Debra Darvick

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Out of the Mouths of Babes

My son and daughter-in-law have a list of family values that are intrinisic to the raising of our granddaughters. One of them is, “We don’t give up.” 

Elliot related a recent conversation he had with four-and-a-half-year-old Olivia.  She had hit a stumbling block of some sort and was growing discouraged. 

Elliot (my paraphrasing): You know Olivia, one of our family values is that we don’t give up.  We try again. And then if that doesn’t work, we try again until we get where we want to be.

Olivia (verbatim): So what you’re telling me is we don’t succumb.

Yep. You can bring your jaws together again.

Olivia’s words have taken on a deeper meaning in this month following the high holidays and this period of reflection, repentance and renewal. “We don’t succumb” applies to more than goals and determination.  “We don’t succumb” reminds me not to succumb to my own petty, and not-so-petty,  inclinations. It reminds me not to succumb to negative thinking, to useless worrying, to all those mark-missing behaviors that I vowed so recently to work on.

I’ll leave it here for you to mull over. Perhaps it will become a new family value for us all.



There is Magic in the World…

…and the Heavens listen.  This is a “stop the presses!” moment.

Our daughter-in-law texted late last night that today at five would be a good time to read to Olivia and do music*.  When Martin told me, I realized I’d need to get to the library for some new books to read. This morning  I received a delivery from Amazon.  At the bottom was a book I don’t even remember ordering.

I reached for What Do You Know? by sisters Aracelis Girmay and Ariana Fields (I mean with names like that they have to be magic women!), opened it, began to read, and tumbled into that special place of mine where gratitude spirals from my very depths like the best fireworks you’ve ever seen.  Gratitude for these talented women, gratitude for my capacity to feel so deeply, gratitude for the years (two) and conversations (1000) that brought this book into being.

From the blurb: “What might a bear, a farmer, a historian, some goats or courage respond when love askes, ‘What do you know?’ ” Turn the page and be surrounded in wonder and astonishment. Reach the farmers’ pages and delight in the illustrations. Read the answer of courage and know that when you read this book to your children and grandchildren you will be teaching them life’s most difficult lesson in an unforgettable way.

That’s all I’ll say.  Except for this: Order this book today. Visit Enchanted Lion Books.  They are an amazing publisher of the art and philosopy we call children’s books.


* Martin finds incredible music videos to enjoy with Olivia.  Their repetoire spans opera, Broadway, ballet and symphonies. One of their favorites is Shostakovich’s opera The Nose which contains a scene of dancing noses.


I have classified this post in three drawers: Grandlife, Bookshelf, Kids @ Heart because the book is so wonderful I don’t want anyone to miss it!

What’s Your Role?

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?

The Other Side

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.

Sweet Sorrow Parting

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.


photo courtesy of “Hug Goodbye” by Joe Shlabotnik is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Costco-Inspired Messy Mat

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.