I just dropped off a piece of my heart at the International Terminal for a once-in-a-lifetime Israel excursion. Sending my kid halfway around the world while I stay home is a completely nerve wracking experience but I did my best to keep it in check. My biggest hope is that he has a safe, fun, life-enriching trip. Now hold me.
That was the caption on a picture I posted last night, right before I drove my car away from Parking Lot D at O’Hare airport.
J just began the experience of a lifetime, a Birthright trip. This amazing organization provides Jewish young people aged 18-25 with a ten-day excursion that is meant to “strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish communities and solidarity with Israel.” Birthright wasn’t around when I was his age; if it had been, I would’ve jumped on the opportunity as well. His itinerary is jam-packed, featuring activities like visiting the Western Wall, spending the night in a Bedouin tent, floating in the Dead Sea (FLOATING IN THE DEAD SEA, I MEAN TAKE ME THERE RIGHT NOW), just to mention three of his action items.
Without me. Without Jim.
I’m usually pretty casual about stuff involving my boys. While we love our kids dearly (of course!), Jim and I have never been the type of parents who coddle: we’re the opposite of Helicopter Parents. We have always tried to empower our boys to make educated decisions and choices rather than hovering. We’ve tried to avoid giving them detailed road maps and projecting our own feelings and ideas on them. We’ve often answered their questions with questions. Because of that, they have grown up to be extremely well-adjusted guys who are smart, thoughtful, and productive adult-types.
Unfortunately, that easygoing spirit flies out the window when you’re dropping your “kid” off at the Turkish Airlines ticket counter to check in for a trip he’ll take mostly with strangers, excepting one long-time friend from religious school, to a small country that is rife with conflict and acts of violence.
While I never thought of it until I was going through it myself yesterday, I imagine this must have been similar to what my parents were feeling when they dropped me off at the airport for a month-long stay in Germany when I was fourteen.
If they had less to worry about regarding actual safety, I’m sure my young age more than made up for that. It’s not easy no matter how you slice it.
Dropping him off yesterday was harder than taking him to college for the first time, even though I know he’s going to have fun, I know his life will be enhanced/changed for the better, and I’m reasonably certain that he really will be safe (not only because I have confidence in the organization supporting the trip but I believe in odds, too).
College is right…over there. It’s two hours away. It’s close enough to home that should my presence become needed for any reason, I can grab my purse and go. There’s security in proximity.
Israel is waaaaaay over there. It’s on the other side of the world. While he’ll have the ability to text us and post pictures (THANK YOU, TECHNOLOGY), he’s so far away.
Believe it or not, I have been reversing my anxiety over the possible dangers of my kid traveling through Israel by reminding myself that the United States isn’t exactly the safest place right now either. This is what our world is coming to. It’s ridiculous.
Over the last three days I can’t tell you how many times I talked to him about keeping track of his passport and his camera and his wallet and his phone and his cash and how he should have fun but completely keep his eyes open to his surroundings and the people around him. Being an American in any foreign country is hard enough when you’re a fully grown adult with lots of travel experience. Being a twenty-year-old on a whirlwind tour of Israel with a bunch of other college kids requires a little more diligence and focus, and I can’t do it for him.
All of this thought and anxiety and worry, just from delivering my son to the first stop on what is going to be one of the most amazing trips he will ever take in his life.
After he received his boarding pass and handed over his suitcase, I asked him if he wanted me to wait with him while the rest of his group went through the line. I told him I was happy to stay but I didn’t mind if he wanted me to leave. He said, “I’m fine with you leaving but thanks for taking me this far.” It was all a little poetic. I smiled and sputtered out a couple more reminders about his passport and safety abroad while we were hugging each other goodbye and then, as difficult as it was, I let go.