Miss you! xxoo
It was how I finished every bunk note I sent to my two sons, Noah, 14, and Chase, 12, at sleep away camp this summer. But when I went to press SEND on the last letter of the year, a nagging feeling came over me as I realized that this was just the fourth missive I had written to them in as many weeks. And it had been days since I had scoured the camp website to catch a photo of my precious punims. Suddenly the unthinkable reality was all too clear. I was lying. I did not, in fact, miss my children. At all.
What kind of Jewish mother am I???
It was indeed a quandary. After all, I love my boys as much as the next mom. During the year, I happily mother them across all the required fields of engagement, even spoiling them at times much to my husband’s chagrin. We enjoy each other’s company and, in the final weeks before they left for camp, I found myself marveling at how much they have grown in the last year and how proud I am of who they are each becoming. So why over the past four weeks did I sometimes forget that I even had children?
The answer came over the next several days as I engaged in a period of self reflection… and a well timed lunch with my closest girlfriends whose children also spent the summer weeks away at camp. Apparently, I am not alone in my sociopathic detachment from the fruit of my loins.
“It’s been the best summer of my life,” my one friend confided in a semi-hushed tone over our salads, confirming my theory that it isn’t politically correct to be enjoying these childless days. Neither one of us was ready to shout from atop the Facebook news feed that we were “FREE AT LAST AND LOVIN’ IT.” For my friend, it was about spending time with her husband without having to worry about feeding, driving, nurturing, entertaining, and nagging her daughters for a few precious weeks. My other friend offered the theory that the mothers who desperately miss their children really don’t like their husbands. The kids serve as a much needed distraction from their empty marriages. Troubling, but conceivable.
Hmm. My condition was sounding better by the minute. My indifference around my children’s absence was REALLY a reflection on how strong my marriage was. That’s the ticket! But it wasn’t. Not really.
My thoughts turned inward and I dug just a bit deeper. And as I reflected on the fact that my apathy had gradually grown since the kids first went away, it started to make perfect sense.
When it comes down to it, “missing” and “needing” are tethered emotions. I didn’t miss my kids because they didn’t miss me. Their cheery letters and smiling faces on the camp website was Morse code directly to my heart which said all was A-OK. They didn’t need me.
But that’s only half the story.
I, too, had changed. For what might be the first time, I didn’t need to be needed. For the last 15 years, I have operated under the Mommy Doctrine which explicitly states that no one can take better care of my children than I can. And while that provision still holds merit, it is becoming less true for both my boys and for me. Not only can others provide adequate care for my kids, but the boys can also take care of themselves. With that independence comes a serious loosening of the emotional apron strings with which we have become so familiar. It’s called “growing older” and it’s bittersweet and poignant and gut wrenching. But it is also exactly how it should be.
Not missing my boys wasn’t at all about my deficiency as a parent, but about my development as one. When we picked them up this Sunday, I still got teary when I first laid my eyes on their sweet, joyful faces. The urge to make them a sandwich took over my entire being during the car ride home. And I want to hear all of their stories from our days apart. Some things won’t ever change, even as we grow. I may not always miss them when they are gone, but my happiness will forever be predicated on theirs, whether they are across the room or across the country.
Perhaps I’m still a good Jewish Mom after all.