It’s pretty damn weird that after all the build up I haven’t written a thing about my 70th birthday itself! It was so lovely that I just didn’t want to let go of it even enough to tell its stories. I just kind of hung onto it for a day. So here it is:
We all went to Santa Cruz, to the beach: sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and Rick and me. The boys found a great house with a big open plan, perfect for people whose ages run from 70 to 19 months with an almost-five-year-old Nate in the middle.
It was just what I wanted. Toddlers Jake and Eli eating blueberries and flirting with their grandparents, grown-ups talking about everything from politics to child rearing to just-executed beach walks (of which there were many.) Goofing around. Reading stories. Cuddling on the deck. Coloring. Being gifted with three home-made birthday cards covered in crayon and glitter-glue. And with an urgently required lemon zester.
Staying up late talking – and listening to the boys talk with each other. Catching up while the kids slept. Hanging around in the early morning with the mommies and the little guys. Walking from our house to the far end of the promenade, a windy point, and then back past the house to the other end, where there’s a lighthouse. We did it in different combinations, a couple of times in the daylight and one gorgeous time in the dark, watching the lighthouse lazily send out its signal and wondering at the full moon and its bright path of light on the sea.
It was, in short, our family at its best. They gave me what I wanted most: to wake up and wander out in my PJs and find the little ones sitting on the floor giggling; to watch the sunset bundled up on the deck with Nate in my lap, and to enjoy our sons and their wives. To all be together in the same place for more than dinner.
From each of them came hugs, and humor and generosity of spirit – and lots of love. Times like these are why we celebrate being born at all.
Once a year I pay special honor to my parents. In a service on Yom Kippur called Yizkor, I say a prayer to their memory and pledge to do something to remember them: to donate charity for their sake.
This year, even more than usual, I wept as I prayed, and afterward. I have three grandsons now, one of whom shares my father’s name, and my parents don’t know it. They aren’t here to enjoy these lovely boys, or to help me handle the issues that emerge when one’s children have children.
Our boys and their wives are stunning parents (and wonderful to us) and our grandsons are, of course, perfect; that’s not the issue. It is, rather, that I know now some of what they must have felt and I would be so grateful if I could tell them what I have learned about their own grace as grandparents, and ask them for advice on the moments that grab the heart, or maybe even, as in every family, for a moment, break it.
Two new grandsons have joined our first (born almost three years ago); one is 6 days old, the other just over two weeks. They are beautiful and delicious; watching our sons with them is breathtaking.
With the birth of that first little boy, we became grandparents; he brought us a new identity. Just after the birth of the second of the three, though, the rabbi took us beyond that. With the birth of their children, our children have become ancestors, taking their places, as we had done, in the thousands of years of Jewish history.
I’ve written before about the special meaning of our “Biblical” lineage , especially since we can’t trace our personal ones very far back, but I’m saying something else here: look forward as well as back. There’s something compelling about the concept of one’s children becoming ancestors – something wonderful and profound.
Two new little boys will enter our family before the end of September. We’re excited, happy for our lovely sons and their wives and very happy too that our grandchildren have such wonderful people as parents.
There’s another thing, that (even though it is, of course, obvious) I hadn’t thought about in a long time: these children, while we can’t trace personal generations very far back because so many records and stories were lost in the Holocaust, have a family that goes back to Abraham and to Moses and Mt. Sinai and to Sarah and Rachel and Rebecca. Of course, we all, biblically, begin with Adam and Eve but because I’ve always known I couldn’t trace our family, I didn’t let myself consider what we might never know – it was too painful.
I think that’s why the sudden recollection of this spectacular Jewish lineage became an almost new discovery even though the reality has always been part of our lives. We, and our children, and theirs, are part of something well beyond ourselves. I am grateful to be part of the tribe – and pray that our boys, and theirs – and their moms – travel safely as the world continues on its magnificent, scary and complicated trips around the sun.
The first one is this poster, which I found on Jason Rosenberg’s Facebook page. It’s not quite as good as "I am a community organizer" but it’s kind of cool. The other thing is today’s New York Times story about The Great Schlep and Sarah Silvermanvideo, which apparently has been screened more than 7 million times in the two weeks since it appeared! Basically, it urges Jewish grandchildren to lean on their grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama or risk the end of loving visits from the grand kids. Given her occasional forays into yukkiness, it’s actually pretty cute.
The Jewish Council for Education and Research, and co-executive director Ari Wallach, are creative, agile and smart and they’ve done a great job both of creating and promoting a very good idea. Even if few kids can afford to hit the beaches of Hallandale and Miami, they’ll get on the phone and make their case. And the press has loved it. If you missed the video, here it is.