All the nine years that I went to sleep-away camp when I was young, I never knew that behind my mother’s sunglasses, the tears flowed.
She wrote me daily letters, never once bemoaning my absence, but instead making me feel that I was still in her purview, even though I was far away at camp. This week, so many of my friends put their children on buses and sent them off to camp. My sister donned her own dark sunglasses so that my niece wouldn’t see her melting as she waved goodbye.
My children have no intention of going anywhere. But they leave me weekly to go to their dad’s house, and after a splendid vacation in northern Michigan where we were so snuggled in being close, they had a hard time leaving yesterday for one of two summer weeks with their dad.
I imagine that I wouldn’t have a hard time sending my kids to camp because for the last four years, I’ve had to send them away every week – and three times a year, for a week at a time. It’s hard every time, but it’s also part of our lives.
Around 9 o’clock last night, the phone rang.
“Hi Mommy.” It was Eliana, on her cell phone. The call-waiting rang: Asher, clicking in.
I spoke to both of them, though we’d only parted three hours earlier, and they told me that Shaya, who was by then in bed and being in tucked in, missed me so much he had cried.
A heart breaks every time we say goodbye.
But it is reinforced, too. “Just think about how special it is that we love each other so much, we miss being together when we’re apart,” I told them yesterday before taking them to their other house. “And it won’t be long before we’re together again.” They nodded.
When I was away from home as a child, my mother never told me that she missed me, only that she loved me. I take a different approach. I never let them see my tears, but I do tell the kids that I miss them when they’re not here – and then I follow it up with a quick, “but I know you’ll be home soon.”
It’s a fine line we walk as parents, being real with our emotions or shielding the kids from what we truly feel. I believe that they should know our range of emotions as much as we know theirs – only ours should not weaken their resolve to go and do and have adventures. It is a very fine line. One careful misstep could bring the whole thing crumbling. But then, as parents, we will surely screw up and our children will surely bounce back.
Because of the divorce, my kids are reluctant to go to sleep-away camp. They shuttle back and forth enough. I loved it, and if and when they express an interest, I’ll put them on a bus.
But I cherish their desire to be a family, too, and to relish in the enduring length of summer days and nights, when one blends into the other so skillfully, and we let ourselves wander freely from sunrise to sunset, knowing each day is an opportunity for regeneration and awakening.
The cliche goes that if you love someone, set them free – if they come back to you, they were always yours and if they don’t they never were. I’m not sure it applies to kids, but it might.
There are many ways to gain one’s independence. Being a child of divorce in some ways causes kids to grow up way faster than they want to. If they’d rather climb into bed with me on a summer morning (or night), I’ll take it.
For now, the sunglasses are off.