It was as a typical Grandma Morning in Johannesburg. It was the third consecutive day of my visit and, in the guest room of my daughter’s home, I was hiding. Buried beneath quilts is the way I begin my day in a home of four little boys who love to make their grandma scream. Love keeps even the stalest jokes fresh I waited to step on rubber snakes, get doused with a squirting ring and discover a Whoopee Cushion under my pillow. Thankfully, the flatulence-mechanism had become waterlogged soon after delivery and the grossness-factor notably diminished. Still, I groan on cue each time I ‘accidentally’ press on the device.
What is the exacted price for all of this joy? Granny’s scrambled eggs with ketchup. Pancakes. Food coloring in the bathtub. Dressing them for school. Fingernail trimming and tickly foot massages. But the most valuable service during the annual sojourn is called “Reading.” On call 24/7, I make my way through Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein. Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Maurice Sendak and Aesop. Short stories, fairy-tales, nursery rhymes and poems. Books with fuzzy tailed animals and some with pop-up paintings of caterpillars, zebras and school buildings with bell-towers.
Reading builds trust and leads to the unleashing of imagination and dreams. With continents separating us, I can’t take kiddie-time for granted. How precious is this time? Precious enough to cry as I write.
After I’d first come on aliyah, I read aloud in the community library. My aching heart sought the familiar, my American-yesterday. Thus, I respectfully embraced the English language and honored the gift of having been born to the language. As many Israeli school children struggled with this linguistic key to better army assignments, educational advancement and career opportunities, I came to appreciate the privilege of being American born. My efforts were rewarded by virtue that my children are all fluent in both tongues. And although Hebrew proficiency was, for me, sacrificed on the altar of helicopter parenting, my regrets are few.
While one family is staying in Johannesburg for the foreseeable future, another daughter is coming home to Israel with her husband and children. All of the cousins are very close – best friends – and I cautiously asked the bedfull of boys to share how they felt about their soon-to-be-leaving cousins.
“We’ll miss them SO much, Grandma! But we have an invisible string. Mommy says that we only have to tug on it a little bit and we can feel them.”
I couldn’t breathe. Smacked in the face with such wisdom, health and love had me gasping for oxygen. Was the mother they quoted indeed my little girl?
“‘I like that. Can I have an invisible string?”
Chortle. Guffaw. Thigh-slapping.
“You’re so silly, Grandma! You already have one! We pull on it all the time! Don’t you feel it everyday?!?!?”
Some say that Heaven holds a special place for those who choose to become observant. As a cherished pet is tethered to his owner with rope, when the rope breaks, the pet runs away. Upon return, however, the string becomes knotted, shortening the distance between him and his Creator. This is the special relationship that G-d has with those who disconnect with the profane in pursuit of holiness.
Connection via love, history, values and aspirations is readily available in the quiet moments when nothing disturbs the quiet except the muted beating of one’s own heart. These invisible strings connect not only people but Heaven to man. How do I know?
Some little boys told me.
NEW YORK NATIVE ANDREA SIMANTOV has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She writes for several publications, appears regularly on Israel National Radio and owns an image consulting firm for women.