One recent wet and miserable Wednesday, five sibling grandchildren tramped into my no-bigger-than-a-breadbox apartment for Grandma Day. Because they live in South Africa, this should have been fulfillment of a dream. Nevertheless, I grew insecure and consequently did what Jewish women have done for six-thousand years in the face of uncertainty: I made chicken soup and a double batter of kneidlach (matzoh balls).
Feeling a little rusty in the nurturing department, I entered full manic-mode the night before, revisiting kid-friendly menus, checking the insides of dust-covered puzzle boxes to ensure there weren’t pieces missing, soaking paint-crusted craft brushes, organized mismatched Rummikub tiles into respective sets and nearly breaking a leg as I climbed over never-used Passover dishes to reach a suitcase filled with English story books published before 1994. In the morning, I disassembled a valuable and wobbly hand-carved chair from Malawi and hid it under the bed. Wrapped in layers of woolen-wear, I dove headfirst into the maelstrom and picked up the children.
The three girls and two boys were uncharacteristically quiet in the car, clearly on-guard for signs of ineptitude. Anxious for approval, I detoured to the local mini-mart and purchased 100 shekels worth of cookies, candies and other nosh. Items their mother never saw darken the doorway of her own childhood home.
In keeping with their religious upbringing, I knew what they were and weren’t permitted to watch on Netflix. But who needed television anyway? I had painstakingly created a veritable World of Disney in my East Jerusalem home and certainly we’d enjoy a memorable, educational and love-filled day to rival any.
As instructed, they dumped their jackets, gloves and hats on the floor behind my office chair. I opened the introductory plenum.
“Grandma has only two rules; Number One: No eating anywhere in the house except for the kitchen and Two: The toilet is not a ‘suggestion’ but, rather, the destination.” They thought that Rule #2 was a riot and although unfamiliar with the concept, they ‘aimed to please.’ Rule #1, however, went into five sets of left ears and exited through the respective right ones as they were uttered. Popcorn and wafer crumbs would be found for days and days, mostly in my bed.
Which of the available activities garnered the most votes? Let it suffice to say that the books were never looked at, Rummikub stayed in the bag and puzzles and paints grew moldy. Lying under blankets with five tykes, I watched Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Truman Show, Annie, Matilda, Leslie Ann Warren and Pat Carroll in Cinderella and a once-adorable Johnny Depp in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. The dark day turned from gray to inky and we emerged from bed only to paint our nails, play with make-up, use curling iron and hair gel. Upon his return from work, my husband discovered us in the dark, eyes-glazed, muscles almost atrophied.
The children ate dinner with him (soup and matzoh balls), and answered questions in monosyllables. One boy left the table to play piano, banging out a non-stirring rendition of the first seven bars Fur Elise. Six times. I shouted, “STOP!” and all put on coats and marched to the car. After ten hours and life-time together, they were home.
This morning my daughter told me they had the ‘best day ever’ and asked when I might take them again. Having faced my demons, I’ve pre-paid for a day at the Science Museum in the hope of undoing the damage they may have suffered by hanging-out with a recalcitrant, near-criminal like me.
ANDREA SIMANTOV IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.