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.)