Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Full Circles

"Tree of Life"
It's four am and I should be asleep.

I have a long day of driving ahead of me, up to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts and then back home again.

I am taking Jacob up to camp.

It's the same special needs program at the sweet, wonderful Jewish sleep-away camp he went to and loved last year.

But still, sleep is not coming.

On top of everything else that is making me anxious these days, there is this:

Even though he went last year, even though he is a year older and his communication skills have jumped leaps and bounds over where he was a year ago?

My son Jacob is still quite autistic; still unable to reliably report on his activities; still as likely to answer "yes" to any and all questions asked of him, because he knows that answer makes us questioners happy, as opposed to trying to represent some sort of truth.

"Did you do math is in school today, Jake?"


"Did you play basketball today?"


"Did you go to the moon today, Jake?"


(So my son is still an astronaut.)

And also, though he can say "I want..." this or that, will tell you "No, I don't like that!" if he hates something you've given him to eat or wear... still, he doesn't really know how to thoroughly advocate for himself yet.

I worry.

And I'm struck once again by how different my feelings were two nights ago, preparing to send his twin brother Ethan off to HIS one week sleep-away camp; the excitement, the certainty that he would be having a good time, easily able to let the folks there know what he needs, to take care of himself.

Twins. But so different.

<> = <> = <>

On road, in the early morning of what is sure to be a beautiful day, Jake is in the back seat and we are listening to pop music on the radio.

Driving up to New England, the highway passes through the Riverdale area of The Bronx; means I pass right by the exit I took to go see and take care of my parents for two years, in this, their old car, now mine. Today the exit sign for 254th street brings my heart into my throat, tears burning my eyes.

My mother so diminished and frail now, hurting and in the hospital. I am contrasting that with visions of my parents when they first moved here, back from Florida together, the two of them. So much younger, so full of life in 2005.

Seven years.

And he is now gone and she is in the endgame. And my children are now ten, double digits; on the precipice of launching into teendom. Life flowing in two directions all around me.

<> = <> = <>

It has indeed turned out to be a beautiful day, the finest of this whole hot miserable summer. I am sitting on a bench in the outdoor sanctuary at Jacob's camp. In the place where, as 14 year old, I had lain a mosaic; now long gone, replaced by a lovely tree of life ark.

This camp has changed over years since 1974, yet also so much remains the same. Walking past the old red barn, chills ran down my spine, memories shuffling past. Last year the special needs camp was held at this camp's sister location nearby. But this year: here.

Last year the opening ceremony was lovely, but did not evoke the past.

This year I sit in this exact same spot as my fourteen year-old self, and past and present swirled together like the light and dark sections of a mixed pumpernickel bread. As we sing the the words of the prayers, my arm around Jacob who is leaning deep, snuggled into my side, I am crying.

Growing up in non-religious household, going away to this camp at fourteen was the first time I was really exposed to Hebrew and prayer. That one summer, four and a half weeks, really, have remained a deep & meaningful time, are a part of shaping who I am.

Not particularly observant now, there is still, somewhere in my core, a rooted sense of Jewish self, an unshakable identity. And I know my one month here at Jewish sleep-away camp instilled that.

People have asked me why my near fervently non-religious parents had sent me here, of all places. And there was the official, and I'm sure true reason: I had always wanted to go away to camp, they wanted to give me what I wanted before it was too late, and this was the cheapest camp they could find.

But I also have to think that they somehow knew, maybe even subconsciously, that I needed this, needed to belong to something larger than just myself and my tiny nuclear family.  

And now I sit, my son at my side, my mother in a hospital bed, physically distant but ever on my mind. And in front of me, in this sanctuary, is a beautiful, sculptural Tree of Life.

A visceral image of what I sit in the middle of every day, these days, caring for the young and the old. Looking backwards and forwards.

But today, trying to be just here. In and of this moment.

And then my son hops up, heeds the call for campers to make their departure. He plants one more kiss on my chin, runs up the hill to the awaiting counselors. Just when I think he's off with nary a glance back, he turns, offers me a big smile and wave and happy "Goodbye, Mom!" shouted at the top of his lungs.

And he's gone.

Jake waving goodbye

Just Write

I am linking this up with my friend Heather's Just Write


  1. There's nothing so much fun as camp when you're young. And I hope you and your husband get a bit of a grown up camp going at home while they're away. Have some fun (and sleep). xxx

  2. Beautiful. Thinking of you and your Mom. I'm so glad I got to meet her in April. xo

  3. You write so beautifully and poignantly Varda. Hope you can replenish a bit while your sons are away.

  4. Just lovely, Varda. Sending you and your mother good thoughts. I am so struck by that all encompassing statement - "Life flowing in two directions all around me."

    1. Thanks, Jenni. I think that's the signature position of this whole "sandwich generation" thing - watching my children develop and their lives expand while simultaneously my parents disintegrate and their lives contract.

  5. A wonderful write, Varda. And I hope he has a wonderful time.



I am so sorry to have to turn word verification back on, but the spam-bots have found me - yikes!