Sisterhood Blog

Separation Anxiety: Mine, not Theirs

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Girlchik got on the camp bus yesterday with a wave and a smile, happy to head off to overnight camp and into the safe first steps toward independence for which, at 11, she is beginning to hunger. Rockerchik, who is 9, was by turns excited and having separation anxiety, bounding off the bus to give me the 10th “last hug and kiss” before she headed off to her first overnight camp experience.

I feel kind of like Rockerchik.

Since Boychik is in Israel, learning Jewish texts with great teachers and taking midnight swims in the Kinneret with new friends, this means that Hubs and I are on our own for the first time in 17 years.

As excited as I am for us to have some (much needed) time alone as a couple, it is also oddly dislocating to not have children at home.

It’s a common feeling, I know. A friend whose only child is soon heading off to his first year of college said recently “I’ve been pink slipped!” And she wasn’t talking about her day job. With her son going off, she has to internally shift her identity from what it’s been for 18 years into something a little different.

How many times have I longed for this moment? So many times, in all of those hours of kvetching and laundry and juggling an impossible number of demands. Yet this letting go thing is still hard. And I am mindful that this is but one more of the letting goes that we experience with our children constantly since the moment of their birth.

That first separation is astounding. There is nothing like the singularly odd and mammalian experience of being pregnant and feeling a developing new life move inside you. With the joy and relief of having a healthy baby in my arms, each birth experience also brought to the fore an acute awareness that this was also a profound separation.

After the complicated, difficult birth that it took to bring Boychik forth, I encountered Isaac Luria’s kabbalistic perspective on the creation of the world for the first time, as I prepared the D’var Torah to deliver at his brit milah.

It resonated like no Torah I’d ever encountered before (or perhaps even since). Luria’s concepts of tzimtzum and shvirat hakelim – the contraction and constriction of God’s presence in order to create space for the creation and the shattering of the vessels into which God had poured God’s creation but which could no longer contain it. All of this was such a clear parallel to the birth experience through which Boychik and I had just passed.

After being one being for 42 weeks (you read that right, over 10 months!), in a moment (okay, more like 14 hours), we were separate people.

As I saw this new human being emerge and realized, as I looked into his eyes for the first time, that Hubs and I could not have created him by ourselves, I experienced the paradox of God’s simultaneous immanence and transcendence, the Creator’s concurrent presence and separate-ness. And realized that creation was not possible without the withdrawing of the creating parent to make room for the new life.

Though each stage of the kids’ lives, the separations continue…as they run, screaming with manic delight away from you and toward the traffic-filled street, as toddlers…as they go to school for the day, then an overnight at a friend’s, then for a month at overnight camp. I am already bracing myself for Boychik’s anticipated departure for college in little more than a year (and hope he will want to come home often).

I know that Hubs and I remain Boychik’s touchstone even as he is enjoying the independence of being in a summer program with two dozen other teenagers half a world away. He calls and wants feedback, and it feels affirming that he does.

It is my children’s job and mine to grow and gradually separate as they launch into their adult lives, and I am grateful for the privilege of being blessed with the job of readying them. I celebrate it. But at the same time, there is a kernel of sadness that sits in the corner, small but present, as I sit and work in an empty house, not needing to hurry to be finished by the end of the school day.

Then again, I am looking forward to date night with Hubs tonight, and the pleasure of seeing a new movie and going out for a drink and not having to rush home. Because I know, as the movie title says, “The Kids are All Right.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Separation Anxiety, Parenting, Motherhood, Children, Camp

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