Conversations with my granddaughter are expanding beyond burbles and trills to delicious mispronunciations that will become the stuff of family lore. Ohdor means “please open the door.” UpDown is a request to read the Olivia book about opposites. More than her darling gymnastics with the English language, Olivia’s actions speak potent lessons. In a single week, this little being who doesn’t yet weigh even 20 pounds, has taught me much.
Lesson 1 —Blissful experiences deserve endless repetition.
Olivia and her mom were visiting one afternoon when Olivia discovered the little slope of grass abutting our patio. Down she toddled, gathering speed. When she reached the bottom, she lay on her back, threw her arms wide and grinned up at the sky in utter bliss. If there had been a cartoon balloon above her it would have read, “Ain’t life just the BEST!”
Again and again she toddled up the slope, ran down and collapsed, looking skyward. She was utterly in the moment, reveling in the joy of her body, in the speed her chubby legs could now take her, perhaps even in the wind caressing her pink cheeks. She exulted in the realization that she could experience this again and again and again.
Delight in your experiences. Repeat them. And then again.
Lesson 2 — Share your love with insistence.
It was bedtime. Olivia had been bathed, diapered and PJ’d, read to and read to again.
“Kiss Aviva good-night,” her mother said, holding her out to me. Olivia covered my face with kisses. She planted sweet love on each cheek, on my chin, on my forehead. She stopped for a minute and I stepped back to leave. Olivia squealed her displeasure. I got the message loud and clear. “I’m not finished, thank you very much. I’m not done giving you my kisses!” I moved within kissing range and was rewarded with three more, light as a butterfly’s wing.
The love we give is precious; give it joyously. If you are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such love, for Pete’s sake, hang around!
Lesson #3 — Love yourself.
I can’t draw; lots of skeletons in my creative closet. What my eye sees and what my hand renders do not align. But one day, determined to silence the ghosts, I set out to sketch Olivia from one of my husband’s photos.
I worked on it for the better part of a morning, studying the fullness of her cheeks, the little round point of her chin. What was the proportion of her forehead to her features? Where do the ears go? The eyebrows? And those eyes! They are swirled with brown, green and blue. Someone called them little earths. I struggled to show the way each strand of her hair feathers across her forehead. When I was done, it wasn’t an exact likeness; but I had captured something about her that was familiar.
One afternoon I showed her the drawing.
“ME!” she shouted touching a tiny finger to the page. “ME!!” Then she leaned over and kissed the drawing.
I was stunned. She recognized herself! Even more moving was the immediate kiss she planted on the drawing. When you look in the mirror, is your first reaction joy or criticism? When was the last time you kissed the mirror when you saw your reflection? I see the lines in my face, not my smile and warm brown eyes. I bemoan middle age spread instead of being grateful for the strong body that takes me hiking and allows me to crawl on the floor with Olivia. I pine for what was, instead of celebrating ME! ME! HERE! NOW!
Olivia has no reference of what was. She simply is. She doesn’t know or care that three months ago she had no hair and now has just enough to make a bonsai-sized palm tree atop her head. She saw a likeness of herself and went to town exulting, “That’s me! I’m wonderful! I’m OLIVIA!”
Offer huge smiles and spontaneous kisses to the person in the looking glass. She is to be treasured!
Debra Darvick is the author, most recently, of We Are Jewish Faces.