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Standing Room Only: A Too-Faraway Grandpa Visits

Children reach maturity, have families of their own, and move away. Parents of grown children retire and move away too. The results are that grandchildren grow up without grandparents, and vice versa. In this context, creating traditional relationships with children is one of the most frustrating experiences grandparents face.

Bridging-the 1,000 mile gap to my grandchildren, Aliza and Joshua Hoffman (9 and 6, respectively) in Portland, Oregon, began with my laboriously typing Grandpa stories to them. Storytelling also played a major role during my rare visits. I would begin a story, hesitate in the telling, solicit ideas, and take off along the unexplored path. Returning home, I would document the story for the family archives; my grandchildren might want to tell these stories to their own progeny in years to come.

Soon after Aliza and Joshua began attending school at the Portland Jewish Academy, my grandpa duties expanded to my being their “show-and-tell.”

A recent show-and-tell happened to be on a Friday, so we baked a pretend-challah. The youngsters, and the adults present as well, quickly got into the spirit of the story. When, with elaborate gestures, I drew forth the pretend-baking supplies from an imaginary cupboard and placed them on a work table, my audience followed suit. When I acted out cracking eggs into a huge bowl, they did too. Together, we vigorously mixed ingredients, dumped the resulting dough on to a board and kneaded it; we raised our arms over our heads to match the dough’s doubling in size — right there before our eyes; we pounded it down, tore chunks off and rolled them into ropes, and together, we braided a challah for baking in time for the Shabbat blessing in the school’s lobby later that day.

I realized I was the surrogate “in situ” grandfather for many of the children in that classroom. And I had conveyed to the children a love shared by all of their grandparents: for challah.

I audiotaped the challah storytelling for my grandchildren, and furnished a copy to the school. Positive memories support self-esteem, values, and whatever else shapes and guides little children.