Both my parents are gone. I have one grandmother left, which clearly disobeys the rules of sequential parent life expectancy. But that’s what I’ve got. And two much older sisters, who each play dual roles as sibling and parent to me. And to my benefit, they can switch roles on command, as easily as Clark Kent to Superman and back again.

In my youth, I was not excited about their parental roles. It felt like having two extra moms to reprimand me for bad decisions. But I loved having sisters, “live-in friends”, to spend time with- playing games, doing art projects and listening to music that was beyond my years. In our adult lives, we don’t make time to do those things anymore.

flowerOne day, while visiting my grandmother at her nursing home, I decided to wheel her out of her wing and into the craft room. I found a bunch of fake flowers, Styrofoam and a small basket and began creating a floral arrangement for her room. I think I needed it more than she did. My grandmother has had dementia for at least eight years- she’s 96 so it’s to be expected. She’s trapped in a mind that can’t make sense of things and a body that won’t let her sing and dance as she used to. She doesn’t know who we are but something in her recognizes that she should. Our visits are just me talking to her or showing her magazines. Sometimes we play- “what’s in my purse?” because this is especially amusing to her. After a while, I started planting things just to see her reaction. “How did this banana get in here?” “Is anyone missing a toothbrush?” She used to talk and ask questions but for the last year, she has been pretty silent. This craft room was going to make our one-sided conversations a lot easier to bear.

The next time, I brought some of my own materials to make collages. My oldest sister joined me and we sat and cut and glued for an hour and a half. The time flew by and at the end, we each had a gift to hang on my grandmother’s wall. Another week, my middle sister joined me and we colored pictures and made paper chains to attach to the door. She cut strips and I glued. My grandmother watched as we laughed and worked.

Today, my oldest sister planned to meet me at the nursing home. Before leaving my house, I looked around but couldn’t find a craft project idea that two people could do without causing a big mess. And the fallback of paper and crayons didn’t interest me. I guess we could just sit and talk, but these crafts had become a thing, a great thing. If only I had something else to quiet our minds…like Legos. And then I remembered, for my birthday, I got a set of Nanoblocks which are like mini Legos. This set came in a pack specifically designed to create a replica of the Taj Majal. I had been meaning to make it for months but it just never got done. I threw the Taj Majal in my purse and headed to the nursing home.

My sister and I wheeled our grandmother into a nearby cafe area. I presented the project. We opened the bag of blocks and began. My oldest sister is the type of person who reads directions. All my life, I have relied on her to be this person. Logical, responsible, orderly, exact. I, on the other hand, was more fascinated with how the spires would be created and how the set had cylindrical blocks. I am classically the sister who is impatient and “Squirrel!”, gets easily distracted. She was the perfect partner for this project.

We figured out the first layer of the foundation together and then I just followed her lead. We troubleshot the tough areas. My grandmother watched as we counted the nubs on the pieces, fit them together and referenced the diagrams and photos on the box. I realized how easy it is to be with someone you’ve known your whole life. Here at the cafe table, constructing this replica, I felt peaceful, even amidst the chaos of tiny white squares and rectangles. We ran out of time and planned to finish our replica another day. While we were cleaning up she remarked, “that was a nice little stress relief”.

I used to dread visits to the nursing home, feeling as though my efforts were futile. But now, it’s time fueled my our creative minds. A safe haven from our busy lives. And a much needed reconnect to my sisters, my parents, my friends.