What Happened When He Came Home

May 5, 2016

My son recently came home from yeshiva in Israel for a short visit over the holidays.

As one of his younger brothers observed, “He does nothing wrong because he’s away.” What he meant, of course, was that what I couldn’t see from across the ocean didn’t bother me. There was little left to quibble over anyway, what with him out of the range of maternal pestering about chores and homework and daily responsibilities. It was up to his roommates – if they
cared at all, if they weren’t messier – to keep him in order.

Now that he was heading home, though, I worried. He’d tasted freedom and independence – semi-independence, really, since he’s still on the payroll – and nine months of coming and going as he pleased. But we still had to parent, not exactly as we had before he left for Israel last summer, though not the same as we’d done while he was abroad either. The balance had changed. We needed to reset the rules.

My husband and I strategized, agreeing to give him a wide berth. We let him borrow the car whenever he wanted it, asking only how far away he was going, when he’d be back, and that he refill the tank. I made his favorite foods. We savored every moment he chose to spend with us rather than his friends and I tried very, very hard not to hover.

As his brothers predicted, I was so happy to have him home, I let almost nothing bother me. After all, he was helpful. He ran errands and lifted heavy objects for me. He was a pleasure to spend time with and wanted to talk about big existential questions and The Future. That did not, however, excuse his growing piles of laundry that eventually got on my nerves, though a part of me wanted to be able to ignore them.

The day he left again was surreal. He was excited about going back to Israel, to his friends and to his learning. It was I who would feel the change, who would sense his absence. So we did normal things to pass the time. He went to the dentist and picked up his suit from the cleaners. We stopped for sushi and snacks for the plane. And then I drove him to the airport and stood with him as he checked in.

The airline attendant asked, “Two passengers?”

“No. Just one. Just my baby,” I said, letting that slip out before I could stop it. I noticed with relief that my son wasn’t rolling his eyes.

The attendant paused. “My baby,” she said, “is 38. But she’s still my baby.”

After he checked in, we chatted as we walked towards security. He worried that his luggage wouldn’t land with him in Tel Aviv, which it did not. I was more concerned he’d be waylaid in a foreign airport if he missed one of his connections. That morning, I’d suggested, as I suspect all Jewish mothers do, that he pack a change of clothing in his carry-on just in case.

“It’s fine, Mom,” he said, sweetly, patiently. And I, knowing my place, held my tongue.

We hugged goodbye, while he reminded me that he’d be home again in six weeks. I took a step back and watched him walk away, aware that he was simply setting out to live his life. He was moving forward, not leaving me behind. This is what’s supposed to happen, I repeated to myself under my breath. And that, I suppose, will make all the difference.