That picture there? That’s a picture of my son on the bus bound for camp.
One day you look at your kid, and you realize that they are no longer a little kid. Maybe you saw them playing with their young cousins, or you took one shopping for rain boots and had to get them in an adult size. You twisted and turned your life around for the past decade-plus to raise little kids, and that part of your job is done.
My biggest regret? That we did not mark the kids’ heights on a wall as they grew. I was too OCD to write on a wall, and I figured that I could always do it later because I had their heights. The problem is that sometimes there isn’t a later.
We dropped the kids off at the bus for sleepaway camp, and it was hard. They were nervous, we were nervous. La Neige had been there before, so we knew that it is an awesome camp, no worries there. But are they old enough, resilient enough, to manage life without me for a week-plus?
I’ve been reading this book on child development by Alison Gopnik called The Gardener and the Carpenter. It’s all about the unpredictability of parenthood, which I’m trying to make sense of right now:
The first dilemma comes from the tension between dependence and independence. Parents and other caregivers must take complete responsibility for that most utterly dependent of creatures, the human baby. But they must also transform that utterly dependent creature into a completely independent and autonomous adult. We start out feeding and changing diapers and physically holding our children most of the day, and doing all this with surprising satisfaction and even happiness. We end up, if we’re lucky, with the occasional affectionate text message from a distant city. A marriage or friendship that was like either end of our lives as parents would be peculiar, if not down-right pathological. Children move from a dependence that is far greater than that of the neediest lover to an independence that is far greater than the most distant and detached one.
Now that the kids are at camp, no one needs me, neither actually needing me nor thinking they need me. When I come downstairs in the morning, there is no flash of shadow accompanied by the pitter-patter of small feet going to the bathroom and then dashing back to bed to read, moving like the velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park movie.
On a positive note, camp is something we have chosen. This camp happens to be a Jewish camp, and so I told The Prophet, when he said he was nervous, “One reason we send you is so that you can be surrounded by Jewish people. It’s probably better than a trip to Israel, right?” To which he replied, “There are people of all different religions in Israel.” He kind of had me right there, but it was also not the time to trot out the lecture on my feelings about diversity in Israel.
And as long as we’re being political, there are hundreds of children who have been illegally separated from their parents at the border. I mean, as I write this, there are still hundreds of kids who have not been reunited with their parents. When I found out about this policy, I reacted like someone who had found out that they had a dangerous bug on them. I was like, “Oh my God, make it stop right now.” And while I have not, thank goodness, been forcibly separated from my children, I recently had the other experience with a Lyme-carrying tick.
The thing about parenthood is that no matter how good or bad you are at everything else in your life, you matter more than anything else to this one person. Even an inadequate parent is irreplaceable to their child. We’re driven to have children and to care for children. (Not that I’m knocking my child-free friends, because you guys are awesome, too.) How can the US pursue an illegal policy that takes this thing, this very basic human right, away from one child, let alone hundreds of them?
For my own peace of mind as well out of duty to protect my children as best I could, I reached out to the camp director to find out what the tick protocol was. After all, lots of parents may be worried, but not all of them got Lyme disease from a tick this past May – which I did! As you can imagine, this was absolutely mortifying to La Niege. I had to explain to her that I could not possibly be the most worried Jewish mother that the camp director talked to that day.
Back home, I wallowed at the thought of having grown children. I called my friend N, a skilled and compassionate mental health care provider. She responded by singing me the beginning of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, reminding me that my concerns are neither new nor original. Thanks a lot, N. Out of sheer concern for my emotional well-being, she agreed to go to the movies with me.
I heard a funny quote on the episode of GLOW that I watched on Netflix last night. Narrating events in the ring, a sneering announcer asked, “And what’s a mother without a daughter? She’s just a person!”