What a long and strange trip I had this Monday morning. It began Sunday afternoon, when I drove my older son - a rising third grader - to stay with friends for the night so that he ("B") could join other children Monday morning at the nearby Conservative synagogue and embark on a 6-day "Taste of Ramah" camping experience at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. Never mind why he went to Poconos (another post for another time), I was there with B to watch him do something that I am not sure I was ready for even though my wife and I (and he) did all that we could to prepare for his week away.
We discussed the traveling and week at camp more times than necessary, and I am proud to say that we adequately prepared B for the trip.
Preparing ourselves is something all together different. In retrospect, I am not so sure that may have been possible. So many of my life experiences and training have taught me not to over worry or try to anticipate every thing. I did not think about, nor should I have, what I would feel driving home without my son. I did not think about, nor should I have, what it would be like to walk by B's room every night this week and see his possessions but not him. I did not think about any of these moments nor did I consider my emotions during these subsequent moments.
But I digress. After my son got on the bus in the synagogue parking lot, the bus remained for quite a few moments while the Ramah chaperone did a thorough job ensuring everyone was there and had what they needed.
But what about what I needed?
I readily admit this may not have been primary among the chaperone's priorities, but still a worthwhile question to consider for those of us who have been in this position. Wanting to get on the bus and steal one more glance, one more wave, and one more smile at our child/ren before they go to sleep-away camp is natural and completely fair. We do it - or should I say we want to do it - from a place of love. Our drive to get on the bus also stems from a difficulty, unwillingness even, to detach ourselves from our children. I am surprised in that I did not think I would be that parent who wants to get on the bus and see my son, and I surprised myself by asking the chaperone (there was time) if I could see him. I was not at all surprised by his reply. "We'd rather parents not get on to the bus once their kids are on."
I get it, and I am grateful for his answer. As much as I might have wanted to see my son one more time, far more important to his maturation process is his ability to achieve increased measures of independence and confidence in himself to be okay. This can only happen by not getting on the bus. I also readily admit that the chaperone's response to my question was crucial to my parental evolution. Rather than feeling anger or disappointment, I turned the moment into an instant of further joy, satisfaction, and pride.
Not getting on the bus has implications for my belief that my son will be okay as well as his own self assurance. In those moments that followed, B was all smiles. I could see this through the window as he waved and smiled. Indeed, many of the future chanichim - campers - were waving and smiling giving me greater conviction in the chaperone's answer and even deeper faith in the experience - for those who are willing - of sleep away camp.
As I began the drive back to New York City, I called my father (hands' free, I promise) to let him know that I had mixed feelings about what just transpired in the synagogue parking lot. I admit I came close to tears during the conversation, tears of gratitude and gravity. I wanted my dad to know, albeit candidly, that I blamed them for what happened. Were it not for my experiences at overnight camp (at Ramah Palmer and Wisconsin) I might not have considered allowing B to have a week-long overnight experience. I also wanted my parents to know that they have done a good job and sharing one's profound appreciation with a parent when the opportunity presents itself is not something I take for granted. My parents raised two children both of whom had extremely positive experiences at Camp Ramah and have subsequently sent their children (my parents' grandsons) to Ramah camps. My wife deserves credit too, but as I mentioned above, where B is at camp for this week is for another post at another time.
Parent, Partner, Teacher and Coffee Enthusiast, Rabbi Rafi Cohen enjoys helping individual students and families find Jewish meaning in their lives. Rabbi Cohen is the director of admissions for the Rabbinical & Cantorial Schools at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.