My 3-year-old grandson understands what I don’t say
I arrived just before 7 on Saturday morning, at my daughter’s request. The house was quiet and dark when I entered. I found the elusive light switch, took a seat, and then waited.
My son-in-law was on a business trip, and I was spending time with my grandson Niko so that my daughter could get some extra sleep while the baby slept.
The dog whined, aware of my presence despite the blanket covering his crate, clearly wanting his freedom to greet me.
A minute or two passed in near-silence, and then the sliding door separating the living area from the bedrooms quietly slid open and a happy 3-year-old bounded toward me for a hug.
This was how wonderful a “good morning” greeting should feel.
After he had me at hello, I suggested we let the dog out of his crate. Niko, the expert, enthusiastically showed me how to open the cage door, and Luther, their boxer, bounded toward me for some love before my grandson opened the door to the outside world, where Luther could go about his business.
Niko and I talked quietly so we didn’t disturb the others still sleeping. We chatted and read books, put toys away, made his bed and tidied his room without him really noticing we were playing with a purpose.
But when I started cleaning the bathroom, he became my willing helper. He brought me Chlorox wipes at my request — but before he brought them, I’d found some all-purpose cleaner and sprayed down the sink area. So I requested paper towels instead.
“OK, but don’t change your mind this time,” he scolded me.
When I picked up the bathmats and headed outside to give them a good shake, Niko asked to help.
We stood side by side, each of us holding a mat with both hands. (That’s what you see us doing in the featured photo, by the way.)
“Shake, shake, shake!” I said, as we violently shook the mats to get rid of the debris. Then we switched the mat around to hold the other end.
“Shake, shake, shake!”
Then we traded mats and did the routine again. (I, of course, wanted to make sure the mat Niko held was actually clean.)
I returned the mats to the bathroom and then returned to the back yard with a broom, intent on sweeping the concrete porch. As I swept, I noticed that the debris included pebbles from the landscaped areas surrounding the porch. I didn’t want to sweep debris into the pebbled areas, and I didn’t want to sweep rocks into the grassy area to become missiles fired by the lawn mower.
“Niko, can you help me pick up these pebbles?”
My grandson meticulously picked up pebbles and ceremoniously plopped them into the pebbled landscaped areas.
After we’d completed that task, Niko started pulling a wagon around the fenced back yard. I looked for my next project and engaged my dutiful grandson in picking up balls, sticks, chunks of rocks, and whatever else didn’t seem to belong. As we walked through the yard, Niko pulling the wagon as we tossed items into it, I saw a fresh pile of dog poop.
“Ooh! Don’t wheel the wagon through that!” I told Niko, pointing to it.
Then Niko started pointing out a number of poop piles, conveniently located in a plot of land surrounding a tree. Spotting a shovel and a broken half of a sturdy plastic cup, I got to work, scooping poop and tossing it over the fence into the woods.
Niko played with Luther, crawled rapidly behind a canoe leaning against the shed after the dog did, pulled the wagon some more, and came over to me periodically to direct my attention to more piles of poop.
At one point, he crouched down beside me as I scooped and looked me in the eyes.
“Are you doing this because you love me?” Niko asked.
“Yes! Absolutely!” I responded.
Inwardly, I thought, “He gets me! He understands how I speak love.”
My primary love language is “acts of service,” as phrased by best-selling author Gary Chapman, who wrote the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Chapman has also written a version for organizations titled The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People. My boss purchased that book for everyone in our company, and so love — or appreciation — languages were on my mind.
Knowing he would understand, I told my boss what this 3-year-old prodigy said.
“Wow. That’s pretty insightful,” he said. “How did a 3-year-old learn that?”
While I contemplated how I might humbly express the brilliance and high emotional IQ of his parents (and grandparents), my boss interjected his own reason:
“I’m doing this because I love you!” he playfully acted out a parent disciplining a child.
(I’m fairly certain my version of the reason behind Niko’s insight was correct.)
That Saturday, with dog poop piles cleared away, I left Niko to play for a bit while I went inside to share a quick cup of coffee with my daughter.
Then Niko came inside to join with me in vacuuming the floor.
After we’d left the house nice and tidy, my daughter suggested we all take a walk together — if I had the time. (My grandson would be able to show me how good he was on his balance bike.) I was game.
So Niko got his bike, my daughter loaded Adira Jane into her running stroller and then gave me control of it while she leashed the dog.
We went out into a perfect Florida — sunny, clear, and cool. Niko took the lead, Laura and I followed, she with the dog, me with the baby. As we walked, I told Laura about Niko’s realization that my dog-poop pickup equaled an expression of love for him.
That launched a conversation about love languages — specifically, our love languages. Mine, obviously, is acts of service, and I’d been speaking it all day as I’d left my daughter alone to sleep and tend to the baby while I worked with Niko.
As we chatted, I felt good. After all, I’d been expressing love all day in my acts of service — and my grandson got it. He knew that scooping poop was me loving him. And, of course, everything I’d done to relieve my daughter’s burden in her husband’s absence was an act of love, which I knew she knew — except, wait, she was saying something as we walked.
“My love language is ‘quality time.'”
I was doubly thankful for the walk at that moment, realizing that while my grandson recognized that I loved him by my acts of service, my daughter felt loved by quality time, which we were (finally) having that day.
It’s a good thing that “walking” is another of my love languages.
I love my grandson and my daughter. I think they know that. 🙂