When my stepdaughter and son-in-law need a well-deserved weekend alone, my husband and I stay in their large, child-friendly house and do the grandparent thing. My secret pleasure is puttering in their well-appointed kitchen versus my pre-state scullery. Their house is crammed with toys, games, non-nutritious snack food and resembles Disney World. Neighborhood friends come over and they attend youth meetings and play groups while I read books, take walks and keep things orderly. It is easy being a grandma on the foreign turf.
One day, however, the dreaded call came. “The girls want to stay with you for Shabbos.”
Clearly someone dialed the wrong number because no one under the age of 58 could possibly find our home scintillating for even 25 minutes, much less 25 hours. We have two bedrooms, the second of which is stacked floor to ceiling with cartons that represent yet-to-be-unpacked parts of co-joined lives. Low-fat, no-sugar, mostly veggie cooking and over Shabbos we don’t watch TV or DVD’s. Nestled between two of Jerusalem’s most dangerous eastern neighborhoods, we’re careful when crossing streets: Border Patrol jeeps drive fast. Because of the spotty security situation, children don’t play in the streets unsupervised.
In my own defense, I creatively raised six children by cutting sandwiches into teddy-bear shapes, pre-freezing juice boxes for picnics, supervising theme-birthday parties and more craft-projects than I can remember. Schoolbags contained hidden encouragement notes stating things like, “I’m proud to be your mom” and/or “I believe in you!” Many nights I’d fall asleep with a freshly showered tadpole or three, dozing off to the prose of “Goodnight Moon,” “A Napping House” or “Corduroy.”
Why the hesitation? Their kids don’t speak English! My Hebrew is good enough as long as three or four bi-lingual adult sabras are nearby for translation purposes. But with a husband in synagogue most of the day and me unable to tell the “Stone Soup” story without making it sound like the Charles Manson trial is a task that leaves me feeling uneasy. The three who were coming don’t read yet which meant–gasp –interaction! Did I say, “Help!”?
We had a blast. Mattresses on the floor, the dog slept with them and we had a tea party on the patio – using real bone-china and cloth napkins. I unpacked a stack of my children’s favorite books and the girls performed the stories they imagined were being told. Some interpretations were spot on; others were better. Junk-food wasn’t missed as we dined on homemade apple-chips and prepared a sumptuous kiddush with fresh tahini, roasted beets, gravlax and organic crackers. We made “Ants on a Log” with black-raisins and peanut butter I’d whipped up just before they arrived.
Moral of the tale: Love doesn’t need words and fun transcends language. The size and/or condition of one’s home are equally unimportant. Indeed, “insight” can be discovered when “fear” is tossed aside, making room for “wisdom.”
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at email@example.com.