This morning, sometime before six, Missy Younger took an intercity bus to her first year of sherut leumi service. Computer Cowboy schlepped with her and her suitcase, her bag of electronic devices, and her daypack, to the stop for the first of her several transportation connections.
Hours earlier, I had: rolled her clothes into those vessels’ small spaces, made room for her favorite stuffed animal, and rewrapped some of her snackies so they wouldn’t leak. I didn’t care that last night had melted into “tomorrow;” like my husband, I was creating a bridge to our younger daughter’s next parsha.
Dr. Yitzchak Schechter writes in “Megillas Naami: Identity, Alienation, and Redemption,” that “taking on a new identity is a transformative and active process, not something that occurs because of a past association or fleeting connection.” Identity transformations, in other words, take time and effort.
When a child takes on new characteristics, so, too, do his or her mom and dad. The latter set of changes, likewise, takes time and effort. For now, I’m allowed to cry on the sofa or to walk around feeling crummy. Computer Cowboy is allowed more than his usual quota of bad jokes. We cope.
Sure, we’ve had the honor to know scores of yeshiva bucharim and seminary girls. Please understand that when it’s your own kid, it’s “different.”
In our family, prior to Missy Younger shipping off, b’ayin tova, Missy Older already married and moved elsewhere, and Older Dude already became a proud member of the Givati Brigade. Only Younger Dude any longer bops around this place in search of fun or calories. Please realize, each child is a complete world of its own and when one such world changes orbit, the entire system feels the impact.
Missy Younger is sass and wit. She is articulate, funny and compassionate.
She is going to work in a program for boys and girls who only go home at bedtime. She will help them with time management, with homework, with social skills, with nutrition, and more.
She’ll need to be streetwise and people savvy. She’ll need patience. She’ll need new stores of empathy. She’ll need more Hebrew and some Russian. She’s gone.
The secular song writers (we’re supposed to be able to learn from everyone), Daryl Hall and John Oates, wrote and performed a song about lost romantic love, “She’s Gone.” That piece’s lyrics can be aptly applied to parents’ feelings of watching their offspring fly away (albeit, we frummies are not likely to seek out [deals with] the yetza hara, to turn to drinking for comfort, or to seek, has v’shalom, suicide as an answer to loss). Keeping empty nesting in mind, consider Hall and Oates’ words;
Everybody's high on consolation
Everybody's trying to tell me what's right for me
My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon
But it's plain to see that they can't comfort me
Sorry Charlie for the imposition
I think I've got it, got the strength to carry on
I need a drink and a quick decision
Now it's up to me, ooh what will be
She's gone oh I, oh I'd
Better learn how to face it
She's gone oh I, oh I'd
Pay the devil to replace her
She's gone - what went wrong
Up in the morning look in the mirror
I'm worn as her tooth brush hanging in the stand
My face ain't looking any younger
Now I can see love's taken her toll on me
Think I'll spend eternity in the city
Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away
And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories
But they can never be what she was to me
On the one hand, we adults pray to find our help opposites and to marry them. We pray to have children and to have healthy ones. We pray to merit watching those children grow. We pray to be able to transplant them to Israel. Nonetheless, even when all of those prayers are answered, because the parent/child attachment is real and profound, we hurt when our children move on.
So, we pray more. We pray for their safety. We pray for their happiness. We pray for their further growth.
We pray that they don’t forget their Im and Abba, too. Let’s not fool ourselves that we remain invested in their lives even after they move out.
Racheli Reckles writes, in “Spiritual Shopping,” about Rabbi Brody’s conception of persona prayer; “personal prayer is like money, and blessings are like items in the store. Each blessing comes with its own price tag. The greater the blessing, the more prayer required to get it. At any moment, things can change for you- all you need to do is keep adding to your spiritual bank account!”
Maybe one reason the Aibishter gave us sons and daughters was so that we would remain close to him. After eighteen, twenty, or some other similar number, of years spent sharing life’s intimacies (e.g. dirty laundry, cooking, interpersonal relationships, etc. etc.), it’s tough to let go. A dishonest parent is one who says they feel nothing when their children strike out on their own.
Yet, if we earn the zehut to see our kids grow up, then we receive, simultaneously, the need to release newfound worries. Every stage is an age and every age needs prayer.
In our family, Missy Younger claims that after a second year of sherut leumi (she hopes to be accepted into an international program), she plans to return to Jerusalem and to live at home while attending university…unless, of course, she marries first. She’s begged us not to downsize our apartment, quite yet, and not to give her room away, in the interim, to any of our many Shabbot guests.
She does not see herself as having shed her girlhood, but as having “temporarily” left off from dwelling with her mom, dad, and remaining sibling. I suspect her perspective will change in the near future.
Computer Cowboy and I are going to take this change in small bites. Missy Younger didn’t go from diapers to high school graduation in one leap. We’re not going to be able to make this transition with just a single pack of tissues or with just a few new light bulb jokes.
Missy Younger will continue to make us proud and grateful. She’s already making us lonely. She’s gone….