An article in the New York Times this weekend gave a glimpse into the world of one building in Chinatown, where three generations–12 family members– live together under one roof. The grandfather and the two siblings and their respective families each have separate apartments, and there’s a common playspace up at the top of the building. Meals are communal, as is shopping. They act as a unit.
I was telling my husband about the article, and he said, “That just sounds like an urban version of what we have.” And in many ways, it pretty much does.
My husband, three kids, and I live in the New Jersey town where I grew up (and continue to grow up, if we’re being honest). My parents live a mile away (“1.1 miles,” as my husband has already calculated). One of my sisters lives with her husband and three kids in the same town. The other sister lives one town away with her husband and two kids. My brother was the rebellious one: he’s in Westchester.
My parents taught us well by their own actions. They have always been there for us, whether it is babysitting for our honeymoons (yeah, that would be for me) or letting us move in after a terrible divorce (that would be me again). Despite the fact that they are in their 60s, my parents have two cribs, three Gyminis and at least three sizes of diapers in their house. We have learned from their example. We restock each other’s refrigerators when the other person is about to come back from vacation.
We are each others’ emergency contacts. We pick up each others’ kids after school, and babysit for each others’ children when someone goes into the doctor, into labor, what have you. Throw my fantastic husband into the mix – who works from home when he can to help out with pickups, drop-offs, diaper changes, and other parenting minutiae – and I am truly blessed beyond belief.
I’m telling you this not to make you envious, but to drive home the point that when it comes to children, it really does take a village. (It also makes a really good argument for having a lot of kids.) I could be the most organized person in the world – and I assure you, I am not – but it would make me stressed out and miserable if I didn’t know there was a big net of love beneath me, waiting to catch me when I fall/leave my wallet somewhere.
During the UN week, people were asking how I did it – how I juggled my family and my job. And I did my job, but couldn’t have done it without my husband, babysitter, and family. Or maybe I could have, but everyone would have been stressed out, unhappy, and really hungry.
Racing home for our family Shabbat dinner at the end of UN Day 5, I ran into my brother-in-law in Penn Station. The trains were screwed up due to a fire on the tracks somewhere, and none of the trains were on time.
We found out another train was leaving, but didn’t stop in our town. My brother-in-law, whose car was parked in our town, got on it with me. My husband went to the other town and picked us up, baby in the backseat, and drove my brother-in-law to his car at the other train station. Then he took me to my parents’ house, where my boys were happily playing and my mother had made a delicious Shabbat dinner for all of us.
My boys hugged me, delighted to actually see me after the crazy week. I felt the way that you are supposed to feel as you light the Shabbat candles: full of gratitude and peace. And I never could have felt that way alone.
Rosh Hashanah enables us to take moments and reflect on our lives – what they are and how they could be. There are many who think that just taking a walk through nature is sufficiently contemplative to mark the holiday. But in my book, part of the holiday means appreciating and valuing the community in which you find yourself – your fellow Jews, your family – and recognizing that part of who you are is the company you keep. A big part of the holiday is being with your fellow Jews, and it deepens the celebration. This is why Jews are technically supposed to have a minyan to pray – prayer needs community, just as a community needs prayer.
We can be each other’s community and safety nets, whether virtually or in person. Moreover, we need to be, both for our own sakes and for one another’s.
Shana tova to all – may you and your families be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a happy, healthy, fulfilling and deep new year.