Olivia Came to Visit

It was a dream come true to have Olivia stay with us for a spell last month. The plan was for her to attend day camp for the coming week, after which her mom would return with baby sister Leah and stay a few days before heading back. A mother with whom Elizabeth remained friends from their years here in Michigan also signed her daughter for the camp session. The two girls took to each other as if they’d never been apart.

How sweet it was to return to childhood routine: readying Olivia’s backpack the night before; settling into our morning tasks which included making our beds, eating breakfast and putting on sunscreen before she and Grandpa watched music videos. They revisited favorites from The Magic Flute and Swan Lake and enjoyed a new crop which included selections from Frozen and of course Encanto‘s hit We Don’t Talk About Bruno. Martin usually dropped her off  mornings and I took the afternoon shift. It was a new/old experience becoming part of the milling crowd of parents waiting for the kids to be brought out.

When the heat relented, we took walks, found bird feathers and watched a platoon of ants carry their finds to their subterranean home. Olivia read book after book while I made dinner. We tie dyed T-shirts and made a mooncake, inspired by the eponymous book by Frank Asch.  We had loved reading the book together and had made a mooncake once or twice before.

One morning Olivia refused to let me apply sunscreen. “You’re not the boss of me!” she said. “Mom is the boss of the family!”

Undeterred and uninterested in arguing, I simply agreed. “You’re right. Mom is the boss. And your mom is the boss of me, too.” Olivia’s eyes widened to mooncake circumference. “See,” I continued, “Mom told me that you have to put on sunscreen before camp. If Mom says it, I have to do it.”  End of story.

Being a grandmother means certain rules can go by the wayside.  Ice cream for dinner? Sure. Ten extra minutes in the tub. Yep. Making one more soap bubble? Let’s do it. We played rounds of SET and some Ravensberger board games she was ready for. The intense heat nixed plans to go berry picking and an afternoon at the zoo, but there was also something quite lovely about staying close to home and making our own fun.

The morning we went to synagogue, I played a certain song I had played in the early years. Dodi li, v’ani lo (my beloved is mine and I am my beloved’s) is taken from the love poetry of Song of Songs. This version is sung in the call and response form of kirtan music. Back then Olivia had just learned the words.  They all came back to her and we sang our way to synagogue. Although she didn’t remember as many people as those who remembered her,  she found her place again, playing with the same friends she’d played with nearly three years before. Now a big girl, she sought out one of the little ones, a not-yet toddler and kept her entertained for a bit.

Before we knew it, Elizabeth arrived with Leah. She and Elliot had a great time having some alone time with Leah.  It was a win-win all around. Thanking us profusely for keeping Olivia for the week, Elizabeth asked as they left, “Can we do this for two weeks next year?”

“Of course,” I replied. “Let’s see what the year brings.”

I’m already planning.


Portrait of Olivia and me by Miss O herself!

Seems to be a collector’s item now.

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My Sweet Max

My dear friend Audrey never got to meet her grandson, Max. Max’s mom Jessie and my daughter met in first grade; their friendship led to Audrey’s and mine. Audrey became Emma’s second mom and likewise, Jessie became my second daughter. Audrey died months before Jessie married. It is a sacred, cherished, and bittersweet role to be there for Jessie at milestones large and small. Whenever I visit,  in my mind and my heart, I take Audrey with me.

Last week our synagogue’s green team sponsored a plant exchange and all sorts of kids’ activities focussed on bees and butterflies.  By happenstance, Max had found a coccoon the week before and the morning of the event, his butterfly — a Monarch, no less! — emerged. There was quite a bit of fanfare when Max opened the jar and eased out his butterfly. During a lull, Jessie and I took Max into the sanctuary.  We brought him to the ark, the enclosure where the Torah scrolls are kept. Its smooth wooden doors are carved into the shapes of animals and Jewish symbols. Jessie, Max and I spent a good few minutes finding rams, birds, and a lion or two.

Next we went stood at the bima, the platform where the Torah is read. We opened the prayerbook and Jessie handed Max a yad, a slender silver pointer, and explained to him that we never touch the Torah with our hands, but use the yad instead to keep the place as the Torah is read.  As Max pointed to words in the prayerbook, Jessie recited them to him. He pointed to a prayer that happened to be one his parents sing to him at bedtime. Oseh Shalom asks God to spread peace over us, over all the people Israel, and over the entire world.  Jessie and I sang Oseh Shalom to Max. He laughed and giggled with joy. I imagined Audrey joining in, her voice audible across time and longing.


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Meeting Them Where They Are

For the first three years of her life, Olivia and her parents lived 11 minutes away. We held her hours after she was born. We held her naming ceremony in our living room. Watching Olivia grow day by day and week by week was a joy beyond anything I could have ever imagined. As Olivia grew, her mind and heart meshed with my dearest passions. She loved being read to. She caught on quickly to the words paired with specific pages. She spoke early and constantly. Her memory was uncanny; she could repeat back to me, with understanding, the French and Hebrew words I taught her.  She learned plant names and knew a hosta from a tulip. She loved running her hands along the lavender plants to release their scent. When we stomped in mud puddles she called our reflections rain shadows.

Saturday mornings, I would bring Olivia to syngaogue with me.  She charmed the adults and bit by bit she developed friendships with the other kids.  She began to parse the rhythms of the service and once said to me, “When the grown-ups speak Hebrew, I be quiet.” My biggest loves — nature, Judaism, language — became hers.

A few months before her little sister was born, Olivia and her parents moved to Chicago.  We were all bereft, though firm in knowing the move was the next step for us all. How would we be a part of Olivia’s life from afar? How would we bond with the new little one? Would I ever be able to establish depth with Olivia’s sibling?

We waited for the call and one cold January morning got news that we had a new granddaughter — Leah Florence. A new flower in our family garden. We attended her naming ceremony a few weeks later and then Covid hit. Thankfully, my daughter-in-law’s mother had arrived just before the pandemic became a pandemic and was with them for their first two months or more. We kept in touch thru email and photos, grateful that we had been able to to hold and bless Leah and to know that our voices and our love were woven into her first weeks of life.

Two years old now, Leah is a total hoot.  There is something about her that makes my heart giggle. There is about her a contagious effervescence. She has not been much interested in books and is just now beginning to speak. Leah is self-contained, comfortably following her own inner song.  While the rest of the family orbits nearby. Leah bops around, pushes her baby in the stroller, sweeps the floor, climbs into the dishwasher. She adores moving her body to music and it’s a thrill to dance along with her. At the park Leah wants only to be pushed in the “wim,” her name for the swing. Her name for the swing is appropriate for Leah is indeed a whimiscal child, a little sprite, an imp. With her dark hair and little pointed chin, she looks a bit like I did at her age.

Being an eleven-minutes-away grandmother and a four-and-a half-hour-car-ride grandmother has taught me that distance matters less than connecting. Constancy can be measured in days, weeks or even months. Connecting with my granddaughters is a constant flow of giving and receiving that forever exists outside of time and place.


(Leah’s parents do not want her image made public, so you’ll have to do with this one snapped of me in Miami, May ’57.)

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