A love that couldn’t be ‘grander’

 Celebrating grandmothers on Mother’s Day

Grandma image

One of my most cherished childhood memories is the time when, on my usual Saturday night babysitting "date" with my Nana, I Scotch-taped the door shut to prevent my parents from coming in and stopping our fun. She retreated to another room, called, and told them, and they pulled and tugged on the door pretending as if my tape stopped them from opening it, making Nana and me laugh for what felt like forever.

On Mother's Day, it's important to consider the grandmothers who play a pivotal role in their grandchildren's lives. It's a "delicious" relationship, said Hilary Greenberg, a grandmother of two girls who is proud to be an active grandparent.

"Grandchildren bring a lot of joy to your life," said Greenberg, who enjoys taking her 3-year-old granddaughter to the park, teaching her how to swim, and spending Friday nights together. "She loves Shabbat, and it's a real standout moment when she says the prayers!"

Shabbat is also a special time for Trude Matanky and her family, which includes 18 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren. "When the grandchildren were younger, they would all move into our home for Shabbat.  Today, all the cousins remain close, and now, the great-grandchildren are becoming friends" through various activities at her house, she said.

Matanky said her house is the gathering place for holidays. "That's why I'm still living here," she said. "Everyone can fit and is welcome even when it's 60 people or more."

Jewish educator and proud bubbe Jane Shapiro sets aside what she calls "Wednesdays With Bubbe" to spend with her four grandsons. It's on that day that every available grandchild heads to Shapiro's home for playtime, family stories, birdwatching, cooking, and fieldtrips to museums and gardens.

Shapiro fondly recalls how her oldest grandson described their time together as "magical" in a recent conversation. "Inside the fun you're having with your grandchildren, there are all these moments when you're helping them figure out who they are. Grandparents get to fill in the pieces," she said.

Ilene Novack, a grandmother of 11, also reserves a day each week to spend with one of her younger granddaughters, while her parents work. Novack and her 4-year-old granddaughter enjoy tea parties, puzzles, baking, and other activities after ballet practice. Novack also babysits her other grandchildren at least one night a week, and whenever she's needed.

"There's a lot of doing ordinary things just so I can spend time with them," she said. These little moments, including going to the kids' sports games, picking up her grandkids from school, and exchanging letters, are important parts of her routine. Her family gathers for holidays, for Sunday night dinners, and they recently traveled to Mexico together.

One of Novack's favorite traditions is dubbed the "Novak Family Philanthropic Fund," where she and her grandchildren allocate the money she earmarks for them every birthday and Chanukah for donating to charity. "I feel very strongly that everyone has an obligation to take care of others, and to be part of a community, and you're never too young to learn that," she said.

No matter how involved, grandparents play a role distinct from that of parents. "When I was the parent, I was the first in line to soothe them or make decisions, but when you're the grandparent, you're not necessarily in charge," Greenberg said. "You get all the good stuff, but you have to give your kids the respect that it's their child and you're not the ultimate authority."

In her ELI Talk called "The Torah of Bubbiehood," Shapiro describes the process of tzimtzum , meaning to "contract" or withdraw from primary parenting responsibilities. "The parents are like the manuscript, writing the Torah of how the kids' lives are going to be," she said, "but grandparents are the embellishment."

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