My girlfriend''s biggest nightmare is that she will have to go visit her children in the army. Her fear is not rooted in confronting the reality that her children are no longer under her safe wing, and may be called on to defend our unstable boarders at a seconds notice, but rather in that she will be scorned by the other mothers for the scant supplies she brings for their picnic lunch. She fears that even if she stops on the way to buy her daughter a roast beef sandwich and a bottle of ice-tea, a packet of chips and a Twix, it will never be enough. As an Anglo mother, she will never be able to compete with the families who arrive with pots of couscous and schnitzel, salads and flatbreads, cheeses and humus, tahina and lamb, three different kinds of chicken, rugelach and chocolate cake, plus the accompanying aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers, grandparent''s nieces, nephews and neighbours, all with a specialty dish of their own.
The pressure is simply too much.
I remember the first time my daughter went to a youth camp in Israel when she was fourteen. The camp site was located in a suburb I frequent often called Pardes Hanah, less than fifteen minutes away from where we live. I thought it was pretty outrageous that we, parents were not only invited, but expected to come visit our children for a full afternoon in the middle of the two week period. It wasn''t two months summer camp in a different State; it was two weeks, down the road in a local football field. I used to text her from my mobile, every time I drove past the campsite on my way to the supermarket to say ''hi'' with a ''toot''. Less than a week later we were invited to pick them up and to stay for an excruciating evening concert. I started to think there was something wrong with me, that perhaps I had been dished out somewhat less than the normal amount of ''motherly love'', and that I should want to see my children''s friends sing terrible Mizrachi songs, out of tune in very bad voces, simply because my child had been away from home for two weeks.
Then I met the English mother of my daughter''s friend , who assured me it was an Israeli mom thing, and I had nothing to worry about. That it was perfectly normal not to want to spend hours hanging out in dirty campsites in the middle of the July heat, comparing culinary symbols of maternal devotion with women who for some unknown reason were ecstatic to visit their children at every opportunity with cooler boxes full of monosodium enriched home cooked food, if for no other reason, than to feed them. When our girls finally went off to buy us coffee from the canteen, we confessed our mutual dislike of sand, shared a cigarette and felt so much better about ourselves.
This morning I received a call from my son''s teacher, reminding me that his three day school camp finishes today and that the parents are expected to come pick their kids up this afternoon and celebrate the end of camp with a siyum. A siyum has its roots in completing the learning of a piece of Torah, Mishnah or Talmud, but in secular Israel it has become the norm to mark the end of practically anything, from a holiday activity to a television series and it is always accompanied by a large festive meal. I asked her if all the other parents were going, and she replied ''yes''. Each child will be collected in person by a parent from a campsite an hour away in the middle of the week, in the middle of the afternoon and they will all bring food. I don''t get it. I just don’t.
Maybe Israeli mothers who have sent their sons off to war feel a certain devotion to their children that we Olim don’t yet feel, or maybe it''s a Sephardi thing. From where I stand, if you send your kids to camp, you do so with a certain intension for individuation and independence. Camp is where kids grow up a little, where they learn that they can survive, in a safe environment, away from home, and that they can have fun doing so. To invite parents into that framework in the middle or even at the end of the experience seems to me to be somewhat of a Freudian slip-up. Let them go, let them experience and let them return, without mummy and daddy coming to check in on their emotional and physical wellbeing. Is there anything more fun than the bus trip back from camp, sharing stories with friends about who was the bravest, naughtiest, funniest, and most stupid? I think Israeli mothers, have something to learn from us Orlim, about letting go and trusting, or at least about separating emotionally from our children''s lives.
In the end I sent his father to collect him. I hope he remembers to take a picnic lunch and bake a chocolate cake on the way.