Visiting Day Wars

994838_10200852953139626_1661590643_nWe are in the midst of re-entry.

Three and a half weeks ago I dropped my youngest son off at a parking lot in New Jersey where a Leprechaun bus took him to sleepaway camp in upstate New York.  Hours ago I retrieved said son who emerged from the bus, tanner, leaner and so bleary eyed he looked like he could barely stand, a product of having stayed up most of the night packing and bonding with his friends.  At the moment, the prodigal son is wandering around the house touching things as if he’s never lived here. “Our house is so nice,” he says as he walks by me, “and our water is so clear” he adds.  Then he goes upstairs to discover that his bed is “so soft and comfy.”

There has been a blog post circulating widely (over ten thousand hits) entitled, The Running of the Jews, which I posted on my Facebook page because I thought it was funny. I actually thought the clips of the people running to see their children on visiting day were hilarious.  Some of my friends took me to task because they thought the post made us (Jews) look “foolish” as a people.  If running to see our children is what makes us look foolish then so be it. There are worse things.  I thought it was amusing and a bit poignant that people who never moved were willing to risk life and limb to get to their kids a minute faster than someone else got to theirs. Another blogger responded to The Running of the Jews with a post called, This Is Why We Run and I thought that that post made some salient points. Having participated in my share of visiting days I get why we run and why I got to the bus today at 10:30 when it was due in at 11:30. I’ve witnessed the child waiting on the porch of his bunk, eyes filled with tears craning his neck to scan every parent’s face with deep anxiety, as if there was a possibility his parents won’t show up.   We all want to save our child even that five minutes of worry which must feel like a lifetime of anxiety to a child.

I think our stress over sleepaway camp is a microcosm of the world and the parent/child relationship at play within it. We push them with one hand and pull them with the other. Each time I put my kids on the bus I have a lump in my throat. The same tear thickened lump for some reason resurfaces in the instant that I see them as they get off the bus. While they’re away, we parents tell each other it’s good that they don’t write long letters but wouldn’t it be nice if they wrote a little bit more. I’ve seen it from both sides now. I’ve been the parent who got that letter, the one that said I’ll give you all my money and everything I own if you just let me come home and my heart broke and I’ve also been the parent whose child wrote, “No time to write.” You yearn for them but you also yearn for them to let you go. You want them to want you but just enough, not too much.

As I look down at my bronzed, sleeping son curled up so comfortably on the couch I think, “you don’t get it today but someday you will and, G-d willing, someday, you too, will run.”

Hello Mudder – Hello Fadder

996185_10151430840182484_425429385_nI have just returned from what is arguably the hottest place on earth, the parking lot from whence a bus will bear my son to a three and a half (every day counts) week stint at summer camp. Even if we weren’t a little verklempt when we first got there, the combination of sun, hot tar, bus exhaust, the crowd and the absence of even a lick of shade left us weak, too weak to wave to the bus for half an hour as it sat in the lot and then as it pulled away. If food had been called for I could have fried an egg on my head. My Fit Flops left an imprint in the hot tar, kind of like a Hollywood star.  They will never forget that I was there.

I, myself never attended sleepaway camp, a fact, which my children like to point out but I have been sending children to sleepaway camp for many years now. I feel no guilt sending them, although, none of my three have ever really been big campers.  Frankly, I need the break from them and, I think, they need the break from me. And, certainly as I reach the ripe old age of 50, I have lost the ability to keep a twelve-year old boy adequately entertained for the summer.

Mind you, I have never had the highly enviable situation of being able to send all three to the same camp at the same time.  The parents who do that have a special gleam in their eye as they walk away from the bus, hand in hand.  My children, because of the age difference (nine years between oldest and youngest) are more akin to whack-a-moles.  I send one away for a few weeks and then another but by the time the third one leaves, the first is returning.   Whack as we might, they don’t stay down for long.

The way we packed for junior you might have thought that he was going on a yearlong safari to a third world country. I started the hunting and gathering phase of the packing three months ahead of time.  And, I requisitioned an entire room for my packing endeavors because there is a lot involved here; the gathering, the laying out, the trying on, the labeling and the placing in the trunk. This packing business is not for the faint of heart.

Also, the packing is a little competitive, so when one of my friends tells me that she is ahead of me in her packing schedule, I want to feel happy for her, but I’m not that big a person and I stick my fingers in my ears and hum, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

Then, someone will triumphantly post a picture on Facebook of their childrens’ eight trunks lined up by the front door with the caption “DONE.” Someone else will laud them for their lovely color-coded trunks and say, “You trumped me.  I only have six perfectly packed color coded trunks.” There’s no room for slackers here.

The week before the children leave, there is the last supper and the last lunch and the last breakfast, and the requisite goodbye calls to the people they never talk to anyway.  Then there are the second to last meals.  The last meals are only trumped by the first breakfast back, the first lunch back and the first dinner back.

So, even though it sometimes seems like more work than it’s worth, I continue to send my little angel to sleepaway camp not only because we need a break from each other but also because of the well-known scientific principle that like things belong together. So, twelve year olds should be with other twelve year olds because only a twelve year old can really appreciate another twelve year old in the way he ought to be appreciated. And more importantly, fifty year olds should try to be ALONE with other fifty year olds, for the very same reason especially if they are married to them. You see where I’m going with this.

And, as we drive home after dropping my camper off (with the middle son in the back saying, “What do only children do?”), I look forward to my three and a half weeks of relaxation because I know that very soon I will check the mail, and, there IT will be…

Dear Parents,

We hope you are enjoying your summer. Pick up will be at 11AM…