It is 2:00 as I write this. I’ve just finished a 4 page, 2500-word letter to my oldest son, who tomorrow at the tender age of 16 will fly off to Yeshiva, the first person in our family (going back as many generations as I can trace) ever to do so.
I will be flying with him from Cleveland to Missouri, along with 4 suitcases full of his cloths, books, and assorted Important Things ™. We’ve spent the week – my wife and I and his older sister and his younger brother – going through the process of packing. The thinking, the imagining, the negotiating. The endless process of making and revising list after list. The repeated runs to the store for the last minute this and beyond-the-last-minute that.
We – my wife and I and his older sister and even his younger brother – know that preparation is one of the keys to success. We also know – my wife and his older sister and his younger brother – that preparation is NOT my son’s strong suit.
In other situations we might leave things to chance, to allow this to be a learning experience. But Yeshiva is not summer camp (an experience my son has never had). This is not a 4 week summer gap where he can tough it out if he forgot to bring enough underwear or toothpaste or his favorite book and then he’ll be home and it all will go back to normal.
Yeshiva is, or at least so I’ve observed, The End. It is the end for orthodox families in the same way that university is the end for secular families. It signals the departure of the child from the daily rhythms of family life. Of course he will come home – sooner than we think, I expect. But the returns, even in the summer, will forever more have the faint taste of impermanence. If not for us, then for him. If not for him, then for us.
There are things you can prepare for – like making sure you pack enough underwear and that all the bags will clear the weight limit and that you open an electronic account with the school so if he needs money in a pinch you can take care of it at 2am when he’s panicking and you just want to still be able to make the simple things Be OK.
But there are things you can never prepare for.
And as I sit here at 2am, I’m not sure I’m prepared for that.