Ideas and Impressions: The joys of being ‘Papa Jason’

By Jason Moscovitz

It has been a crazy summer. The Trump business has gotten as bad as it gets, although, as always, it is difficult to know where the bottom is.

Here, in politically civilized Canada, the election is around the corner. There are so many things to think and write about. But somehow, for me, as the summer ends, there is only one subject that I feel like writing about.

The subject is family. This is about having a chance to be a grandfather in real time and in person with all of my family in the same time zone. Please excuse me, but my chances do not come that often as my five grandchildren come from three different countries: Israel, Great Britain and the United States.

The two oldest are almost four and almost five. They are certainly old enough to engage with each other – as well as with their grandparents – once everyone figures out which language they can do it in.

Shalev is the little boy from Jerusalem who speaks French and Hebrew. He undoubtedly understands English, but does not speak it yet. Beatrice, the New Yorker, speaks French and English.

My daughters deserve all the credit in the world for honouring their mother’s wish to see their French preserved for another generation – not an easy thing to do in New York City and Jerusalem, but they did it. Good thing too. Without their French, the young cousins wouldn’t be able to talk to each other.

Culturally, welcoming grandchildren to what to them is a foreign country leads to fun moments. Shalev, my first-born grandson, sees everything. He often remarks on how big the houses are in Canada. He often points out that three floors in a house is a lot.

After he returned home, he asked his mother why they lived in such a small apartment. She told him houses in Israel are smaller than in Canada. He looked around and said, “Well, there is one good thing about that: in a small house you don’t have to run to the bathroom when you have to make pee-pee.”

Despite the infrequency of his visits, Shalev’s Canadian blood runs strong. He never leaves a park without finding and collecting huge maple leafs. At the cottage, he lives to go canoeing. When there is no one to go with him, he sits in it alone on shore with a paddle in his hand pretending to be a voyageur.

Shalev, who loves music and can sit for hours watching street performers, got a special treat this year. His parents took him to Gatineau where he saw Cirque du Soleil. He still can’t believe what he saw and heard.

His cousin Beatrice is almost four, but when she speaks you think she is six. New York City can’t be an easy place to grow up and the street smarts a child develops are uncannily real. She lives in Queens, where the overhead subway runs outside her bedroom window. Once asleep, believe me, Beatrice can sleep through anything.

When I visit there, I always think of the childhood flashback from “Annie Hall” when the family dining room and china shook from the nearby roller coaster on Coney Island. New York City is a noisy place, but resilience can see you through.

Beatrice goes to a multinational daycare and the class photo would make the Statue of Liberty proud. She can sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish and Mandarin with perfect accents in both. Her mind is wide open.

Emile from England will speak French and Hebrew, but his Israeli father insisted he soon get a tutor once a week to begin his English lessons. So I guess I can look forward to a grandson with a British accent by next summer. I think it will make me laugh.

Aurianne from Jerusalem is always smiling. At 14 months, this was the first visit to Canada she might remember. The same goes for Felix, who’s a month younger. He is the lucky New Yorker. His bedroom is on the other side of the apartment. The subway is not outside his window but I can’t say his room is silent.

Being “Papa Jason” to all five is my treat, wherever, and in whatever language.