Recently I was listening to audio recordings Marilyn made decades ago of our daughter and son when they were growing up.  She regularly sent copies of the cassette tapes to her parents who lived a thousand miles away so they could be involved in their grandchildren’s lives.

Marilyn: “What do you have, Jon?”

Jon (age 3): “A 1086 twactor,” he said as he held up his toy red tractor for Mom to see. 

Marilyn: “Tell Grandma and Grandpa what those red spots are on your face and tummy.  You got them from Shelby, remember?” 

Jon:  “I went out with Dad in the weal 1086 and I got to dwive it.  Can I tell Gwandpa what else I can do?”

Marilyn: “Yes, but don’t you want to tell Grandpa and Grandma you have chicken pox?”

Jon: “No, but I can sing, and I can cwry like this, ‘Waa, Waa’.”

Marilyn: “That’s not very good crying Jon.”

Enter Shelby (age 6): “This will help.”  She pinched Jon on the shoulder. 

Jon yelled, “Don’t,” loudly and pinched her back.

Marilyn: “Stop fighting, both of you.”

Minutes later and crisis averted, Shelby read a story she wrote in first grade for her grandparents to hear about bugs in our garden; Jon recorded his version of “Whoa, whoa your boat gently down the stweam” for Grandpa and Grandma.

After I stopped laughing I realized the auditory recordings offer lessons for us, for our children who are now parents of preschoolers, and perhaps even for our grandchildren.  I’m glad Marilyn kept copies for us.  Who knows–maybe they will come in handy for entertainment or our defense.

What fun we had as Shelby or Jon rode with me in the cab of the tractor while disking fields and planting crops.  Whoever got to ride with me, starting at age 3, was in charge of our entertainment and food. 

We listened to tapes of Sesame Street, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Simon and Garfunkel, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank milk for lunch.  We practiced learning the ABCs, numbers, colors, various words and sang our favorite songs. 

We discussed our favorite things to do.  We talked about their, and my, feelings and concerns, and those of other people in our family.

When Shelby or Jon became tired, my young helper crawled onto the ledge behind the tractor seat and napped.  We kept a roll of TP in the tractor for you-know-what.  We bonded in many ways!

Now I see our children practicing with their youngsters what Marilyn and I did, except they don’t have any real tractors to drive, livestock to feed, or entire days to spend just with Dad in the tractor cab.  They sing together, read stories and talk about their favorite things.

And, guess what, they talk with their children about feelings and concerns with remarkable insight.  Shelby recently told her mother something like, “Now that I have kids, I appreciate you all the more for what you did when I was growing up, Mom.” 

Gee, that’s similar to Mark Twain’s discovery about how much more his father knew when the famed author was 21 than when he was 14. 

When Marilyn played a tape recording of Jon and me laughing riotously while we were “wrestling,” it sounded like Layla (age 2) and Jon laughing when Jon swings her around by her feet.  So far they’ve knocked lamps down only twice that I know of. 

I know I’ve said a time or two in past articles that “Kids do what their parents did.”  If parents model honesty, responsibility and “hanging in there” when times are tough and relations are strained, the children are likely to behave similarly.

And if parents model dishonesty, or too readily quitting a marriage, well…. you get the point.

If parents aren’t already exhibiting positive practices for their children like planting a garden, daily prayer, time for recreation and discussion of the day’s high—and lowlights, it’s never too late to start such activities.  Displaying the courage to initiate beneficial personal and family behaviors, or to stop destructive behaviors, sends a powerful message to the children.

This holds for both the parents and grandparents.  Children emulate the most important people in their lives–usually their closest family members, including their older siblings, and in nontraditional families–others in the household.

I still smile when I recall what Jon said as the county sheriff gave a demonstration to Jon’s first-grade class about illegal drugs and what to avoid.

Holding up a dried and pressed twig of hemp weed during his class presentation, the sheriff asked the attentive listeners, “What is this?”

Immediately after Jon held up his hand, the sheriff called on him.

“It’s marijuana,” Jon proclaimed.

Sheriff: “How do you know that?”

Jon: “Dad grows lots of it in the ditches on our farm.”

It didn’t look good for this father and member of the local school board!

Dr. Mike lives near Harlan, Iowa.  Contact him at