Out There: The dawn of independence

‘Shut up and enjoy the oasis,’ I would snap. And so would start our happy vacation.

‘Shut up and enjoy the oasis,’ I would snap. And so would start our happy vacation (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
‘Shut up and enjoy the oasis,’ I would snap. And so would start our happy vacation
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Back in the day when my parental concerns revolved more around my kids’ homework and dinner etiquette than about grandkids and wedding arrangements, the Wife and I battled our two younger sons about their desire to go to a boarding school for high school.
The idea that my sons would want to study and live in a high school yeshiva 90 minutes away from our home, rather than one literally 90 seconds from our apartment, mortified us.
Don’t they like being with us? we thought, crestfallen. Why would we want to cede direct supervision over them to others? Moreover, drawing on our own backgrounds in the US, weren’t only troubled kids – the incorrigible youth – the ones who were usually sent out of town to boarding schools to study?
Yet, like bulldogs, our sons persisted, and one day we sat down and made a list of the pluses and minuses.
On the minus side of the ledger was everything listed above, and more.
There was one item, however, on the plus side.
If we sent them to this particular school – which in New Age speak called itself an “environmental yeshiva,” because once a week they went out and toured Israel’s environment – then our vacation dilemmas would end, and they would always have the necessary knowledge to tell us where to hike.
And that, for immigrants, is no small thing, because newcomers arrive in this country at a distinct vacation-destination disadvantage, not really knowing where to go on that odd day off.
Had I remained in Denver, I would have known with eyes closed where to trek with my kids on Sundays in the Rocky Mountains. I would have hiked the same trails I hiked with my father – always to the lakes with those fairy tale names: Cub Lake, Bear Lake, Fern Lake,
Dream Lake and Loch Vale. It was second nature.
But here? What did I know? I didn’t spend endless youth-group hours clamoring up rocks in the South or in search of bubbling springs in the North.
So it was with envious eyes that I watched for years during the holidays as my neighbors packed their cars and headed out to some obscure spring or hill that I never knew existed in the Galilee or Judea. Me, I’d take the kids to the only places I knew how to get to and where to park: Ein Gedi and Sakhne.
“But Abba,” my kids would whine as we headed for the 50th time to Ein Gedi, “can’t we go somewhere else? We’ve been there so many times before.”
“Shut up and enjoy the oasis,” I would snap. And so would start our happy vacation.
IN THE end, the boarding school gamble paid off. The lads came home enough for Shabbat and during the week that we felt we still knew them and retained some parental control, the boys emerged from the school relatively well adjusted, and we had our own personalized tour planners.
No more did we have to scratch our heads wondering where to go on one of the intermediate days of Passover or Sukkot. Nope, we’d just ask Skippy or The Youngest to do the planning and off they would scramble – with maps and books – to figure out what obscure reservoir or former quarry with some flower that blooms only two weeks a year we should visit. Then we would set off – just like the natives – to some place I never heard of before.
My boys might not have learned much computer science or literature in that boarding school of theirs, nor did they become as well-versed in Talmud as I would have liked, considering that we sent them to a yeshiva, but man, did they know where to hike.
That was the upside. The downside was that this created an unhealthy parent-child dependence.
The Wife and I could plan detailed family trips and itineraries to Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Washington State – including knowing exactly where to stay, what to see and where to trek – but when it came to trying to figure where to go for two days in Israel, we always just took the lazy way out and left it up to the boys.
Until we couldn’t anymore.
TWO WEEKS ago we needed to go up near the Lebanese border for a family celebration, and we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity to take the day and hike up north, to see the flowers blooming and streams filled with water that this blessedly wet winter had wrought.
But there was no one to give us direction, no one to tell us where to go. The Youngest was off soldiering somewhere, and Skippy was at work. We were on our own.
That was the bad news. The good news was that we were able to figure it out – it wasn’t that complicated. We went to Google, typed in treks in the North, and found ourselves a few hours later at place called the Sa’ar Falls on the Golan, watching water fall and listening to it roar.
And there was a certain empowerment in this that went beyond just being able to figure out where to tour.
When children are small and growing up, they are clearly and fully dependent on their parents. That is obvious. What is less obvious is that the parents also grow – slowly, imperceptibly – dependent on their children as well. Maybe not for food and shelter, but for joy, purpose, meaning, comfort, even happiness. Then the kids leave the house – and you are on your own.
But standing on a damp day in the Golan Heights with only The Wife – sans children – by my side, looking at a waterfall I previously did not know existed, it dawned on me: We can do this – even without the kids – and it is good.