In most ways I’m a classic Jewish mother. If I’m cold, I tell my kids to put on sweaters. I make chicken soup on Friday nights. (It’s good and good for you!) I worry more than I should. But I depart from the stereotypes in one significant way: I really am not interested in hearing from my kids every day when they are away at sleepaway camp.
And yet, they call. They call from the bus to tell me they are on the way back from the water park, but the reception is patchy up in the mountains and usually the call breaks up, requiring several more calls to complete the message. They call to say that while the showers are flooding the bunks, they are still having a great time. They call to tell me about the successful outing to Wal-Mart to get fly swatters and candy. They call to tell me which bunk mates are being kicked out of camp for having taken a boat for an unauthorized midnight ride in the lake. They call me when their tummies hurt.
Look, I’ll match my maternal love for my kids any day with any other mother on the planet. My kids are fabulous, smart, and good-looking (objectively speaking). I am enormously grateful to be their mom. But I had thought that going away to camp meant going away. In so doing, my urban kids would theoretically revel in the freedom of being in the great outdoors, parent-free for one month. Meanwhile, we parents could learn to cope in a small, measured dose with an empty nest. Sheesh, if they really missed me that much, how come they never listen to me when they’re at home?
When the kids are home in Los Angeles, I worry about them when they are out too late or seem in a deep funk, but I am blissfully worry-free when my kids are at camp — until they call me at midnight from the bus somewhere in the mountains. Then I think: They’re on a dark and windy mountain road! Is the driver responsible, cautious, and still alert at this hour? When they call to report on the bug problem, I think: West Nile virus! Are they using the bug spray I packed? Ignorance is bliss, and I wish I weren’t always so well informed.
Moreover, it turns out I am also expected to email my daughter several times a week. I had thought I was doing something special by writing her a real note card that had to be mailed with a stamp, but this didn’t rate. “All the other parents” are busy emailing their campers, and so must I. God knows what damage I might do to my child if she doesn’t hear from me electronically every 48 hours. Talk about pressure!
The good news is, I absolutely must find something fun to do all by myself, not because I’m bored — just because this way I’ll have something worth sharing on the next phone call.