We have a grandson who lives in Texas and when he turned 3, we asked his parents if he could come and spend a week with us during the summer. They agreed because we and his parents did not want a grandchild that did not have a fellowship-relationship with his grandparents. My husband and I both had relationships as well as fellowship with our grandparents, and we still hold those memories dear. We learned so much from our grandparents.

Our grand Emery is an only child, so anything different excites him. He arrived and appeared to be shy, but we could tell that it was not his true nature. All he wanted us to do was to start the conversation. Our daughter left after giving him instructions about the dos and the don’ts of his behavior.

She brought him up on a sugar/gluten-free diet, and that was the hardest part of having him, but we managed to follow her instructions except for times when he pulled one over on his granddad. He was not a fan of that diet and, of course, that did not help us much. My husband — who had never lived in a house with children growing up other than his own siblings many moons past — was not accustomed to the attempts of children to want to do only what they want.

By the end of that first day my husband had one of his belts on the first floor, and when I went upstairs, he had one at the top of the stairwell. That is when it hit me that my husband did not have the experience that I had had as an adult as well as a child growing up. After Emery was bathed that night and put to bed, I had to call a meeting with my husband and the two belts.

I explained to him that children can be disciplined in more ways than to be threatened with physical punishment. He agreed and decided to take a new approach the next day. I told him to pay attention to some of the things that Emery enjoyed the most. Take away the one he enjoyed the least first and gradually move up to the most. Each time his granddaddy would call something in, Emery would say “but, Granddaddy ...”. That would stop Granddaddy in his tracks. He would say “Well all right, but next time.” The “but next time” list got longer and longer. It got so long that Emery began to try using it with me.

I figured I had better stop that quickly. I sat with him the third day at breakfast and said, “Listen, my child. When Grandma tells you to do something, always let it be and that follows.” I told him that no conversation was necessary. If I tell you to eat your cereal, just simply say I will. I told him that, with Grandma, there will be no buts. I gave him an example of how he should respond. He seemed to have understood that day.

The next morning, we sat for breakfast. I prayed a prayer that was simple and yet all inclusive about how blessed we all were to be together. I thanked God for allowing us to have our wonderful grandson with us. After the Amen, my husband and I began to eat, and Emery looked around at the both of us. I suppose he was trying to decide which one would be the easiest target this morning.

He chose me. I said, “Eat your cereal, baby.” He put his spoon to his mouth with one piece of cereal on it and immediately said “Yuck.” His granddad asked him what was wrong and he said “YUUK. My cereal is yucky.”

Granddad said “Eat your breakfast so that we can leave.”

He said “I cannot eat because the cereal is yucky.”

I asked, “Why is the cereal yucky this morning, you ate them yesterday morning?” He said “Because you prayed too long.” I realized that the cereal had gotten soft, and he must be used to eating crunchy cereal. I prepared him another bowl with fresh milk and cereal. But he had decided that he was just not going to follow directions on this day.

He said “but I am not hungry, Grandma.” I said, “We are going out and will be gone for a while.” He stood his grounds in defiance. Then, when he thought that I was no longer thinking about it, he asked, “May I take my toy?” I said, “Yes, after you finish your cereal.”

He said, ”No, the cereal they…they are not good because they are yucky. You should not have prayed so long.”

His granddaddy had already gone outside to get the car turned around and the child safety seat situated. Ten minutes later he came to the door and asked what was holding us up. I told him that I was waiting for Emery to finish his breakfast. He said OK and returned to the porch. By this time Emery had lost it. He looked at me and put his little arms out to explain one last time why he was not going to eat the cereal.

“Grandma, why you are not listening to me?” His arms were outstretched and he was moving them up and down and all around. He stomped his little feet.

I calmly said, “I heard you, but you did not hear me. I said eat your cereal.” He spooned some and put them to his mouth, intentionally spilling cereal and milk on the floor. After the swallowing he got very agitated all over and put his arms out and began to ask “Why are you not listening to me, Grandma. I don’t understand why you are not listening to me.”

I said I am hearing you, but you are not hearing me because you are not doing what I have asked of you.

He took another spoon full of milk and cereal, put it to his mouth, and spat it on the floor. At that moment my phone rang. It was my son who lives out of town. All he hears is this little person exclaiming his position and asking over and over “Why are you not listening to me? I need you to listen to me, Grandma.”

My son asked “Mom what is going on?” I said, nothing but I am trying to get him to eat breakfast. He said “Oh no. I will call you back.”

I said just hold on let me let you speak with Hardy. He is outside. I gave Hardy the phone to speak with my son and to assure him that the child was not being abused but the child was abusing us. It was so disturbing to Stephen that he told Hardy, “No, I cannot talk with you all now. I will call back later. Hearing that makes my heart hurt. If that is what it sounds like when he is abusing you all, I sure do not want to know what it will sound like if it were the reverse.”

We made it through the rest of the week and our precious grandson returned to Texas. The next summer rolled around quickly and was a much smoother one. In having a conversation with his granddad, he had to be reminded that he’d learned that there were no BUTS. Due to COVID-19 we will miss him this summer. He will be 7 years old.

Until this very day I do not know what was on my son’s mind.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of the African American Connection of the Performing Arts Inc. and a 2020 Heart of the Community Award of Honor recipient.

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