another family member quipped. Joel was nonplussed. “Well, what do you think I should do?” he persisted. Someone told him to punch the girl back (which my daughter Elizabeth has encouraged Joel not to do), and I suggested that he inform the mothers. “Hmph,” Joel said. “The little girl’s mother doesn’t even tell her to stop at first. She just says that’s the way she plays with other kids.” The matter was never settled because for the most part, we’re non-combative people and didn’t want to encourage fighting, but my grandmother instincts almost overcame me. I wanted badly to tell him to punch back. Instead, we insisted that he talk to the mother again. Such are the trials of Joel at six years old, and since he’s home schooled, his exposure to bullying is minimal. Stomach punches are new to him, and hitting is offensive to all of us.

Joel has a slight build and as a “preemie” weighed in at four pounds when he was born. I flew out to California to help deliver him six years ago and feel deep kinship with him. He had great composure when he told the story of his struggles with an aggressor, but he sensed that he was in a sympathetic climate and confessed his problems in a wry way. We stifled laugher, knowing that in the process of socialization (unfortunately) Joel will meet many more aggressors and people who possess ill will, although most of that will be expressed verbally–in every arena, including church groups, perhaps especially in church groups during the last decade.

When Joel departed for the night, he took with him packets of decaffeinated tea, honey, and a huge prize lemon Judge Anne Simon had given us after a tea party in her home during Christmas. Every day, Joel arrives, asking for a cup of tea, and we wonder if it was really the soothing effects of tea after the “Dr. Phil session” that caused him to appear so becalmed when he left us. Yesterday, he reported that one of the aggressors had left, and he had experienced resolution without confrontation. We had prayed for that happy conclusion!

Joel’s development during the past year reminded me of A. A. Milne’s poem from NOW WE ARE SIX:

“When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now forever and ever.”

Photos by Vickie Sullivan
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