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Carl Wernicke: Grandchildren Offer Us Another Chance To Learn About Ourselves


Back when I was writing a regular newspaper column, one of the real challenges was simply to come up with something to write about week after week. Many a would-be columnist started out strong, only to realize that perseverance counted as much as inspiration. It might rank only behind the need to develop a skin thick enough to protect you from your critics.

I remember talking with other columnists about how it could take over your life. A colleague who did three columns a week for a Mississippi newspaper told me how one day he realized that he couldn’t do anything or go anywhere without wondering how it might lend itself to a column.

That said, I found that people often responded most positively to columns that spoke to the common things we share in life. It is our common humanity that ties us together, and people hunger to connect with others. Sometimes the value just lies in seeing that other people are like us in how they think, feel and act.

And that said, in wearing my own critic’s hat, I used to say that when a columnist started writing about his or her grandchildren, it was all over, the well was dry, time to move on. We all know that our own grandchildren are the smartest, cutest, sweetest kids on earth … and yours are brats with too much personality.

So no, I’m not about to tell you about something cute my grandchildren (actually, my wife’s, so I guess technically my step-grandchildren) have done.

But as with anything else in life, grandchildren offer us another chance to learn about ourselves.

You have to understand that I have always been a highly competitive individual. Suffice it to say that in my bachelor days, I was loathe even to let a woman I was dating beat me at anything: checkers, tennis, Trivial Pursuit or counting how many times we could make a rock skip across a pond. And I still hate to lose; just ask my wife.

This also extended to children. I figured they had plenty of time to win later in life, so they might as well learn to be humble in defeat. It would ultimately be good for them. I know winning was good for me.

So it was something of a shock recently to realize that my reaction to my wife’s newest grandchild was how happy it made me to let him win, whether at hide and seek or throwing rocks into the puddles. I’m not sure when this transition occurred, but there it was.

I suppose this is a natural part of getting older, sort of the same way my desire to drive fast, two-seater sports cars has waned. I still like fast, two-seater sports cars, but I’d rather put the top down and take a leisurely drive in the country than attack hairpin turns at high speed.

But lest you think I have mellowed completely, I’m ready to meet you at the closest pond, flat stone in hand.