22 Years after he wrote of a memorable beach outing with Igor, his toddler grandson, this psychiatrist looks back on their joint adventure through a life "full of adventures, full of wonders!"
Twenty-two years ago, I recounted the events and experience of my trip to the beach with my grandson Igor in Psychiatric Times.1 How quickly the time has gone-the years have flown. Igor is now a young man-an aspiring scientist in biochemistry who is elegant, lithe, full of alacrity, social finesse, and acumen. But more about that later.
On the other hand, I am older and a little bent since the inevitable, natural allotment of rocks fallen from heaven over the years have taken their toll. Yet, we both are happy, wiser, and still excited about life and ready to go on. To paraphrase Fernando De Soto, the Spanish explorer who roamed the southern US, our journey has been “long and strange.” Our trip was “full of adventures, full of wonders” indeed! Such as the adventure and discovery in Constantine Cavafy’s famous poem, “Ithaka.”2
Circumstances and luck kept Igor and me together all these years-almost inseparable. And as it turned out, having similar temperaments, we both loved to travel and learn. And travel we did! We shook hands with elephants in the Zuka reserve in the Zululand jungle of South Africa as the guests of a couple of enlightened and prosperous entrepreneurs. We stared at Thomson’s gazelles, elands, and wildebeests and made faces at wily baboons while keeping our distance from black rhinos, themselves full of massive solemnity. And we marveled!
We listened in wonder to the love songs of whales in the Prince William Sound in Alaska and stared with merriment at the sea otters as they hammered oysters on their bellies while lying on their backs on the calm sea. The landscape around us-enormous, imposing-filling the sky: God’s land!
We traveled the upper Amazon and caught small Caymans and ate cooked piranhas! We danced in the night with fellow humans, who, stark naked, were just exiting their Stone Age. And we said “hello” to massive, chatty macaws while trying to absorb the immensity of the forbidding rain forest that we felt covered the entire earth!
More than once, we stared at the implacable sun and endless statues frozen in time-a timeless diary of dynasties-in upper Egypt. We roamed the mountains of Costa Rica listening to the hollow-ring monkeys, laughing out loud, full of mirth.
While in Greece, we climbed and slept on top of Mount Ochi in Euboea next to a 3000-year-old, megalithic temple-the very place where Zeus spent his nuptial night with his wife Hera, long before their domestic troubles. We stared at the myriad stars like quivering opals in the cloudless night and witnessed Homer’s “rosy fingered dawn,” the sea glimmering far below. We loudly proclaimed, “Good morning God!” while staring out at the landscape of my ancient people, grateful for the moment.
The years were passing and Igor was learning from my mentoring as well as our travels-visiting and witnessing places and people, all teaming with life around us. As he matured emotionally and physically, Igor developed a profound respect for the delicacy and interconnection of life and this fragile planet of ours. Our bond grew and became stronger, yet we had another journey that was even more wondrous. This particular voyage involved our inner selves-what we learned about ourselves and each other in the passing years.
The first surprise: Igor had not changed! As I had reported in 1992, from day 1 Igor was an inquisitive, inner-directed, restless, intense, autonomous, pensive, contemplative, and a little-aloof boy. These temperamental traits were more prominent in him than in other children, and they did not change. Igor still has all these traits! They remained unaltered through the years. Of course, he is now dressed up, as it were, in the cultural cloth of learned attitudes and ethos (the result of my mentoring as well as learning from the give-and-take with his cousins, friends, and roommates, as well as the zeitgeist of the time). This learning was finely tuned by his particular temperamental traits.
Igor is an informed, civil, tactful young man with tenacity of purpose and ambitions. His sense of personhood and inner certainty along with a capacity for intimacy are still a work in progress and are the result of the quality of our relationship, a process made easier by the lucky happenstance of our similar temperaments.
During our travels, our relationship could be contentious and tense with endless arguments because we occupied the same emotional space. Our mutual affection and similarities were perhaps somewhat suffocating as he struggled to establish his selfhood and identity and maintain his autonomy.
His humanness is now in the process of being completed. Nevertheless, neither his nor my temperament has changed. Throughout my 85 years, I have not changed from day 1! Okay, I am mellower and wiser in tolerating ambiguity, but I am still inner-directed and comfortable in my aloneness. I remain the contemplative, inquisitive, autonomous person that I was back in my youth in the mountains of Crete, chasing and studying butterflies (variegated Lepidoptera as I learned years later).
Because of my great age, I am perceived as wise-friends, colleagues, and patients often ask me about raising children: What does it take? What did I learn about this matter after all these years? What did I try to do with Igor?
My response is simple: human beings are tough and are made to endure. We came from generations who survived thousands of years under very difficult circumstances. Our ancestors hunted animals in the Savannah and stared over mile-high ice sheets as they moved north, killing mammoths in the bleak landscape.
We are now their children’s children. We are tough, enduring, ingenious. We thrive in adversity and in being challenged. We are also social-we connect to fellow human beings. We are competitive, but we learn early to obey the rules. Fortunately, children are born with all these traits, but as parents we need to strengthen these traits in our children. We can do that with our own attitudes and behaviors while our children are growing up.
Being humans, we naturally behave like little emperors from day 1-all children do. The sooner we address these attitudes that are naturally present in children and help them get rid of them, the better. The children will be better able to survive, face difficulties, contribute, get along with others, and be reasonably happy.
Hovering and treating children like fine china with endless worry about “not hurting their feelings,” as the current cultural attitude dictates, is, in fact, counterproductive and outright harmful. Children end up feeling entitled: noncontributing and unproductive. They have been unable to develop enduring persistence of effort. Instead, they feel perpetually frustrated and ready to get into mischief. To avoid this, here are my 4 rules:
1. Structure: set limits and constraints and stick to them
2. Consistency and sameness: avoid changing attitude
3. Fairness: treat each child and his or her siblings fairly; avoid “playing favorites”
4. Expectation: expect the child to perform and feel challenged
Of course, a little affection always helps, and fortunately is almost always there (it is in our genes).
Remember, children are neither puppies nor breakable china. I have witnessed Igor face and handle catastrophes and the deaths of family members with fortitude and inner wisdom. Children are tough and ready to learn-train them well. They are given to us in trust, and we can help them to be prepared for a successful life. The sooner children understand that life is not made for our convenience, the better.
Those are the rules; use them. They work. They are the very ones used by the pedagogues (ie, guides, teachers, mentors of children) in fifth century bc in Athens. The pedagogues knew how to produce scientists, poets, artists, philosophers, soldiers, and responsible citizens who invented democracy.
Igor now is on his way. Our wonderful journeys of learning and pondering together are almost over. We are both grateful for all of it. I can now only wish him well for the rest of his adventures and for his future voyages, perhaps with his own children and grandchildren.
[Editor's note: 22 Years ago, Psychiatric Times published "Igor, My Two-Year-Old Grandson, Takes Me for a Weekend at the Beach." You can read it by clicking here.]
Dr Pediaditakis practices psychiatry full-time, consults, and writes articles and poetry. He raises Black Angus cattle as a hobby. He reports no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
1. Pediaditakis N. Igor, my two-year-old grandson, takes me for a weekend at the beach. Psychiatr Times. August 1992;22-23.
2. Cavafy CP. Ithaka. http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?cat=1&id=74. Accessed March 17, 2014.