We recently sent our firstborn daughter to Jerusalem for a year of post-high school Jewish studies.
After 18 years of heartfelt effort to instill in her the preciousness of being Jewish, it was time to cut the umbilical cord and send her off into the great unknown. Well, I guess you wouldn't call an all-girl, Orthodox school with a 10 p.m. curfew "the great unknown," but it was her first time being away from home and Jerusalem isn't exactly a hop, skip and a jump from Los Angeles if she gets the chickenpox or homesick.
I started getting weepy about six months prior to "Departure Day."
I started getting weepy about six months prior to "Departure Day." Every holiday it crossed my mind that next year we'd be minus one. Two weeks prior to D-day, I was in a state of high anxiety, trying to imagine life without her presence. A major chapter in my (and her) life was coming to a close. I knew that once a child leaves home the relationship changes forever. And I didn't feel quite ready to face the music.
"You better not cry at the airport. You'll totally embarrass me," she said.
"I'll try not to," I replied, "but don't count on it."
As the El Al plane taxied to the gate I could feel that mentally our daughter was already gone, anxious to have her freedom and independence ... anxious to experience the thrill of being on her own, of exploring new horizons ... anxious to get away from Mom and Dad. Her goodbye hug felt like she was already a million miles away.
Meanwhile, I was praying. "Please God, keep her safe from harm. Send her friends who will be there for her, teachers to inspire her and experiences that will nurture her connection with You. Help her to make all that we have taught her real to her. And don't let her do anything stupid."
Why is it so hard to let go?
I think as the time approaches for our children to leave, we start to panic. We take stock of what we fear we may not have given them that will be vital for their success in life. Did we build their self-confidence? Did we teach them how to make and keep fulfilling relationships? To cherish what it means to be Jewish? To understand the meaning of life? Did we have enough time for them? Express enough love? Time has run out and there's no going back.
Another contributing factor is that leaving home is preceded by that often turbulent period called adolescence. Door slamming, moodiness and the conviction that parents no longer know anything about life replace peaceful moments of cuddling little ones on the couch.
Teenagers can be very fragile human beings with raging hormones and a lot of insecurities about who they are and how they fit in. And parents can become very insecure about their parenting abilities as their children pull away and test the limits.
Parents can become very insecure about their parenting abilities as their children pull away and test the limits.
This tumultuous time can continue right up until D-day, making separation even more difficult and emotional. We want to part on a good note with closeness and a feeling of closure from those turbulent teens. We want to see that they came out on the other side mature and ready to face life's challenges. We want to be reassured that we did a good job.
She waved goodbye and walked confidently past the gate without looking back. I was so proud of her.
We drove back home in the early morning fog. Entering the house, I walked briskly past her room, got into bed and pulled the covers over my head. When I awoke, I knew the hardest part was over.
The anticipation of something difficult is usually worse then the reality. Thankfully I still have a house full of children to enjoy and appreciate.
And I also have a heightened sense of how quickly children grow and how precious every moment with them is.