My Abe and Estelle

“Everyone else has a grandma and a grandpa.  You have an Abe and Estelle?” a college roommate remarked when she heard me refer to my grandparents by their first names. I have no idea how it came about, nor had I ever thought about it until Sally mentioned it.  It was just another facet of our relationship that made what we had so very special. I was born overseas; my father was in the service. Abe and Estelle crossed the ocean on the Queen Mary to meet their first grandchild, writing home to their friends,  “We can report that Debby has long black hair, weighed 6 pound 3 ounces and is vigorously interested in the new world about her. Debby’s arrival was duly noted at Friday evening services conductd by Rabbi (Captain) Schriner…and attended by her father and paternal grandparents.” Thus was born a relationship where distance had no sway.

We spent time in Florida together, walking on the beach, playing in the lollygoggles (Abe’s mysterious name for the waves), collecting  seashells and going out to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Times were different then and it was a short flight. Putting me on a plane to see them, even when I was as young as four, was just part of what we did. We were a little family of three,  complete and stable in a way that meant more and more to me as the years passed and my homelife disintegrated.

Of all the questions asked and answered, it never occurred to me to ask Estelle what it meant to her to become a grandmother. What were her thoughts the first time she held me? What were her dreams for me?  Most of all I wish she could see me now. Her granddaughter has become a grandmother! I long to talk as equals in this role we now share and kvell together over her two great-great granddaughters. I like to think that Abe and Estelle are still here, watching over me as I have become a grandmother.  For my part, it remains and will forever be a relationhip where distance has no sway.

Grandparenting via Facetime and Youtube

We began Face Timing with Olivia when our kids moved to Chicago from  Michigan (where they had lived 15 minutes from us.)  Several afternoons a week, Olivia and I read together for a half hour or so and then it’s  Music Time with Grandpa. Face Time + YouTube videos = a stellar musical experience.  Who knew?

Martin finds amazing performances for  them to enjoy together.  They began with the Michigan Marching Band and the The Flight of the Bumblebee performed by the Canadian Brass.  George, an impossibly cute bespectacled   six-year-old introduces viewers to Sydney’s Youth Orchestra.  He kept Olivia captivated from Brass to Winds for weeks on end.

 Martin expanded the repertoire to ballet and opera. Trust me, you haven’t seen the Sugar Plum Fairies until you see them perform in LED tutus. While it would be unthinkable to take a four-year-old to a production of Turandot, it is a snap to find lavish performances from every country and company imaginable.  HIs search for Mozart’s Queen of the Night netted three different productions — two featuring Diana Damrau (costumed in green and in black) and a student production that turns the story on its head. In this last one. the eye-rolling adolescent gets the guy and leaves her mother sputtering in impotent outrage.  I hope Olivia forgets about this one by the time she’s fifteen or my daughter-in-law will have my head.

What’s your theatrical passion? Share it with your grandchildren. YouTube leads the way.

 

Gotta have an LED tutu for your grandchild? Etsy to the rescue!

We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu

I adore this book so much that it has become my go-to choice for gift giving. From bird couplets to turtle duos to bear pairs, the message of loving one another comes through in the simple and delightful drawings Yonezu is known for. What takes We Love Each Other from delightful to ingenious are the peek-a-boo illustrations that expand this little book into an enchanting primer on geometric shapes and color.

Our favorite loving couplet were the mama and baby elephant. Their color — grey.  Their shape — semicircle. The first time we read it, I pointed out how the mommy was protecting her baby. Thereafter, whenever we reached this page, Olivia would point and intone, “Mommy protecting.”  How blessed she is to live this truth.

We Love Each Other is simply perfect.

What books are your go-to faves to read with your grandchildren?  Share their titles with us in the Comments.

Hand in Hand by Rosemary Wells

Hand in Hand was one of our favorites when Olivia was younger.  She has other favorites now, but I still take this little board book down every now and then and revel in the text’s simple beauty.

Security, consistency, loving correction. It’s all here in the sweet rhyme and charming illustrations that are Rosemary Wells’ hallmark.

“Gentle words our featherbed,”  from the two-page spread exploring right from wrong, gets me every time.  Take your little one’s hand in yours, settle into your favorite reading chair and steep in the magic that is Rosemary Wells.

My Friends Knew Better

There’s nothing like it,” my friends began saying. “Nothing in the world!” They weren’t talking kale or cilantro. Or the season’s best read. They were talking grandchildren. Yes, grandchildren. “Just wait,” they’d say, smug with a knowledge that admittedly I didn’t possess.

I did have 63 combined years of parenting my now-adult children. That’s more than a fleeting familiarity with being utterly smitten-drunk in love with my babies. I know the elation of that slew of firsts — smiles, hugs, laughs, raspberries, teeth, steps. I can revisit the highs of hearing my kids’ first words because I still have the journals recording their mamas, dadas, I wuv ooos and nos! How much more love could my heart generate? Or need to?

And then Olivia was born. My friends were right. Each and every one. There is nothing like it. Nothing in the world. Olivia disappears time. I am with her and the world drops away. I watch her, love her, play with her fully in the now. Forget meditation. Forget mindfulness practice and yin yoga. When I am with Olivia, I am alive within every moment as if as newly arrived as she is. Whether we’re rolling a ball down an improvised slide, or clapping hands, or trying to catch a ribbon of water as it falls from the spout at bath time, that’s all that exists. In tandem we discover the world — a magical universe of unfurling surprises.

My heart has no assignment but to love. It isn’t obsessed with schedules or deadlines. It doesn’t future-fret about college or carpools. It neither second guesses me nor sinks in the face of newbie insecurities. There’s no obsession over milestones. Olivia’s teeth will come in when they are ready to emerge. She will crawl when she’s ready to locomote. She will speak when speech clicks for her. She will walk when crawling no longer serves her. While those milestones wait in the wings, all I am called upon to do is love this delicious sweet bundle of squeals and grins, luscious wrinkles and dreamy softness.

As a new parent, I glommed onto something Mr. Rogers said about becoming a parent giving you a second crack at your own childhood. I well nigh engraved that one upon my heart. My kids and I delighted in bugs and bunnies. We read endlessly. We danced in the rain and played dress up. With the help of wise therapists I healed childhood traumas, striving to become the kind of parent my children deserved to have. Rain puddles aside, my reality never wavered —  I was first and foremost a parent.

My job was to guide and discipline, to role model the kind of people I hoped my children would become. I traveled a road much taken yet one not infrequently marked by uncertainty, fear, delight, passion, confidence and self-doubt. Somehow, we all made it through.

In those early years, I wrote in my journal, “Oh, I just wish I could have perspective. I just want to know it will all be OK!” Such innocent and impossible yearnings. For perspective belongs to the time-weathered. Perspective now lies gently in my hand, the same hand that once gripped a pen as if it were a magic wand, as if inking a mere word on a page could manifest it into my life.

I have joined that club my friends so lovingly and smugly knew would change my life and I have no idea if it will all be OK. We have escaped many sorrows; others rained down upon us and upon our children. Today, we prevail. Tomorrow, who knows? But in this moment, everything is OK. Unfettered by the worries that forest the landscape of parenthood, I simply witness and cherish each of Olivia’s moments.

Mr. Rogers was right. Becoming a parent gives you a second crack at childhood. What he didn’t say was that becoming a grandparent gives you a second crack at parenthood. Becoming a grandparent allows you to walk beside the young mother still within you, healing her and praising her, comforting her and celebrating her and sometimes, when the moment is right, gently and respectfully sharing her hard-fought wisdom with the generation now coming up. Nothing beats that. Not even kale.

 

This essay originally appeared in the Detroit Jewish News, 3/22/18, a My Friends Were Right.

 

Life Lessons from a Tiny Life

Conversations with my granddaughter are expanding beyond burbles and trills to delicious mispronunciations that will become the stuff of family lore. Ohdor means “please open the door.” UpDown is a request to read the Olivia book about opposites. More than her darling gymnastics with the English language, Olivia’s actions speak potent lessons. In a single week, this little being who doesn’t yet weigh even 20 pounds, has taught me much.

Lesson 1 —Blissful experiences deserve endless repetition.
Olivia and her mom were visiting one afternoon when Olivia discovered the little slope of grass abutting our patio. Down she toddled, gathering speed. When she reached the bottom, she lay on her back, threw her arms wide and grinned up at the sky in utter bliss. If there had been a cartoon balloon above her it would have read, “Ain’t life just the BEST!”

Again and again she toddled up the slope, ran down and collapsed, looking skyward. She was utterly in the moment, reveling in the joy of her body, in the speed her chubby legs could now take her, perhaps even in the wind caressing her pink cheeks. She exulted in the realization that she could experience this again and again and again.

Delight in your experiences. Repeat them. And then again.

Lesson 2 — Share your love with insistence.
It was bedtime. Olivia had been bathed, diapered and PJ’d, read to and read to again.

“Kiss Aviva good-night,” her mother said, holding her out to me. Olivia covered my face with kisses. She planted sweet love on each cheek, on my chin, on my forehead. She stopped for a minute and I stepped back to leave. Olivia squealed her displeasure. I got the message loud and clear. “I’m not finished, thank you very much. I’m not done giving you my kisses!” I moved within kissing range and was rewarded with three more, light as a butterfly’s wing.

The love we give is precious; give it joyously. If you are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such love, for Pete’s sake, hang around!

Lesson #3 — Love yourself.
I can’t draw; lots of skeletons in my creative closet. What my eye sees and what my hand renders do not align. But one day, determined to silence the ghosts, I set out to sketch Olivia from one of my husband’s photos.

I worked on it for the better part of a morning, studying the fullness of her cheeks, the little round point of her chin. What was the proportion of her forehead to her features? Where do the ears go? The eyebrows? And those eyes! They are swirled with brown, green and blue. Someone called them little earths. I struggled to show the way each strand of her hair feathers across her forehead. When I was done, it wasn’t an exact likeness; but I had captured something about her that was familiar.

One afternoon I showed her the drawing.

“ME!” she shouted touching a tiny finger to the page. “ME!!” Then she leaned over and kissed the drawing.

I was stunned. She recognized herself! Even more moving was the immediate kiss she planted on the drawing. When you look in the mirror, is your first reaction joy or criticism? When was the last time you kissed the mirror when you saw your reflection? I see the lines in my face, not my smile and warm brown eyes. I bemoan middle age spread instead of being grateful for the strong body that takes me hiking and allows me to crawl on the floor with Olivia. I pine for what was, instead of celebrating ME! ME! HERE! NOW!

Olivia has no reference of what was. She simply is. She doesn’t know or care that three months ago she had no hair and now has just enough to make a bonsai-sized palm tree atop her head. She saw a likeness of herself and went to town exulting, “That’s me! I’m wonderful! I’m OLIVIA!”

Offer huge smiles and spontaneous kisses to the person in the looking glass. She is to be treasured!

This essay originally appeared in the Jewish News, 7/12/18 titled Big Lessons from a Tiny Person