I strategically position myself at the end of the long hallway so when the front door opens, I can take in all of her. Her little voice precedes the pitter patter of her feet. With a sing-song pitch — “Hi, hi, hi!” — that rises in tone like a familiar nursery rhyme, she makes a mighty declaration that she has arrived.
I gasp at the sight of her.
She sees me and pauses. Reaching for the security of her daddy’s hand, David introduces us. “It’s Nana!” he says with the enthusiasm that accompanies a momentous occasion. As she connects the familiarity of our many Zoom calls with my presence, Tzofia smiles and moves on. And, from that moment, she is mine and I am forever changed.
Tzofia was born in Australia in the summer of 2020, the height of the pandemic. It would be 18 months before I meet her, hold her and see the magic in her chestnut eyes. My oldest son, David, and his Australian wife, Dani, are living in Sydney, a world away from my home in New York City. Dani is remarkably consistent with video updates of Tzofia’s growth. From crawling under the dining room table to her infectious giggle of playtime with David, to the all-consuming activity of eating any and all food put in front of her. Throughout the lockdown, my daughter Pamela and I relished every single moment of the thirty-second clips that captured Tzofia’s first year. We replayed the moments over and over again and, marked with a tinge of sadness, repeatedly talked about someday holding her.
In mid-January, the Australian government opened visa applications to parents of permanent residents, and I immediately submitted my application. I felt as though I won the lottery when the approval came through and, with the support of everyone at work, I bought a ticket for a month-long visit.
A second grandchild, Adina, was born the week before I arrived, and when I hold her for the first time, I appreciate the joy of laying eyes on her as a newborn and securing that immediate bond. Ironically, I am also keenly aware of what I missed with Tzofia and how much catching up I have to do.
I look for openings and begin to make inroads. It is a slow and steady climb with the measured tempo of a cyclist facing one of many steep hills on a long ride. It starts with early mornings together before school. We walk the city streets as the cafes unlock their doors and crank the coffee machines preparing for the daily rush of “brekkie,” the Australian morning ritual. Our order is always the same: a toasted buttered mini bagel with a gingerbread cookie to go and, for me, a flat white with a tiny spoon for Tzofia to skim the etched chocolate heart on top. We sit at a small table pointing in delight at the pastries being displayed on narrow wooden planks and take in the chaos of continuous deliveries of fresh bread and baked goods. It’s just the two of us and I firmly claim school mornings as ours.
As the days melt into weeks, the sound of her bouncing down the hallway calling for me fills me with a quiet assurance that our hearts now know each other. For I have loved her all along, even with the unsteady knowledge that only time together can compensate for distance.
The sound of her bouncing down the hallway calling for me fills me with a quiet assurance that our hearts now know each other.
Our bond continues to grow by enthusiastically repeating the simplest of life’s daily pleasures: a walk to the corner supermarket to pick a banana from the “misfit” box, teatime at the round child-sized table she calls her own, a backyard picnic of sushi and coconut water, and repeatedly singing songs like “Skinnamarinky Dinky Dink” and “Frère Jacques,” which are requested with a pointed finger and a soft-spoken “more.” All of which begin to layer and fill our circle of unconditional love with magical fairy dust. Her giggle, her trust in me to buckle her into the stroller, her desire to seek me out when she’s ready to play one of our invented games. Tiny traditions that quickly become a way of measuring time, knowing these are the memories that will sustain us when we are apart. The knowledge that we are connected is the vehicle that pushes me to plant the seeds of my unequivocal love. I am campaigning, in a way, as I organically but methodically do my best to squeeze into her heart, in the hope of becoming an indelible part of her youth.
As my departure date looms in front of me, the hourglass flips and my heart aches in a more profound way than before we met. I arrived with the anticipation of getting to know Tzofia, but now our souls have connected and there is a cemented bond that will be tested by time apart. And, as I mentally prepare to leave, I know what I’ll be missing. The touch of her soft skin with tiny dimples and deep creases. The request, “Up, Nana,” with outstretched arms waiting for me. The soft “mwah” kisses offered against my cheek. The mischievous look in her eyes as she grabs my phone and cradles it in her neck with a tilt and an engaging “Ha-lo?” I have become familiar with, and fallen in love with, the patterns and rhythm of her day.
After one month, by witnessing their presence and vitality, my intrinsic love for my granddaughters is marked by our time spent together. When I say goodbye, I can’t help wondering if this will be forgotten like a sandcastle washed away by the tide. Or, will these memories be stored and retrieved when Tzofia hears my voice? To ease my sadness, I will cling to that idea. Until, that is, we meet again.