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?