“Gramps [the name I have affectionately been given], please will you play with us?”

“Not at the moment.”

“Why not?”

“Because I am chatting to your mum and having a cup of tea.”

A few minutes later Abby, almost six, peeks into my mug of tea to check on the state of play.

“Have you got the skittles ready?” I ask. Abby and Charlotte (four) love playing skittles in the narrow passage way of our home.

“No.”

“Well, call me when you’re ready.”

A couple of minutes later. “Gramps! We’re ready!”

Off I go. At the end of the passage are a few steps leading into the garage. I sit on the steps and order Charlotte to sit below me in case she is hit by a flying ball – it’s inevitable.

Activities are fun

Abby, as the oldest, always goes first. You should know that’s how it works. She throws the balls at the skittles; sometimes it is rolled along the carpet; sometimes thrown from shoulder height, occasionally kicked. My, how she has gained in strength and self-confidence during the past few months. This game is becoming a dangerous occupation sitting behind the skittles.

A wild throw hits me on the arm and I feign injury.

“Charlotte, call the ambulance.” I grimace.

Charlotte looks genuinely concerned. Abby pauses, unsure … I laugh. We all laugh. The game continues.

Everyone has a turn and then, “Let’s play frisbee,” Abby shouts as she heads for the door.

Then it’s tag, or hide-and-seek …

Gramps returns inside, sits down and feigns exhaustion. It’s time for Nana Jane to take over!

Reflections

I have been doing a lot of writing this year and was excited to receive copies of my new mentoring book – converting the free podcasts (see below) into an updated book: Mentoring Minutes: Weekly Messages to Encourage Anyone Guiding Youth. (PS: special offer if you live in New Zealand, while stocks last).

As the global community grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, my grandchildren have been reminding me of some important mentoring lessons. They have also been reminding me that youth mentoring is going to become more and more important in the weeks and months ahead.

Six mentoring lessons

COVID-19 reminds me each day that face to face relationships with family (extended family) and friends are critical to enable us to live healthy and balanced lifestyles.

My grandchildren continue to teach me the importance of these six mentoring lessons:

  1. Be authentic: It is so important to be myself so my grandchildren know the ‘real’ me – they experience my unconditional, non-judgmental (mostly) love for them; see that I am fallible and will make mistakes; that I apologize when I have done something wrong; that I carry the spirit of forgiveness in my heart, and I never stop learning.
  2. Have a sense of humor: Laugh lots, be crazy and silly – make a fool of myself (easy to do as a retired teacher). This positive energy releases the ‘feel good’ dopamine in my brain. I must never take life too seriously. Try and find the ‘fun’ element in all that I do.
  3. Listen: I must not only ‘hear’, but also listen carefully for the messages, those feelings, and for what is not being said. I continue to learn how to do this consistently with my grandchildren. I remind myself often: “I am the adult. They are children.” Sometimes I struggle to empathize, as it was a long time ago when I was four or six years of age. My daughter politely reminds me …
  4. Learning is in the doing: How true this is. We play skittles, so I am coaching the seeds of goal setting: “Our aim is to knock them all over”; fair play; perseverance – keep trying until all the skittles are knocked over; sharing small tips about how to throw the frisbee more effectively and modeling this – they are watching, listening, observing and suddenly they succeed. We celebrate the small victories … never underestimate the power of genuine affirmations.
  5. Develop resiliency: I must keep coaching my grandchildren how to bounce back when they inevitably stumble and fall. I often use humor, mixed with compassion, to achieve this. I am always on the lookout for strengths – a quality I consistently can see, and which I will eventually name – as I sow the spirit of mentoring in their young lives.
  6. Keep an open mind – variety: My grandchildren are young, so a game does not last long. Then it’s on to something else, then another activity. Then we might take time out to gather our breathe and listen to a story, or watch a short DVD or video clip (strict rules around the use of technology), then a jigsaw puzzle, or blowing bubbles on the deck, or playing with play-doh or blocks. My focus remains on my grandchildren for as much time as possible, and we do what they choose to do (within reason) most of the time.

And, of course, does this particular sentence ever vanish? “I’m hungry!” – because they know Nana Jane bakes lots of special goodies. Sometimes they bake together. But, then, aren’t grandparents there to spoil the grandchildren?

Further reflections

Then it’s time to go home and I clear up the mess left behind. No, not totally true. Sometimes we do this together.

And then Nana Jane and I slump into our chairs, pause, catch our breathe, appreciate that we are not getting any younger, yet give grateful thanks for three things:

  1. Having the opportunity to be with family and, hopefully, to make positive memories with our grandchildren.
  2. How incredibly privileged we are  to be able to offer our grandchildren these opportunities at a time when there are millions of children who are not so fortunate. These experiences keep us humble and immensely grateful for the life we are able to lead.
  3. How young people especially cherish face to face healthy and meaningful relationships.

How about you? What is your most recent fun family moment? Make those memories and never stop sowing the seeds of mentoring.

Messages from Gramps: Robin Cox [Gramps] has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be using their God-given talents.

Robin has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in New Zealand and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community.

You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Facebook or Instagram or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website  Robin’s free Mentoring Minutes daily podcasts (each podcast between 2 and 4 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available hereOver 50 blogs have been converted to short video clips, all of which are linked to encouraging youth to reach their potential. These are available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHzVfIdmVQEwxTgvNKgp22g?view_as=subscriber