Debra Darvickenhance your now in word and image
A young father of three asked me recently how I see my role as a grandmother. “What do you want to be for them?” he asked. I sensed he’d been observing different groups of grandparent/grandchild engagement and was becoming aware of the ways the relationship plays out.
When our children moved out of state two years ago, our roles changed somewhat from being a near-constant presence to visiting as much as we could. Covid put a monkey wrench in our plans to visit every four to six weeks. FaceTime and zoom helped bridge the divide. But that’s the more how part of the question, not the what.
I am playmate, book reader, storyteller, fellow block-builder, puddle-stomper and castle-builder. I relish my roles as imaginary dragon to Olivia’s princess and the nemesis in her re-enactments with peevish classmates. I am there to love her to the moon and beyond, back up her mom and dad’s parenting, and step in with gentle remonstration when she goes off the rails.
As I did with my own children, I teach her flower names and sing to her in French and Hebrew. We draw. We play with Play Doh and on sunny days fingerpaint at the picnic table on the patio. Olivia is our family’s newest link in the Jewish chain that stretches back millennia. I take seriously the passing down of Jewish life, culture, prayer and engagement. To watch her recite Sabbath blessings is to know that our people’s arrow is being carried a bit farther once again. I shall live on in those blessings and rituals.
Baby sister Leah was born smack into Covid and thus Martin and I have had less opportunity to forge a bond and play. We’ve done our best and there’s more to come. Leah was hesitant at first to connect. I came up with “finger kisses.” We extend our index fingers to one another, letting them touch briefly. That works. I’m learning who she is and what makes her tick. Leah expresses herself physically, so we dance and kick soccer balls. I haven’t had the chance to teach Leah flower names, but her mom tells me she carries around the box of flower tiles I made into a matching game for them to play one day. She knows me now and is ready with hugs when ever we’re together.
What do I want to be for my granddaughters? A steady and loving presence. A safe haven for fraught times. A partner in discovery, adventure and wonder.
What do you want to be for yours?
I never stopped buying children’s picture books. They are a marvel of brevity and beauty. They are art for the eye, food for the mind and solace for the spirit. A few years back I found The Other Side, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. The book’s gentle portrayal of racial division in the 1950’s or early 60’s slowly and firmly builds toward friendship and camaraderie.
When I showed this one to Olivia about a year ago she turned thumbs down. She judges a book by its cover and is adamant about sticking to her decision. During last week’s Zoom reading time, I held it up for her again and this time got a thumbs up. The artwork, watercolors that resonate with life and simplicity , dominate the two-page spreads. The narrator’s voice rings true. Olivia was transfixed and asked me to read it twice more. This is what I love about successful picture books: they capture a child’s heart and soul.
It is said that little pitchers have big ears. Given the ubiquity of the racial discussions happening all around us, The Other Side gives those little ears a song of truth and a message of hope. Check this one out to read to your little one. Use it as a springboard for planting seeds to celebrate that which unites us, not divides us.
When it came time to say good-bye to Olivia a couple of weeks ago she was as bereft as I was. Heading back home after a wonderful visit with our granddaughters is never easy. OK, I got a smidgen of pleasure that Olivia met my leavetaking with tears and crying. But I, or my impending departure, was the source of her pain. How could I lessen it? How can we help our grandchildren be resilient when they meet up with grief?
I tried words first: We’ll be seeing each other in just 24 days Those days will pass so fast!. My daughter-in-law jumped in offering to show the marks on the calendar. I wondered about creating an Advent calendar of sorts to count the days between our visits.
I tried abstract spiritual truths. We humans can be in two places at once. I am going back to Michigan and I am still in your heart. I am leaving you with Mommy and Daddy and taking you with me, too, in my heart. Olivia knows versions of this incantation from all her grandparents but was having none of it.
So I met her with the truth. This hurts, Olivia. I am very sad, too. Come and let me hold you, heart to heart. I knelt before her and drew her to me chest to chest. We’ll stay like this for as long as you need. Let’s breathe and listen until we feel our hearts beating together.
We stayed like that for a few moments and quicker than I would have thought (and wanted!) she stepped back, gave me one last quick hug and we said our goodbyes. Israelis say, “L’hitrayot” when parting company, meaning until the next time we see each other.
My calendar is already marked. Eighteen days to go.
File this under Two Birds with One Stone.
Bird one: for my art classes, I needed a better table protecter than a thin plastic garbage bag.
Bird two: as much as I acknowledge Costco’s upsides, and despite their talk of moving to less plastic packaging, there is still too much. Last Wednesday inspiration struck.
Stone: washed, cut apart and taped together, all that “trash” can be turned into sturdy, portable, and reusable messy mats. Make them any size. Just keep taping together your cut packaging until you have a size to suit your project.
If you make one, send me a pic and how you’re using it.
There are oodles of incredible games and toys out there. We’ve gifted our granddaughters with many of them. Yet there is something wonderful about making toys and games for our kids and grandkids. So far I’ve made the girls a few. I’ll describe one now and share another in the future. (I have to snap some photos of it first.)
For now, here’s a “People Who Love Me” game.
photos of friends and loved ones (3″x3″ works well)
clear packaging tape
adhesive magnetic squares
metal cookie sheet, rimmed
plastic soap box with lid
Here’s what to do:
For the cards:
1. cut your posterboard into 4″x 6″ cards
2. affix one photo per card, close to the top edge
3. Below each image, draw one line per letter of person’s name
For the magnetic letters:
1. Grid a section of posterboard into 1″ squares
2. Cut squares apart and write names, one letter/square
3. For sturdiness, wrap each letter with clear packaging tape
4. Affix a magnetic square to the back of each letter
Playing this on a cookie sheet keeps everything in one place.
Let your grandchild choose a person and help them sound
out the letters of their name. For younger kids, let them sound out the first letter and you can complete the name.
Which people’s names begin with the same sound? Who is wearing glasses? Who has a beard? Who goes with whom?
Arrange your family photos into a family tree and play “Tell a Story.” Have your grandchild choose a person about whom you can share a story. Does your grandchild have a story to share as well?
When you’re done, put the letters in the soap box, put it and
the photo cards in a ziploc® ’til next time. You can also make a similar set featuring common household objects.
From Cain and Abel to the March sisters, sibling relationships run the gamut. While I’m not well versed in siblit (sibling literature, anyone?), a recent encounter between our two granddaughters surpasses anything even Louisa May Alcott could write.
Because of Covid, fourteen-month-old Leah has not had the kind of social interactions a second sibling would’ve had by now. No Mommy-and-Me events at the library. No trips to the market. No playdates. Throughout Leah’s short little life she has been away from her mom for two hours max. By pandemic standards, we have seen her a lot — three one-week visits plus a mad-cap weekend when our daughter married last November. No matter; when they came for Passover earlier this month, Leah kept her pudgy-licious body Velcroed to Mommy. She peered at us curiously, as if trying to figure out why we were larger than our FaceTime personae, but would not venture too close.
With competent adults in their midst, my son and daughter-in-law took a much needed break. Their good-bye wave was preceded by copious hugs and kisses. Leah was distracted by four-year-old Olivia’s antics and a lot of shielding on my part. She was fine until she wasn’t. When the moment of realization dawned, Leah stood stock still as if testing the air for her mother’s scent. She looked around, didn’t see the one-who-is-always-there, and began to scream as only a bereft and furious toddler can.
Before we could even attempt to console her, Leah threw herself at Olivia, knocking her to the carpet. She lay atop her big sister and keened. Olivia, pinned beneath this tiny bundle of grief, patted her sister on the back and whispered, “It’s OK, Leah. It’s OK. Sister is here. Mama will come back.” Olivia wasn’t disturbed by Leah’s cries. She didn’t push her away. Secure in her own self, confident in her role as big sister, Olivia simply lay there embodying compassion. Leah wailed a bit longer as Olivia kept up her patter of comfort. Soon enough, Leah hopped up and she and Olivia began to play.
The kids returned from their errands. Mother and daughter were reunited, none worse for the wear. Martin and I remain awed by those moments of sisterhood. It was one of the most extraordinary interactions of love I have ever witnessed: Leah bereft and launching herself toward the one remaining soul who could comfort her; Olivia, calmly offering just the right words and touch.
Daily, we are bombarded with the worst that humans are capable of. I wonder if instead we were offered a steady stream of similar acts of compassion? What a a world it could be.
With thanks to Martin Darvick for the photograph (circa 1988) of our kids.