“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
— William Butler Yeats
One of the greatest life lessons taught to me came on an ordinary day, delivered in a quiet way, and has stayed with me forever. I have passed it along to many others who now stand in the same shoes which I stood that day in hopes of it helping them as much as it did me.
The sweet woman who my children would grow to call “Grandma Ruth” was caring for my baby, Cort, while I worked as an editor at an agricultural publication. He had been up crying all night long, and I passed this information along to Ruth when I delivered him to her door one very early morning. I was exhausted and near the end of my rope, so to speak.
When I returned later in the day, missing my little baby boy like crazy, I rushed to sweep him up in my arms and began softly chattering to him. He had just begun to smile, which melted hearts. Ruth sat in a rocking chair, smiling at me so sweetly. She gave me compliments on my mothering, helping to build my confidence, which a tired rookie parent so truly needs.
Ruth was wise with the blessing of years and held lots of mothering experience. She was born in to a big Catholic family, so not only had she raised her own children with love and grace, but she had earlier helped raise siblings, lots of nieces and nephews, her grandchildren and now was offering herself to my baby boy for a part of each day.
As I was wrapping Cort in to his baby bunting to head out in to the cold, Ruth very kindly made mention of something. “You are so wise to realize that what a child needs most of all is that quiet voice. When a baby cries or screams the loudest, that’s when we need to speak our softest, as softly as a reassuring whisper. Instead of trying to talk over them with a louder voice, our quietest voice will give them a reason to quiet down in order to listen.”
I wonder now if Grandma Ruth realized what a momentous moment that was, or if she knows it has stood with me throughout every passing day as I raised my two children.
Growing up on our wide open farm, we had neighbors a distance away, and the mother of that big family certainly could have used Grandma Ruth’s wisdom. I remember cringing at times while listening to the woman scream threats down on her children. What did they do? They screamed back. Then she screamed even louder in return.
I knew the virtue of quiet. We had been taught that screaming was absolutely not allowed unless someone was in grave peril. Until Ruth made that statement to me on that chilly winter day, though, I had not grasped just how enormous a quiet presence in a child’s life truly is.
It was a gift that followed every step of the way in parenting. When grade school threatened to turn my children in to mirror images of the most demanding, difficult classmate, I quietly nudged them back on to the path of a well-behaved child. When junior high brought horror stories of classmates experimenting with various bad things, I did not over-react, but quietly pointed out what unhappy homes some of those children returned to each night, causing them to search for something that would not ever bring them the happiness they craved.
I never expressed shock or disdain when my children shared their thoughts or dreams with me, knowing that alone would build a wall that they may never attempt to scale with me.
My two children are no longer children, but I am gratefully happy to still be a major part of their lives. Thanks to Grandma Ruth’s wonderful wisdom shared so long ago, my son and daughter know they can turn to me and I will tread softly in to their lives in whatever way they need. Many of their friends often reach out to me, too, which I consider a compliment and a blessing wrapped together.
Life’s joys depend on gentle words and peaceful ways. It seems so simple, yet somehow has become lost to so many. How I wish Grandma Ruth could run the world!