As I flew through the air reading parenting advice from articles in a recent issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey, my thoughts were consumed with my next trip across the country with my husband. Our son and “daughter-by-marriage” are preparing for the birth of their first child, our first grandchild, making the Link’s pieces so timely that my mind went adrift.
What will the baby call me? How will I cradle and not smother, adore and not spoil? How will I pass on traditions, while all the time giving unconditional love? This is, after all, a second chance to get it right. My biggest challenge by far has to be, “How will I shoulder the responsibility of being both grandmothers?”
How will I tell the baby about his/her other grandmother, Sheila, of blessed memory? During our children’s courtship, Sheila and I had several intimate conversations. None were as poignant as when she called from her own sickbed to console me on the loss of my dear mother. Remarking with fervent reverence that “you never forget your mother,” she also told me that her mother was named Ida, as was mine.
Within a year, when Sheila, my age, beckoned for us from her deathbed, my husband and I drove for seven hours from our home in South Orange, New Jersey, straight to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Alone in the room with Sheila, our son and her daughter, I assured Sheila that she would always be remembered and that my friend Sheila’s name would remain a household word.
Now, with our children married and living in Portland, Oregon, we see them from the comfort of our kitchen in New Jersey on the Portal “Smart, hands-free video calling,” from Facebook, which all our children gifted me for Chanukah. We won’t be walking in the neighborhood to drop off bananas and grapes, as my motherless mother-in-law told me repeatedly that her mother-in-law did for her when she was expecting, and we may not be there in time to bring bananas to the hospital as my mother-in-law did for me when I gave birth. Naturally, like my mother before me, though, I’ll coo that the baby is the cutest.
With the help of Hashem, the main thing is that we do our part, and as they feel the love, our children enjoy long, healthy years of parenting. We must assure the legacy of the prior generations of two melded Jewish families be inspired to continue, l’dor v’dor. Only then will our place in the world and those before us be justified.
Taking on the responsibility to shower the baby with the love of not just one, but two, Jewish grandmothers, (four Jewish great-grandmothers, one thankfully still living; eight Jewish great-great-grandmothers; and further back through the generations), I’m certain the baby’s two Jewish grandfathers will kibitz about my doting, as they surely will do much of their own.
As the pilot announced the plane was starting its initial descent, I snapped back into the moment and my first grandparenting duty struck me. The whole purpose of the initial rung of the trip was centered on preparing for the baby. Our first matter of attention would be scouting out the safest car seats. After all, as I told them quite plainly, “You cannot leave the hospital without one.” They melted with the thought and let out a sweet snicker, as if the reality just hit. With that as a stepping stone, I suggested that we shop for the layette and baby furniture but, following our custom, have it delivered/picked up after the baby’s birth.
As we settled in at their place in Portland, the banter began with, “What’s a layette?” As I transitioned the discussion to baby laundry detergent, my grandparenting tips began to multiply. At Sunday brunch, with our niece, who is practically a generation between us and our children, and her 10-year-old son, born and raised in Portland, our niece conceded that with a firstborn a grandmother’s presence was sacrosanct.
The tips and suggestions continued to flow over our one-week stay. We roamed from store to store listening to informed sales personnel and touching and feeling the various car seats, strollers and bassinets, deciding what the true necessities would be for furnishing the apartment for the baby. Along the way, I imparted additional little tips based on my experience. After exhausting the shops for baby items, and us along the way, our millennials informed me that they prefer to shop on the internet. Ugh.
With all of us fully informed, my husband and I flew off to our next stop, Los Angeles, to do more wedding planning with our daughter and her fiancé for their summertime nuptials and to find out about all the things that they wanted to shop for but, of course, purchase online. C’est la vie. On our flight home, I contemplated, “What would the Jewish Link’s contributing writers have to say about all this long-distance parenting/grand-parenting in this new age?”
By the way, when we drive over to New York City to see our younger son’s new apartment, which he rented, wait for it…online, we’ll get to see all the furniture he purchased…you guessed it, on the web. After all, it is 2019.
By Sharon Phyllis Cohen
Sharon Phyllis Cohen, MPA, is a seasoned genealogist, journalist and contributing writer at The Jewish Link.