In the blurry days after Jonah was born, living off of microwaved egg sandwiches from the Au Bon Pain in Cornell’s lobby, I was filling out some paperwork in the hospital room. The form asked for “Father’s Birthplace.” I wrote down, “Worcester, MA.” Shira, attentive as always, nudged me. “Boston, honey. You were born in Boston.” My dad was born in Worcester, not Jonah’s dad (me!). My entire life, Father had meant Father. All of a sudden, Father meant Me. Dad was now Zaide, Jonah was now Baby.
In a matter of moments, the seminal structures of our lives had shifted. The label of “generation,” a typically stable and enduring identification, had ruptured suddenly. It felt as if the tectonic plates of my identity had shifted underneath me. In many ways, we define ourselves by the nature of our relationships. When generations shift, our identities shift. The trigger for these changes takes place quickly, yet we spend years, decades, or the rest of our lives seeking to understand how we are affected by them. With a ludic perspective, I hold on to the catchphrase from a favorite childhood game, Mastermind, to grapple with the movement of these tectonic plates: “A moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”
At our nursery, we see these relationships play out in many ways. Grandparents (and even great-grandparents!) join for Shabbat or holiday celebrations, birthday parties, read-alouds, and often for the daily routine of drop off and pick up. The “sandwich generation,” the son-turned-dad and daughter-turned-mom, find themselves learning as they go. What role do grandparents play in raising a young child? How do the expectations of grandparents affect those of parents? How do grandparents deal with their not-lost identity as parents? These are all questions that we have discussed in my office this year as part of the “Coffee with Noah” series. To be expected, these are questions on all of our minds. Yet only rarely do we actually discuss them.
Part of our responsibility to the community is to provide a forum for rich, meaningful discussion around this topic. A week from today, Friday, May 29th, at noon, there is a fantastic opportunity for just this. Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the JCC, is facilitating a conversation between grandparent Jerry Witkovsky, longtime social work professional and author of the new book The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection, and his grandson, Rabbi Ethan Witkovsky. Over lunch and conversation, this is an opportunity to “bring added depth and perspective to intergenerational relationships.” Rabbi Ethan, a friend of mine, serves as a congregational rabbi at Park Avenue Synagogue. If these are questions or topics that you find yourself musing on, follow the link for more information and to register.