Hearing the high-pitched sweet call: Omi!! makes me smile with deep satisfaction. I had loved spending time with my grandmother, Mutti and then, enjoyed seeing our boys love their Omi and Opa, who lived an hour away and Saba and Savta, who lived in New York. As parents, Mickey and I wanted to create time with both sets of grandparents and did it consciously. When you are the parents, you have more control over visits with the “precious jewels.”
As grandparents, the dance is more intricate. Our grandchildren live in Brooklyn, NY and Vienna, Austria. The four grands are young, that is 8 years old and under. We live in Los Angeles, California. So, yes, the distance is challenging, and spontaneity, rare.
Visits: We plan visits and plan ahead. We need to ok the time with our children and their spouses. This needs to coordinate with their work/ vacation times and the children’s holiday/ summer or winter vacation times. We also need to be conscious of the other grandparents and their visits. We’ve been very lucky in that regard. These are all moveable parts.
- We’ve learned about the Austrian ski week, the Brooklyn ‘in-between’ camp to school days, the teacher intensives and have jumped on those times to be present with the grands.
- Before Covid, we traveled 3x a year. Since then, it’s been more complex, as we’ve needed to have safe space to remain in and test for COVID after flying. Only after we were clear, could we actually see the grands.
- Birthdays — I keep the grands’ birthdays posted on my desk and note what I might bring on a visit. We don’t want to appear to be the ‘wealthy’ grandparents landing in for a gifting party and therefore, want to give appropriate gifts that also convey messages of love & learning, and fun. As they grow older, activities together will become gifts.
- The visits: Rental homes in the countryside or beach (Hudson Valley, Berkshires, etc.) or a “Kinder Hotel”, certified hotels with child friendly food, swimming pool, climbing gym, craft room and hiking or skiing areas, have been the best arrangements. These visits allow for more natural and relaxed days of playing, activity, meals and ‘sleep-overs’ and Shabbat candle lighting together.
- When we’re in the city with them, we go to the local parks, zoos and museums; we often meet their friends, do afternoon pickups, help cook dinners or take them out for pizza.
Keeping in touch: We try to schedule (again with parental permissions) a regular weekly time to connect with the children over FaceTime or What’s App or Skype. With the Brooklyn folks, we can often Zoom to a simple online Shabbat candle lighting or pre-Holiday talk or baking session. For the Europeans, that means early morning Los Angeles time and late afternoon in Vienna, neither of which are great times. But these times work, most of the time.
a. What do we do? Sometimes it’s a catch-up: What story are you reading in school or at home? What’s the best part of it? or What are the roses and thorns of your week? What is the best joke you heard? What questions did you ask at camp, at school, at Pesach?
b. Additionally, we read stories. Sometimes those are sweet little picture books, other times a series.
c. Jewish holidays and events: we have subscribed each of the grands to PJ Library and especially for the Europeans, we read the books before sending, just to make sure the messages are clear and stories engaging. We try to do ‘holiday’ things on the internet together, like shaking the lulav or baking hamantaschen or searching for hametz.
It is always hard to say ‘good-bye’; I’ve learned to say, “L’hitraot…See you later” and have the next date planned. Additionally, Mickey is the author and publisher of little photo books that record our visits; these help the kids see what we’ve done together. And we love seeing those moments as well. Keeping the photos on the phone is nice but having a memory book is the treasured story of our times together.
It’s not easy but it is what it is…and I’m appreciative of the sacred moments capturing this family time. I’ve looked at friends with older children who have managed this over a generation and see dedicated family love and commitment to visits can sustain the distance.
Rabbi Karen Fox’s training comes from a variety of fields. In 1978 she was among the handful of first women rabbis ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Later, she earned her Masters in Counseling Psychology from Pepperdine University in 1996, and became a California licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 1998. She engages a Murray Bowen based “family systems approach” to consultation and counseling. Karen pursued extensive training in ethics for clergy and congregants and in grief and bereavement counseling. She has recently studied approaches to “Wise Aging”, finding meaning and purpose post-retirement.
Rabbi Fox was invited to serve as an advocate for the Reform Jewish movement, as a camp director and as a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the historic Los Angeles synagogue. For 25 years, in addition to lifecycle responsibilities, she guided the psycho-social arm of the Temple, developed lay led Caring Communities, provided spiritual and cultural programming for adults and children, and supervised a large staff. She was invited onto the Ethics Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and many times, mentored clergy through Tshuvah/Rehabilitation processes.
In addition to her private practice, Rabbi Fox currently guides the next generation of rabbis, as Adjunct Faculty in Pastoral Counseling at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles where she teaches “Lifecycle and Pastoral Counseling Skills” and “Rabbi as Symbolic Exemplar,” a professional ethics course for rabbinic students. Rabbi Fox also leads workshops on: Supervision Skills, Entering and Exiting the Synagogue, Mentoring vs Supervising, Women Rabbis: Work-Life Integration and “Wise Aging,” a series of workshops guided by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.
Rabbi Fox is married, a proud mother and grandmother. She rides a bike, skis and loves dark coffee and black licorice.