I’ve been waiting half the summer for this — Camp Savta is finally here. My mother-in-law, originally from Israel, lives an hour and a half north of us, so she can’t help us with regular childcare. But back in April I asked her if, b’vakashah, she would keep my kids at her house for a week this summer.
They adore spending time with their Savta, and she loves them to the moon and back. She showers them with sweets and screen time. She always says yes to popcorn at the movies. They come back from her house with loads of loot from Target. Her community has a pool! And it all comes at no extra cost for my husband and me.
No doubt, Camp Savta is a very good camp.
Baruch Hashem, she said yes. The plans solidified. Half-day programs at the community center near her house were arranged. The kids got excited; my husband and I even more so.
I imagined my forthcoming freedom, and — paradoxically — how much work I would get done while they were gone. I imagined how I would sleep all the way until 7 a.m. for a week, without anyone needing accompaniment to the kitchen for a glass of water in the middle of the night, or bursting into my bedroom at dawn with some demand like, “make her stop using my stuff!”
I imagined unleashing my creative genius as I could finally, without the constant summertime distraction of my progeny, let my own thoughts flow down whichever meandering course they cared to take. The lines around my eyes and mouth would soften. I’d tackle my to-do list. Exercise. Make love to my husband. Maybe he and I could even have a whole conversation or two.
I could practically taste the sweetness of it all.
Drop-off day finally arrived — and a hitch in the plans surfaced. My daughter mysteriously came down with a fever and an upset tummy, causing me to both minimize her unwellness (100 degrees isn’t that high of a fever!) and then to feel guilty about it. Finally, with resentment in my heart, I offered to take her back home with me. This made my son happy — he’d get Savta to himself as well as all the popcorn! But my daughter wept bitterly at the prospect.
After much discussion, we decided that she could try to sleep it off at Savta’s, and that I’d be called if she didn’t feel better soon. My husband and I hugged our kids goodbye and drove the hour and a half home. That first night I tasted my freedom gingerly while half expecting a middle-of-the-night call. But it never came. Was I free?
The next day was Monday, and as I readied myself to teach yoga at the senior center, the entire process from waking to showering to eating to walking out the door felt unbelievably smooth. No one cried before breakfast or needed to be reminded to brush their hair. No one’s shoes went missing just as it was time to leave. My husband and I — neither of us morning people —passed a blessedly quiet hour. And yet, even as I glided to my car with a thermos of sweet Earl Grey in one hand and an admittedly unworried-looking face, something felt off.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. This is what I wanted, right? Total freedom from parenting for one measly week? Well, perhaps not total freedom —my kids are never far from my mind, and I’d no doubt be doing some things for them even while they were gone. But near total. Hadn’t I salivated over this week of summer freedom the way our dog drools over hamburgers on the grill? Yes. Yes, I had.
But I guess the truth is that while I crave quiet when they’re home, at this point in my life, quiet actually feels very odd. I work part time because I mother full time, and so after teaching that first morning I didn’t know whether to pounce on my long list of to-dos or take a mimosa into the bubble bath. Minutes passed, then an hour. I couldn’t quite make up my mind.
In a way, this week without my kids represents too much freedom — I can be hyper-productive during the school year because their schedule provides structure to my day. My free time is normally so limited that each minute must be maximized, but with a week’s worth of reduced responsibilities, I find I’m feeling a bit lost.
At the same time, however, one week is not nearly enough time. I know that before I even settle into childless days and nights, I’ll be collecting my kids from Savta’s and wondering what happened to the glorious, oh so quiet week.
As a meditator and yoga teacher, I believe wholeheartedly in staying present to the beauty of life as it unfolds within and around me. With that in mind, here’s my prayer for the next several days: To do a few chores. To get some good sleep. To goof off a little. To write a lot. To stop worrying about my kids. To stop worrying about whether or not I’m taking full advantage of my time off parenting. To love my kids from afar. To love my husband up close. And to remember to say toda rabah to my mother-in-law every single day.