As our children grow into tweens, teens and then (gulp) young adults, life changes, sometimes in ways we do not expect. We may anticipate the teenage eye roll, or the turning of a cheek when we try to kiss them publicly, or even that their friends will come to be vital to their very existence. What we may not be ready for is that as life’s changes pull them away from us both emotionally and physically, we will miss them.
Missing them may be unavoidable, but if we can remember to cherish every moment that our children choose to spend with us, those moments will help sustain us when they are away. Cliché? Of course. However, in this cliché, as in most, lies the truth.
As Joey and Sara get ready to leave for college, Jonathan prepares to get his driver’s license, start senior year and the college application process, and Hannah gets set to enter 10th grade, I like to remember when Joey was the age of Joshua, our youngest, and preparing to enter middle school. That was when the kids were 11, 9, almost 8, almost 6 and 2. In those days, summers were filled with family time. Everyone was on the same schedule, as the four oldest attended the same camp where their dad worked, and Joshua went to a local shul camp and was home with me in the afternoons. We were all home together after camp every day, in the same place, communicating in some way, until they went to bed.
I think I failed to fully appreciate those days. If I had been able to see the future, or had bothered to remember my own teenage years, I might have stopped to not just smell the roses, but appreciate the nuances of each and every flower. Imagine having all of your children under one roof nearly every day! I know, some of you reading this are thinking, “That sounds like my worst nightmare.” I hear you and respect your opinion; I just disagree. To me, there was nothing better than the days when everyone was home, eating dinner and spending time together.
In those days, the four older kids woke up at the same time, ate breakfast together, got dressed and sunscreened, and left for camp with their dad, leaving Joshua home with me, to snuggle a bit before getting ready for camp. Heaven!
Today? Summer weekdays are possibly more hectic than weekdays during the school year, since during the summer no one is on the same schedule. I am lucky to catch a glimpse of even a couple of the older kids before they head off to work. The end of the day is similar, with the two older boys not returning home until 8 or so almost every night. Family dinner? A thing of the past. Oh, how I miss it.
Once everyone is finally home, instead of watching TV together like they used to, the older kids go out. The two (almost three) who drive take cars or drive with friends, bringing up a host of other parental concerns that are beyond the scope of this article. If they are not out, they are in their rooms, involved in very serious video chats or watching, streaming or bingeing something on their phones or laptops, earbuds firmly in place. These things, of course, take precedence over any possible family time that might be proposed.
On summer evenings when one or more of his siblings is home and available, Joshua is thrilled to have their company and life seems almost as it used to be. As the “baby,” he just has to “ask and [he] shall receive.” “Please take me for a Slurpee” is a common refrain, and whether he is asking a sibling or me, we are happy to oblige. For me, though, these trips to 7-Eleven are somewhat bittersweet, as I am well aware that in a few short years he will be taking these trips with friends rather than family.
Sundays in the summer used to be sacred. We looked forward to the family days all week, eagerly anticipating a trip to Island Beach State Park (where we did not run into Governor Christie) or Six Flags Great Adventure. I would busily prepare bagel sandwiches and cut up fruit before Shabbat and pack tons of snacks to take with us. We would wake up early on Sunday and easily be out the door by 8:30 a.m., ready for a day of fun and family memories.
If you asked our kids what they remember about those days, I am sure some would comment on how crowded the car was, but all of them would mention the scavenger hunt. Our kids were challenged to complete a scavenger hunt, containing almost 100 items, during the course of the day’s car ride to and from our destination. We searched for things like a motorcycle with more than one rider, a broken-down truck, a “Support our Troops” car magnet or bumper sticker (harder to find than you might expect), a guy with a kippa (easier than you might expect), a car with a flag from another country, and even someone picking his nose. The most difficult—happily—was the hearse. I believe we completed the entire scavenger hunt only a couple of times, but the promised reward of ice cream was always a special treat.
Today, Sundays look a little different. We are lucky if Joshua has one sibling home with him, as the others are either working or out with friends. And no one is even awake by 8:30, let alone out the door. A couple of weeks ago, my husband, Rich, Joshua and I went to Deal to enjoy a quiet beach day. I think Joshua had fun being the center of attention, but it was definitely not the same.
Rich and I decided that we needed to schedule some quality family time this summer, so we picked two Sundays and told the kids that they needed to be available. Our first Family Sunday was in mid-July, and we went tubing on Lake Hopatcong. This is something most of the kids had done with various camps, but we had never done all together. What an adventure! Aside from how much fun everyone had (other than Rich, who is not a fan of boats, even with anti-nausea meds), we had a great day as a family. Every kid was able to go on the tube with each of his or her siblings, and when they weren’t on the tube, they were on the boat, with Rich and me, where we had two hours of relaxed bonding time. A picnic lunch and ice cream rounded out the day, and I am happy to have lots of photos to add to the album.
Family Sunday #2 was just this past weekend, when we spent the day at Hurricane Harbor, followed by school shopping at the Jackson Outlets. Although this is something we do every summer, we
always enjoy the day and the special rituals that make the day memorable, like multiple trips around the Lazy River, SuperPretzels with lots of mustard for lunch and, of course, ice cream at day’s end.
As much as we love having our kids home with us, we know that change is part of life and is even a good thing. We don’t want our post-college kids living with us forever! It’s just that right now, these days, with the kids slowly leaving the nest, we know that making time to be together is most important.
By Jill Kirsch
Jill Kirsch is the senior editor at The Jewish Link but, for the purposes of this article, she is the mother of five children ages 11 through 20 and loves every second that she gets to spend with them.