This week was Nathan’s ninth birthday, and what he wanted to do on that Tuesday morning, the last day before the start of school, was to go to open a bank account. He’s been saving his allowance, afikoman prize money, and birthday-card dollar bills since kindergarten and now he was excited to start a real bank account with an even $100. He broke open his froggy bank (froggy, not piggy, in our house), I relieved him of about $20 worth of parking-meter coins, and we set off on foot to the Wells Fargo a few blocks away on Geary.
As we walked, I had an intense memory of the first time I opened my own bank account, at a similar age, with all my savings. I was with my mother in a large-windowed, midcentury bank in Palm Springs, looking down at the brown, lattice-print carpet as I waited impatiently in line with my change and crumpled bills. I loved watching the teller count it all and meticulously enter the numbers in my savings book. She asked me what I was saving for, and I very earnestly said, “college.” I didn’t understand why she laughed hard when I said that; it was perfectly true.
Nathan was just as full of anticipation and giddy while handing over his “own” money to the teller. I thought it was great that the thing he wanted most for his birthday was not a gift, but this experience of relishing a new sense of maturity. But the most poignant thing about it for me was this perception of the two dimensions of time: watching your child do things that you did yourself at their age, that you can remember with every scent and tactile detail, must be counted as one of the greatest pleasures of being a parent.
It was one I got to experience richly this summer away on the Central Coast. Our family had this immense blessing of being able to leave our usual day-to-day life for two months, with Micah on sabbatical, and a house to fix up and new locales to explore. Each weekend we had visitors come to stay: our siblings, our parents, close friends from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. So many components of this time were inherently restorative and revitalizing: the unbelievable produce at the farmers’ markets, the unstructured days, the lack of stress, the creative pleasure in remodeling, the considerable time spent each day outdoors in a beautiful place. But the most potent to me was the layered memories we were making.
One weekend, I took two of my closest friends, Shira and Yael, and their children, to a U-Pick farm just minutes from our place. Eight-foot-tall sunflowers stood like a festive crowd along the side of the road; a hand-painted sign listed the day’s offerings: squash, corn, string beans, kale, beets, strawberries, lemons, blackberries. The produce is arranged neatly in the shade of a small stand, where you are instructed to pay for what you take by dropping the money into a black metal cash box. It is unmanned and operates on the honor system. (Yes, indeed, urbanites, take note: this is not a myth). I distributed green plastic baskets to the kids, who set out for the raspberries, which I unabashedly prize more than all the rest of the offerings.
The pleasure I derive from hunching over the green bushes and plucking the bursting berries goes far beyond the sensual delights of summer—the sun on my neck, the buzzing of bees going after the blossoms, the tang of juice-stained fingers. It goes back through time to remembering picking raspberries as a kid with my grandparents in Vancouver, who we’d visit in the summer. I can still see the view from underneath the bushes, where I’d crawl to find all the hidden berries and end up eating more than went in the bucket. Then I’d sit on the kitchen counter, watching my mother and grandmother make jam with our take. Now Theo and Nathan have crimson streaked cheeks and I’m prepping the jam-making.
Shira and I met in our freshman year of college and bonded instantly. We lived together in Los Angeles in a rambling house when I was in grad school. In fact, it was through Shira that I met Micah—the two had known each other since junior high. When we got married, she signed our Ketubah. To share the berry picking with her, and then take our dripping baskets to the beach for a picnic, ties together so many layers of every epoch of my life, from my childhood to my parenthood.
There have been a string of experiences like this—in Idaho for two weeks with my parents, I took my kids on the same hiking trails, rafting on the same stretch of river that I grew up on. To come to this generational perspective is incredibly moving, involving many layers of pleasure and poignancy. A cocktail of nostalgia and novelty.
When we think about the idea of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, we often think about transmission, about passing something on. But l’dor v’dor is not only this movement of the thing we are passing down, it’s us—we are the child, then the parent, the beloved, then the bereaved. The generations are also within us, overlapping in our consciousness, simultaneously.