The sleepover

The sleepover

What it feels like the first time your 4-year-old grandson stays over without his parents

Merrill and Andy Silver stand in front of a photo of Andy; it’s made of images of him with challot he’s baked over the years.
Merrill and Andy Silver stand in front of a photo of Andy; it’s made of images of him with challot he’s baked over the years.

Brush teeth, wash up, put on pajamas, read in bed, and turn off the lights. Bedtime rituals. Boring!

But when your 4-year-old grandson performs these chores at a two-night sleepover at Bubbie and Grandy’s house, they are suddenly infused with delight and wonder. For example, Avi washed away all the germs while singing the alphabet song. Pajamas? No baggy T-shirt for him. His PJs had a pattern of colorful dinosaurs. They fit so snugly they could have been his dinosaur skin.

Grandy and I tucked in our little brontosaurus on the futon. Snuggling with me and the stuffed animals he brought from home, we read some stories and made up others. Since snow was in the forecast, we told a story about a little boy who didn’t understand snow. He thought the world was covered with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Maybe even a giant white sheet! We made up another story about the magic snowball that never melted, even when it spun around inside the washing machine and dryer. I’m too old for snow, but with my grandson, I started to love it again.

During the day, Avi wove his magic in the living room and kitchen. How surprised I was when he sang the lyrics to “Oseh Shalom” while I played it on the piano. He “played” the piano with one hand while holding and tooting my sixth-grade recorder with the other. He banged on the drum when he wasn’t sitting on it. Should I tell Avi we need a violinist for our family band or let him gravitate to an instrument of his choice?

The kitchen had its own symphony of sounds and smells. After he put on an apron (his idea), he helped Grandy bake challah for Shabbat. He smushed and pounded the dough, but tiny hands can only do so much. So he yanked off a smaller portion, and kneaded that piece. With some help from Grandy, he braided a personal challah. Then he sprinkled sesame and poppy seeds with the precision of a surgeon.

He made ice cream with Grandy and wondered why it needed vanilla if it was chocolate ice cream. Good question! Bubbie and Chef Avi made granola, and a banana chocolate chip loaf. He squeezed the frozen banana into the batter like it was a tube of toothpaste. Was it Passover already? The scent of cinnamon reminded him of the holiday. With his soft little fingers pressed against my wrinkly ones, we juiced Florida oranges and grapefruits. He drank the sour sunshine, pulp and all, with gusto.

Soon it was time to welcome Shabbat. Wearing a kippah, Avi covered his eyes for candle-lighting, received the priestly blessing, and made a simple Kiddush without any help. He recited the motzi over his special challah. I was so proud of him (and his parents)!

At that moment, I truly believed that my cup runneth over. What could possibly surpass the joy of our intimate but very lively Shabbat table?

Shabbat morning services! What else?

Avi is no stranger to synagogue life, but it was our first time with him at a service. So, during the Torah procession, when the three of us touched the Torah with Grandy’s tallit, and then kissed it, I started to cry. “L’dor vador” (generation to generation) — words found in Pesukei D’Zimra and the Amidah — suddenly washed over me. My children had grown up in this synagogue. They became b’nai mitzvah there. We celebrated birthdays and recited Kaddish there. Now we were holding our next generation in our arms, continuing the link in the chain. It overwhelmed me.

But what did Avi care about Bubbie’s tears? For him the taco bar at kiddush was worth the trip to New Jersey. “A taco kiddush! I never heard of such a thing!” he exclaimed, using one of the expressions Grandy had just taught him.

These are the challot that Andy and Avi baked on Avi’s first solo sleepover.

Back home, we played, talked, laughed, and tickled until it was time for more meals, a bath and bedtime. Before we knew it, we were driving him home, to his parents and sibling, whom he never once mentioned.

Our quiet house gave me time to reflect on our adventure.

This was not Avi’s first sleepover at our house. He has enjoyed occasional overnight visits as a toddler with us. His most memorable sleepover, however, was the one with his parents at the outset of the pandemic, the one that lasted for five months. He will never remember it, but his parents and grandparents will never forget it. The new parents and two-month-old baby fled an urban ghost town for the relative safety of suburban New Jersey.

I became nostalgic for the sleepovers our own kids enjoyed with their grandparents. Both generations joyously anticipated the visit. The actual adventure never disappointed. Decades later, the kids remember eating Yankee Doodles, playing cards, and emptying out the “junk drawer,” an endless source of pleasure, at Grandma Evelyn and Grandpa Mike’s apartment in Brooklyn. They remember sitting on the Yellow Pages phonebook so they could reach the table, sharing dinners at Friendly’s, and swimming in the pool at Grandma Hannah and Grandpa Howie’s 55+ community.

Of course, sleepovers go both ways. My kids remember the ancient suitcase that my parents brought when they stayed overnight with us. It had a strip of duct tape on it, easy to identify on a baggage carousel (not that they were such world travelers). I picture the carton of homecooked food they brought to give us a break from kitchen duty. On Passover, my mother would bring a white enamel pot filled with chicken soup and square matzah balls.

Now it’s Grandy and me doing the overnights. L’dor vador. We regularly babysit for Micah, our other grandson, in Philadelphia. We travel with a cooler, overflowing with favorite dishes and surprises. Our soft overnight luggage is filled with the same essentials my parents packed. Luckily, our daughter upgraded us to our own room; our parents had slept on a pullout sofa in the family room.

While our generational chain continues with joy, I couldn’t help but think of the families in Israel whose links were broken violently. They follow me everywhere, but especially on Shabbat. I can’t possibly imagine the anguish at those empty Shabbat tables, and the eternal darkness of the tunnels. Fortunately, Avi does not carry those burdens on his little shoulders.

So what will Bubbie take away from this sleepover? I’ll remember the two Avis: the grownup one who didn’t miss his family for one second, who ate a full-sized portion and seconds of a Shabbat meal, who wore a kippah at the table and recited the Shema at bedtime. And I’ll remember the 4-year-old, whose kippah had animal decorations on it, who wore a bib at the table, who had an adult conversation in a small voice — where every “L” sounded like a Y — and who prayed to God at night while hugging his stuffed animals. I’ll remember the tallit that not only linked the little boy with the little man, but also connected him to his parents and grandparents.

I’ll think of his suitcase with his name embossed on it. (No duct tape for him!) I imagine where it will take him next — maybe to more sleepovers, vacations on airplanes and in cars? He’ll outgrow it by the time he leaves for summer camp and college, but I will remember it as a symbol of a little boy on his way to independence.

And what will Avi remember about his 48 hours at Bubbie and Grandy’s house? A taco kiddush, magical snow stories, and a suitcase, ready for his next adventure.

Merrill Silver and her husband, Andy, live in Montclair; she’s a freelance writer and teaches ESL at JVS of MetroWest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Hadassah magazine, the Forward, the New York Jewish Week, and other publications. Find her at

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