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Units of Exchange

Just as Hashem Rolled away the light before the darkness, tomorrow He will Roll away the darkness before the light.

My mother once said, “Small children step on your feet, big ones step on your heart.” I had no idea then what she was talking about. Now, decades of sunsets later, my own babies have grown up, and I know that she was right

The sun washes the sky outside of my Jerusalem window, painting the hills in streaks of gold and lavender, I breathe in the almost quiet of my salon. One child is babysitting, another is finishing trigonometry, a third is home coughing, and a fourth explores the wilds of a neighbor’s playroom. Some of the golden streaks deepen not so much to crimson as to periwinkle, the child with the cough rummages for a lap blanket, and the phone vibrates. Traffic, as seen from my perch, begins to congest on the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In these transitional moments, I think about what my mother once said: “Small children step on your feet, big ones step on your heart.” I had no idea what she was talking about. In innocence, I grew up, got married, went to school, had babies, worked, and made aliyah. Decades of sunsets followed. My own babies grew up. Mom was right.

Periwinkle deepens to indigo. The last of the gold becomes gamboge and cerise. The traffic lights in the valley below become more distinct. At this stage, when I “know everything,” I merely need to nod to give over wisdom. In the same way, when “I know nothing,” no amount of kinetics can telegraph my perceptions. As for the gradations in between, my teens have yet to distinguish carmine from alizarin, or azure from Maya blue; they are still too young.

The sky deepens. I detect maroon, burgundy, and a bit of persimmon among the reds. I see sapphire, ultramarine, and cobalt among the blues. The children are not yet too old for extra chauffeuring, homemade soup, or time set aside for talking. They have not yet outgrown squishy hugs, bits of cheerleading, or bedtime visits, to surreptitiously tuck them in.

The other day, when one son finished telling me about his hours of learning, he pulled a book to his face, secure in the knowledge that I care. Another time, a Shabbos night, a daughter who had fallen asleep, awoke all dozy smiles and half-opened eyes, when I gently placed my hands on her still head, to bless her. Other times, the children need only the reassurance that my cell phone is not turned to silent. One contemplates driving lessons. Another grows facial hair. One insists on following her coterie. Another insists on determining the constituency of his.

The traffic thickens. The shift from one phase of the day to the other is subtle, yet dynamic. Slate, taupe, and Payne’s gray begin to replace brighter colors. Soon those shades, too, resolve to a more saturated hue. My children no longer fit in the crook of my arm, on my lap, or under my blanket next to me. I no longer remind them to stop fidgeting with their sun bonnets or to wipe their feet. Independent of my guidance, they tower beyond my height, check the ultraviolet shielding of their glasses, and mop the foyer.

My babies speak better Hebrew than I, talk about hesder and about marriage, and back their arguments with Rashi and Rambam. I answer them with photo albums and ancient songs, silly games and fantastic stories. We think together, for maybe five minutes at a time, about the era when we shared mud pies and bears that had chicken pox, when we “rhymed” words like “orange,” “plankton,” “bulbous,” and “galaxy,” and when we made up stories about hedgehogs yielding spatulas.

The gray yields. Stars twinkle. The congestion on the roadway eases. My offspring no longer: pull flowers when I pull weeds; mix those leaves while I make salad; or dip their chubby fingers, feet, and random kitchen utensils into the puddles I make upon cleaning up their “culinary delights.” Rather, they haul, during non shmittah  years, fifty pound sacks of earth to our rooftop mirpesset; cook tasty meals for the entire family; and help clean the toilets. They wear jewelry made from fabric and clay, listen to funky yishuv pop, and manipulate all manners of electronic goods.

Just as Hashem Rolled away the light before the darkness, tomorrow He will Roll away the darkness before the light. The Jerusalem sky will again bloom with chiffon and papaya, saffron and mustard, amaranth, fuchsia, and magenta. In almost as small of a measure, my children will parent their own children, doling out the currency of Jewish parenting, giving them the kindness, the respect, the silliness, the grace, the imperfection, and the emunah that bind the generations.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 79)

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