Out there: The Unrelaxed

I envy my kids’ ability to relax. To just sit and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it.

beach 311 (photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
beach 311
(photo credit: Arthur Wolak)
More realist than romantic, I am careful not to envy too many aspects of my kids’ youth.
Sure, it looks great from the outside, but behind all the hair, laughs, music, beers, dating and freedom lie the worries and concerns unique to their age groups, but no less acute to them – aged 15 to 22 – than my middle-age worries are acute to me.
What profession to go into? What school to apply to? Will miluim interfere with the psychometric test? Whom to date? When to marry? What army unit to go into? Whom to hang out with? How to get parents and teachers and rabbis off their backs? Been there, done that, not interested in going back, even if I could.
EXCEPT FOR one thing. I do envy my kids’ ability to relax. To just sit and do nothing – and not feel guilty about it. To watch TV without shame; to lie in bed past 7:30 a.m. without remorse; to read a newspaper on the couch without embarrassment while others are doing the dishes.
Somewhere way down the line – perhaps in yeshiva where I was warned against the evils of bitul Torah (doing things other than studying Torah), or in college, when I always felt I should be preparing for an exam, or even in high school, when my parents drummed into me that watching television was a colossal waste of time – I lost the ability to relax, always thinking I should be doing something more ‘useful.’ And that, more than any of the other youthful benefits my kids enjoy, is something I wish I had back.
This was brought home to me last week, when the family took a five-day cruise on a 3.25-star Israeli liner to a couple of the closest Greek isles (isles sounds so much more exotic than islands). Usually the family’s summer vacations are distinguished by doing and seeing a lot, but eating little – especially when travelling abroad and facing the rather limited kosher cuisine that exists in places like Ljubljana and the southern Czech Republic.
I remember a couple of years back in Slovenia hiking and swimming and rowing and castle-seeing by day, only to hear the kids kvetch about having to have yet another cup-of-soup from Israel and a cucumber by night.
“Abba, I can’t hike anymore, my stomach is empty,” my daughter wailed one afternoon in Slovenia, as we were crawling through a stalactite cave.
“Shut up, sweetie, and eat another tomato.”
This time, The Wife and I decided we would do nothing, but eat a lot – something for which a kosher cruise is tailor made. And the kids – perpetually hungry and a bit hiked-out – were game. Four meals a day! When you’re 15, or the parent of a 15-year-old, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Sure, I was worried at first about being locked up on an ocean vessel with a duty-free shop open 16 hours a day and 900 of my none-too-shy compatriots who, for some reason unbeknownst to me, are convinced duty-free shops have fleamarket prices.
I was, indeed, warned beforehand that an Israeli cruise is more Ship of Arsim (louts, toughs) than Love Boat. One of my kids’ friends, a tough himself who sailed this line before we did, said there were so many arsim on his cruise that when he boarded the boat, he had culture shock. But then I looked into the mirror, overcame my snobbery, and realized that – hey – I am my compatriots.
“Abba said we paid, so we should eat a lot,” a boy no older than seven proclaimed at the next table over in one of the ship’s dining halls, his plate heaped to the brim. And with those few words that little boy uncannily articulated precisely the sentiment spinning around the minds of most of the other ship-goers, mine included. So who was I to look down at my compatriot co-passengers? Eat I could, but relax? Well, that was a different story.
It was like getting an airplane upgrade to first class, knowing you’ll probably never get that again, and then being so concerned that you aren’t enjoying all the benefits to which you are entitled that you can’t take full pleasure in any of it. That happened to me once.
I got bumped to first class, and rather than sleep – which I needed to do – I stayed up to get more free drinks, watch more movies, eat more peanuts, stretch my legs farther out, all the time fretting that if I slept, I might miss something and just waste the whole experience.
So too on the boat. When I watched television, I thought I could do that at home, and instead I should go hear the ship’s cabaret singers. When I listened to the singers, I thought I was wasting my time on amateurs and should go look at the shimmering sea. When I stared at the sea, I thought I should be reading.
If I read fiction, I felt bad about not enriching myself professionally. When I picked up a political biography, I thought that was too much like work, and so I should be talking to The Wife. When I spoke to The Wife, I thought that since I do that a lot, I should take advantage of the time when all the kids were together to talk and play cards with them. But when I played cards with the children I remembered just how much I hated playing cards, and thought that instead I should be studying Torah.
“Abba, relax,” my youngest son said, catching on to my rather jittery vibe. “You’ve got nothing to do, the scenery is beautiful, just enjoy it.”
“Easy for you to say,” I replied, envious of his ability to do just that.