Sibling Compassion

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.

Who is Darla Door?

I love seeing what my phone hears when I dictate Hebrew or Yiddish in a text.  Today it turned the Hebrew words “dor l’dor” (from generation to generation) into a woman’s name—the titular Darla Door above. The more I thought about it, I realized my iPhone’s translation was pretty savvy. We grandparents can be the doors to so much in our grandchildren’s lives: love, comfort, safety. We open doors to learning, to adventure, to new ideas and elder wisdom. We are a door to the past, retelling stories of their parents as children and passing on family traditions and stories. My granddaughters have re-opened doors to childhood delights: stomping in rain puddles, fingerpainting, silly rhymes, reading beloved books from my own childhood.

If we have become grandparents, we are blessed with having seen a goodly portion of our children’s future come into being. It will likely not be the same with our grandchildren’s future. I give thanks that door’s closing remains unknown. Until then, I’m a Darla Door all the way: a two-way portal to past and present.


photo credit “Open Door” by desertdutchman is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Grand Books to Share

One of the best perks about being Olivia’s, and now Leah’s, grandmother is luxuriating in children’s books. Here are three recent faves:

Hello Lighthouse
A flea market cutaway illustration of the interior of a lighthouse inspired Sophie Blackall to write this charming tale of a lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse he kept.  The story is straightforward and poignant. The illustrations are clever and felicitiously detailed. This lighthouse keeper brings his wife to the lighthouse. The illustration of them reaching for one another as she is hoisted to him winch by winch is delightful. The author shares her love and knowledge of lighthouses in a bonus section at the end. Lighthouses are now mechanized. Gratitude to Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall for capturing and preserving a bygone way of ilfe.

Grumpy Monkey
A friend urged me to read this hysterical book to Olivia. Jim Panzee, the eponymous grumpy monkey, wakes up “one wonderful day to discover that nothing was right.”  Jim’s fellow creatures try to cajole and exhort him out of his grumps. He’s not having it. I loved this book’s message because it honors feelings (and the monkey feeling them) we so often try to chase away in ourselves and in others. The text is great fun to act out, especially as Jim’s frustrations escalate each time a friend offers a cure. Author Suzanne Lang‘s text rings true and compassionate; Max Lang’s accompanying illustrations perfectly capture Jim’s frustration. We all have our moods. Grumpy Monkey reminds us that we have a right to our mood and more importantly, that they shift.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
I love Kevin Henkes. Just to name a small fraction of this award-winning author’s work: Kitten’s First Moon, Chrysanthemum, Owen, and now Lilly’s Purple Plastic PurseWe all have known a Lilly; indeed we may have been a Lilly once upon a time. Henkes’ Lilly is a darling prima donna. She’s spunky, exuberant, confident and utterly unable to contain herself the day she brings her new purple plastic purse to school.

Mr. Slinger is the kind of teacher who inspires his devoted students to follow in his footsteps.  Especially Lilly. Until the morning he has to curb her irrrepressible urge to share her newest treasure. What follows is a beautiful lesson in confronting our missteps, suffering and atoning for them, and being forgiven. Like I said. I love Kevin Henkes.


Each of the above titles is hyperlinked to their page at

Origami Dresses!

Some years back, my sisters were in town to celebrate my birthday. In a shop window, we saw a string of origami dresses displayed on   a clotheseline.  I was utterly enchanted. I had to make one. Or two.    I found a great tutorial online and went on an origami dress kick for a few weeks, folding and embellishing dresses from my stash of art papers.  I ended up making so many that I could have opened up     a dress shop for flat fashionistas. Instead, I shared the bounty with my tiling friends.

Kicking around ideas for this week’s Grandlife readers, I recalled the fun I had making origami dresses. Yep. I found the crafter whose instructions I had followed. Christy at Inklings & Yarns has a great tutorial showing you, fold by fold, how to turn a 5″ x 5″ piece of paper (or 10″x 10″) into a fun frock. If you have a budding McQueen or Chanel, this would be a great way to spend an afternoon or more.  For some inspiration here’s the latest from Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week.  My fave is this stunner from Christian Dior.

As for paper?  You can use anything from grocery bags to the comics pages to gift wrap. Michaels has great pads of paper in coordinated colors and patterns. Or feast online; there are oodles of paper sites that will knock your socks off. Embellish your dresses with stickers, puffy markers, glitter pens, stick-on rhinestones. Or make a few, string them together with tiny clothespins, and you’ve got a cute wall decoration. Make a larger one (pretty in pink on the left was made from a sheet of  twelve-inch-square paper) and frame it as a new baby gift. Or do what I did with the one below — fold a dress and tape it to a notebook. Oooh la la…







Is God Real?

The morning of our daughter’s wedding dawned cloudy and windy. Every time we checked, the weather predictions grew worse. Wind whistled through the tree limbs, whipping whitecaps across the lake beyond the house we’d rented for the weekend. Although weather portended wedding challenges, nature’s show was nevertheless exciting. I scooped up our granddaughter, bundled us in quilts, and cuddled her to me in a deck chair overlooking the water. We sat quietly for a few minutes, taking in the majesty and mayhem.

“Isn’t it funny,” I asked Olivia, “how you can’t see the wind but you can see what wind does to the trees and the water?” We watched the branches relax and then begin to sway once more as the winds picked up.  “The Hebrew word for wind is ruach,” I said, “That same word also means breath or spirit. Some people say that the wind is God’s breath.” Olivia snuggled closer for a moment and then asked humanity’s eternal question, “Is God real?”

“It’s hard to believe something that we cannot see, isn’t it?” I replied. “You feel Mama and Dada’s love for you, yes?” She nodded. “Is it real even though you can’t see it?” Another nod. “Some people believe God is real. Some people don’t,” I replied. “I believe that even though we can’t see God, we see what God makes possible: the beauty of the world, the love that we feel for one another. Our holidays and Shabbat.”  

When Olivia lived nearby, she would stay the night with us. Come morning, we’d go into the back yard and sing in Hebrew a morning prayer of thanks to God for giving us a new day.  I am certain kids come into the world attuned to a Divine whisper. All too soon earthbound voices overtake the whisper. I wanted to maintain a space for Olivia to continue to be able to hear what so many traditions call the “still small voice within.” We shared one last cuddle before the cold drove us inside. 

Before we knew it, wedding time arrived. The winds, which  had continued all afternoon, were now joined by a sudden snow squall. Olivia refused to relinquish her role as flower girl. Shoulders hunched, hands dug deep into the pockets of her white faux fur jacket, she walked with determination despite snow now blowing sideways across her path. 

Life will indeed buffet my sweet girl. From time to time capricious winds will blow her off course before calming once again. What might Olivia strain to hear within the maelstrom? Will she listen with yearning? With doubt? Turn a deaf ear altogether? 

Is God real? How can I look at this beautiful soul that is my granddaughter, and now her little sister as well, and believe otherwise? I cannot.


Photo, “Storm on the Lake” courtesy of  glindsay65, is licensed under Creative Commons