I don’t believe that Madonna is yet a grandmother. What I do know is that she is expert at reinventing herself, a talent that I and every grandparent should adopt. In fact, it’s my Rosh Hashanah resolution. With the new year days away I am having my Madonna Moment, weighing how best to restyle my role. The reason is simple: within weeks after the holiday season is over our grandson will enter Judaism’s rite of passage to manhood. Two months after that, our granddaughter will celebrate her first double-digit birthday. Hail to a new stage for both! One that demands grandparents find recharged relevancy.
Hands down, my husband and I were a success during the single digit era. I’m a savta that doesn’t mind a (contained) mess as long as it’s productive. During the toddler stage, plastic tablecloths were rolled out to accommodate a range of craft supplies along with a variety of carton scraps and boxes that I had collected. The creative juices flowed as their young, unspoiled imaginations went to work. Oh, the wonders they created! As they grew, arts and crafts were exchanged for outings of carefully curated venues for full day excursions. To quote our grandson: “You take us to places no one else would,” and I might add, thanks to dedicated driver saba who was always happy to go along for the ride.
If your grandchildren fit into these age brackets and you’re at a loss about what to do, you can start reinventing yourself by purchasing read-aloud, Jewish content picture books featuring grandparents creating joyous activities. I have already discussed The Art Lesson by Allison and Wayne Marks in my blog post Building Memories. For Rosh Hashanah, I have another keeper that can be read all year round: Not So Fast Max by Annette Schottenfeld. In this story a spunky Israeli savta/grandmother visits her grandchildren in America for Rosh Hashanah. She’s the full package. She knows how to keep active grandkids busy through apple picking and making caramel apples; how to impress them via a mean apple juggling act; and how to turn them into torchbearers of family traditions by following a family heirloom recipe for apple cake. This book will get you going by either duplicating her activities or creating your own well-paced program.
The grandmothers in both of the above books resonate with me because they’re active, fun, and savvy. Which doesn’t mean that a daily/weekly sedentary activity needs to be trashed, especially if there’s a significant physical distance between you. Children need routine. It provides a feeling of safety, and with a grandparent as part of the paradigm it feels like warm, loving protection. COVID isolation brought home that message to me. I wanted to be there for them. The question was “how?” So I invented a daily “Barbie Corner” in which every afternoon my granddaughter and I “sat together” thanks to WhatsApp video and decided which outfit Barbie would wear that day. Two years later when our granddaughter was home sick, WhatsApp buzzed. I answered and heard her softly ask: “Savta, can we do a Barbie Corner?” How wonderful! Virtuality enabled us to develop a new tradition and a lasting memory.
That’s why the toddler-age picture book Tea with Grandpa by Barney Satlzberg speaks to me. The surprise ending of the final illustration reveals that a coveted daily ritual is actually conducted virtually via computer. So to all grandparents who moan and groan about the distance between them and their grandchildren, I say take note. Virtual visits can be much more than “Hi. How are you?” To quote Agatha Christie’s beloved character Hercule Poirot: “If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust.”
But back to my dilemma. I’m hoping that my Rosh Hashana resolution of reinventing myself will wisely guide me as our grandchildren navigate the dos, don’ts, dare I stage of the tumultuous tweens and teens. Research will be required. Not the standard style of our age group. It’s a new generation. My task is to keep up with today’s trends and modify them in a wise way to my role as a grandparent. After all, the clock is TikToking away. Before I know it, they’ll be entering yet another new stage and so will I.