My Family is counting down the days until we enter the next parsha, until the oldest son among our children leaves home for his half decade-long hesder yeshiva/army/hesder yeshiva sandwich. He will be attending a school that takes five hours, by public transport, to reach from our home. After a year and one half of studies and before his final two years of studies, he will serve in the Israel Defense Force, at a yet-to-be-determined site. We will not see him too often.
For my part, nearly a month ago, I reserved the sofa beneath our salon’s window for my crying jags. My red eyes and puffy lids no longer alarm any of my dear ones except for our wild geckos, whose mating calls and territorial warnings get interrupted by my clarion broadcasts of emotion. As for the humans around these parts, they shrug as they pass me by, acknowledging my presence only when not otherwise plugged into their electronic entertainment devices.
I grieve not my child’s growth, but the end of that wonderful parsha that was his childhood. Recently, for instance, when he asked me if he could meet with friends, at a Jerusalem park, for a going away bar-be-que, in honor of a former classmate about to be inducted directly into the IDF, I espoused on the topics of: bus travel times, the division of labor among party participants, and the sorts of help the celebrant’s sibling, i.e. the main party planner, might need. Older Dude listened. Thereafter, with admirable reserve, he reminded me that his crowd doesn’t smoke, drink, drug, or get involved with girls, and that, at most, they might kick back a couple of falafel sandwiches while listening to acoustic guitar. Maybe, and only maybe, if those fellows feel really wild, they might hike to the nearest makolet for sugar-laden sodas, too.
I counted the extra beds in our rooms and thought about the space on our livingroom sofas. I subtracted for the two Americans who will be overnighting that same evening and told my son that he could bring up to five friends back home with him. He shook his head at me and asked me when I would learn to stop worrying. Besides, he addended, those kids, the ones with whom he planned to get mellow, were not strangers to our family, but were youths who had visited us for Purim seudot, for Shabbot, and for homework sessions. What’s more, Older Dude doubted their festivities would run late. Even if enhanced with games of Frisbee or football, social events organized and attended by his buddies are typically short-lived in duration. If for some improbable reason they would be finishing after midnight, he promised to call me by eleven-thirty.
I need to remember that when my boy’s enlisted, he won’t call me by eleven-thirty. In that near future, I will have more serious things about which to pray than whether or not he catches the early bus home.
Effects trickle down. During the same cluster of days, our family’s three youngest were out with their dad, riding the light rail in all its novel glory en route to getting their respective Rav Kav “smart” public transportation cards and to getting Missy Younger’s Teudat Zehut (her 16th birthday is a week away). The middles, Older Dude and Missy Younger, detoured away from Younger Dude and Computer Cowboy. They were scheming.
Somewhere in the middle of my typing a stanza about a sea breeze and a turtle caught in a compromised position, I got a phone call form those kids. Could they buy Daddy a guitar for his birthday and would I chip in? I pledged money and my permission to go forward with the gift. To my surprise, even though Computer Cowboy’s birthday is more than six weeks away, they brought the instrument home immediately, wanting to present it before Older Dude moved on. The overarching feeling in our home sits somewhere between urgency and hesitancy; the future looks both exciting and scary.
Meanwhile, we’re painting and we’re moving around furniture. The last time I wanted to nest so desperately, I was pregnant. The walls in Computer Cowboy and my bedroom are now a soft pastel. Our closet has been taken apart and reconfigured. New mattresses are on order. We shifted the location of our dressers, also.
Similarly, both Older and Younger Dudes’ rooms got new paint and new arrangements. Our older son’s room is becoming, de facto, the guest room. He is not happy. We did not ask permission. We allowed him to pick out the paint color, though.
As for Younger Dude, who is the youngest by three school years and who will likely be bouncing around these parts long after his siblings have gotten married, he received smaller, more functional furnishings so that he will have larger, more accessible floor space. He marveled watching Missy Older blend water, paint, and tint according to our hardware store manager’s directions. He wants a new bookcase.
In the midst of all of this activity, we had family nights. A few weeks ago, those sons and daughters approached my husband and me with the idea that they wanted scheduled time together. They didn’t know it would be hard for parents of teens and twenties to refuse such a proposal; they were frustrated in not having been able to use all of their prepared arguments in selling their plan to me.
So for several weeks, we’ve cooked, dined and played together during midweek evenings. Our communication, as expected, given that we are six articulate adults and almost adults, has been mixed. The coming together, though, has left us wanting more.
During the second-to-last of those scheduled get-togethers, we pushed aside stacks of dressers and books, moved over clean piles of laundry and thought about sweeping, but held ourselves back from actually disturbing, many litters of recently exposed dust bunnies. After filling our tummies with homemade tomato soup, challah left over from Shabbot, and fresh figs, we took out Balderdash so that we could share laughter and other manners of nonsense. Yet, none of us wanted to play more than a single round; we could not help but appreciate, a loud, that the truest twaddle has nothing to do with cards or with categories.
Our home’s stairwell is lined with montages of our boys and girls, one frame apiece for each of our sons and daughters’ first five years. Some of their artwork is hung among those twenty collections of pictures. During those precious years, Computer Cowboy and I morphed from a childless couple to full-fledged parents.
That first part of our family’s history is replete with incidents funny and poignant. There were deaths. There were births. We nursed. We potty-trained. We learned to walk and to talk. We became able to distinguish cows from cats.
My family captured the kids’ second era, that period bridging the time they were in preschool and the time they came into blossom, not in photos on the wall, but in other ways. We kept or made semipermanent references to the kids’ books, original music, hand built objects and sophisticated art. During the precious years when those memories were being fashioned and stored, our family became frum and thereafter moved to Israel.
That second part of our family’s history, likewise, is replete with incidents funny and poignant. We made trips to the hospital to glue heads, set arms in casts, and to repair broken noses. Pets, jobs, and friends were gained and lost. Schools were left behind. We embraced a new language, a new culture and an ancient world.
The third hunk of our children’s lives faces us. My family prays for Moshiach. We pray that Missy Older will find her intended, will graduate from college, and will grace our family with its first grandchildren. We pray to merit reading Older Dude’s Dvrai Torah in his emails, to see him in uniform, and to meet his future wife. We pray that Missy Younger will continue to enjoy her external megama, her championing of the underdog, and her need to wear all manners of nail polish. We pray that Younger Dude follows his desires to: get more proficient in Aramaic, buff his math skills, and grow taller than his sisters.
Portions end too quickly. Older Dude was a toddler banging on keyboard days ago, and was an avid student of mixed martial arts only last week. He didn’t used to sprout a scraggly, curly, blondish beard or whisper the “what ifs” of war. A mere clock minute earlier, he was not a young man.
Today, he’s grown. Tomorrow, he flies. His siblings will all too soon follow. That transformation is why we could not play that game of imagined definitions.
You see, claptrap is indigenous to life. Drivel has the power to distract us from what is important.
We are squeezing in one more family night, one more project in the house and one more pot of homemade soup. Grasp the glitter while it flows. Please realize that the greatest baloney, the most extensive balderdash, is forgetting to put your loved ones first.
May all your transitions be manageable!