To Be a Bubby| August 2, 2022
My role as Bubby is taking shape as the grandchildren grow and multiply
oday, even in the frum world, we have how-to books on almost every subject. How to date; how to build a healthy marriage; how to take care of your newborn, toddler, and teenager; how to marry off your kids.
In the secular world, there are books about the next stage of life, about grandparenting. But in our heimish culture, to my knowledge, such books don’t exist. Is it because we assume nothing could be more natural than becoming a grandparent?
When I became a bubby, I didn’t take to it naturally. I met my daughter at the hospital as she was nearing delivery. When the baby was born, I hung back, allowing the first-time parents to enjoy this miraculous stage in their young lives. After they’d admired their progeny for several minutes, the nurse handed me the tiny wrapped bundle. Two eyes peeked out at me. I gazed into them and thought, Now, what? I’m not about to nurse her. What am I supposed to do with a newborn that’s not mine?
I was emotionally filled by my own precious three-and-a-half-year-old. He still retained the big eyes and soft cheeks of his babyhood. I wasn’t missing having a baby in my life yet, and the little package of pink didn’t strike any sense of motherhood longing in me.
I had no time to ponder this thought for long, as it was Erev Yom Kippur. We hadn’t been expecting this baby for another week, and we were sure it would be a boy. I’d been wondering how we’d manage a Yom Tov bris or a Shabbos Chol Hamoed one, especially as Shabbos Chol Hamoed was the bar mitzvah Shabbos of an uncle on the other side. Well, all those dilemmas were solved with the appearance of a baby girl.
I was warned that if my daughter was coming out of the hospital on Motzaei Yom Kippur, I’d need to make sure all baby items were purchased in advance. During a whirlwind trip to a local baby store, I procured clothes, blankets, hats, a coat, and a car seat. Now well stocked with baby paraphernalia, I could go back to preparing for the Day of Awe.
The little family of three came back to our equally little home. My boys graciously gave up their bedroom to make room for their sister and her family. We moved beds around to accommodate everyone, set up a newborn baby crib, and voilá, everything was ready.
While we were very tired from all the action, my husband still had to get the succah up. When he sought the help of our son-in-law, we came to the realization that new fathers needed to rest almost as much as new mothers. Miraculously, the succah was built, the Yom Tov food was cooked — and my husband and I were even able to attend to our work responsibilities.
The young couple moved in and out of our house over the next month as they adjusted to their new roles. But it was a short-lived adjustment, because soon after, the devastating terrorist attack on my husband’s minyan changed our lives forever. My healthy, vibrant husband was mortally injured and in a coma. Now my daily routine was about hospital visits, medical meetings, and bureaucracy, all while I tried to maintain our home and keep my kids calm and cared for. The last thing I had patience for was a cranky baby and a justifiably stressed new mother.
The year ended with my husband’s passing. Along the way, two more precious grandchildren were born. Inside, I felt hollow. The man who would have rejoiced in his role as Zeidy was no longer with us, and I didn’t know how to play the role of grandparent, especially a solo one.
Often, we look at our parents or grandparents to model the role we want to play. With an ocean between us, I didn’t have much opportunity to observe my own mother’s bubbying skills. My children were her first experience in this capacity, and due to the distance, their relationship was somewhat limited. On the other hand, I do know that my mother loved her role. Long before cell phones with photo galleries, she had her own treasured “Bubby Book” with pictures of my kids at various stages of development, ready to be whipped out and shown to whoever would be interested.
When I look back at my own bubby, it’s a hazy vision. Crippled with arthritic pain, she didn’t venture out much, spending much of her time at her kitchen table. She was a master at Casino and Rummy and loved to play card games with me. If I won, she smiled. If I lost, she’d tell me, “Better to be lucky with love than cards.”
But Bubby also had gaping holes. She and Zeidy had come from Europe to Canada in the late 1920s, leaving behind most of their extended family, hoping they’d one day be reunited. When World War II ended, and Bubby understood the level of destruction that had occurred, her hair went white overnight, and she developed the classic symptoms of OCD, washing her hands for extended periods of time.
By the time I arrived in the world, 20 years after the fires of that Gehinnom had burnt out, Bubby had lost much of her youth and innocence.
My role as Bubby is taking shape as the grandchildren grow and multiply. I suppose in my grandchildren’s eyes, Bubby is the owner of the house they occasionally visit. Bubby sometimes has presents for them.
It’s the aunts and uncles that catch the next generation’s interest. Who can compete with the aunt that swings the little kids around, makes up songs, and entertains them? As Bubby, I do need to keep on top of the chaos when the number of people in the house increases. I’m always in the background, making sure the food is ready, the table is set and cleared off. I’m not nearly as fun or interesting as the young aunts and uncles.
Some hugs or kisses seems to suffice my emotional need to bond, and certainly satisfies theirs! I know I’m missing out on a chance to create a lasting bond, but would I be lying if I said that presently I don’t have more of myself to give?
I felt the small exhilaration of bubbyhood when my daughter gave birth to her first boy after two girls. This was the first boy to be born since my husband passed away. The excitement from this particular baby was multiplied in everyone’s hearts.
My daughter and baby came to stay with me after her brief time in the hospital. The new mommy was in great form and over the moon with joy. The abba and the two girls stayed at their home, and it was delicious to have just the little twosome until the bris.
In the soft light late at night, I joined my daughter in the living room as she cared for her little bundle. After his physical needs were taken care of, I held the itty-bitty parcel and looked into his dreamy eyes. My heart melted.
I didn’t have to nurse this child to connect.
I just had to be a bubby.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 804)
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