Matthew quoted Jesus in the 18th chapter of his gospel in the Bible as saying, “Unless you are like little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  If the passage means what I think it means, I endorse the quote.

Regardless of our age, the forthright honesty and whole-hearted, unbridled love and sincerity that the passage refers to are behaviors everyone should aim for, especially in our current selfish and dangerous world.  Our two granddaughters, Layla, age 3 years 8 months, and Ana, 22 months, demonstrated these behaviors to Marilyn and me during their recent weekend visit to “Marno” and “Papa” at our farm.

As the girls and the adults exchanged hugs on Saturday morning they greeted Marilyn and me with unrestrained joy when they threw their arms around us.  We returned their warm welcome and uttered typical grandparent comments like, “You have become such big girls since we last saw you!”  Indeed, they were demonstrably taller.

Layla and Ana like visiting us and our farm in western Iowa, 100 miles from their home near Des Moines.  Their father, Jon, said Layla wouldn’t go to sleep the previous night before their sojourn without her favorite “farm book” next to her in bed.  She “read” it to me twice during their visit.

Layla has said repeatedly that she wants to be a farmer and a doctor when she grows up.  “Hooray,” is all I can say.  Layla might well succeed in both endeavors, as capable as she is for her age, or in anything she pursues as her calling.  She has passion for whatever she does.

Ana also will likely succeed in life.  Her smile lights up the entire room.  She also has her parents’ and grandparents’ unconditional love.  The grandparents took turns as child-care providers for the first eight months of both granddaughters’ lives, and bonded in the process.  It was our gift to their Mom and Dad and to help the girls get off to a good start.

Okay, okay, I might be a tad bit proud as one of the girls’ grandparents.  Marilyn and I admire their maternal grandparents as wonderful caring persons who may be even more deeply attached to them.  They live just a few miles away from their daughter and family.  They can step up to help at a moment’s notice, which is necessary in our unpredictable world.

I was thinking about these matters when Jon, the two girls, and I went fishing at a farm pond on Saturday afternoon.  Layla caught five hefty bluegills and two 16-inch largemouth bass on her first fishing excursion.  I caught one bluegill and one bass on my fly rod.  “Uh-hmm!”

Ana too would probably have shown me up, had not a thunderstorm signaled an end to our fun when lightning pierced the horizon a couple miles to the west.  Like their father, who caught his first fish as a three-year-old on a bare hook, the apple didn’t fall far away from the tree!

“What’s that?” Layla asked on Sunday morning, pointing to an oblong pancake Grandma Marno had placed on her plate for breakfast.  Layla was accustomed to round pancakes without irregular margins when her parents served her breakfast.

When her father said it tasted the same, Layla tried it and pronounced it edible.  Grandma added, “It’s the way your father sometimes had to eat them too.  You know, he grew up in this house.”

“Could he touch the ceiling?” Layla queried, while all the adults laughed at her literal interpretation of “grew up.”  It reminded me of the stages of neurological development described by the Swiss behavior scientist, Jean Piaget.  Interpreting words literally is customary for most children from about age three until their brains mature enough to think more abstractly, usually a couple years after Layla’s current age.

“No, no, your father was a boy here in our house until he became a man,” Marilyn explained.  “He was little, like you, until he became older.”

“He was?” Layla observed in surprised recognition.

“Yes,” Jon stated emphatically.  “You will be ‘grown-up’ too someday.”

“I don’t think so,” Layla cheerily responded.  “Papa and Marno said I’m already big.”

“Oh boy, what have we gotten ourselves into?” I thought to myself as I remembered yesterday’s greeting.

When the family left on Sunday afternoon to return to their home a couple hours’ drive from our farm, Layla was partially asleep in her car-seat as we said “Goodbye.”  She opened her eyes enough to manage a weak smile and wave.  Ana, fully awake, said “Bye” and “Wuv you,” while waving vigorously.

Two hours later, Jon telephoned us to say Layla was sad and “wants to talk to Marno and Papa.”  Layla proclaimed she had not said “Goodbye” properly.  Layla wanted to tell Marilyn and me how she felt.

“Goodbye, thank you,” Layla voiced earnestly.  She felt better.

Happily, I remembered, “Unless you are like little children…..”