A small launch

This is the time of year when parents gather to launch their small, twig-tied boats down creeks. 

Not big launches – not the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Just small trips down trickling streams. 

The kids are going to sleepaway camp, or grandma’s house, or foreign travel. 

Tonight Becca heads off on a month-long trip to Israel organized by our local Jewish Federation. A month is the longest time that she’ll have been away from us.

Photo credit: Ilana DeBare

She is terrifically excited about the trip, and I can see why. The itinerary is impressive – not just the typical tourist stops like the Kotel (Western Wall) and Masada, but visits to Arab and Druze villages inside Israel, a morning working with pre-schoolers in a low-income Tel Aviv neighborhood, a day that simulates Israeli army training, two days of hiking in the Negev. Yes, I know that it is all still tourism, and in the grand scheme of middle eastern politics it will be a pretty one-sided view of things, but it looks really hands-on and fun. It is a lot more of the country than I got to see when I spent several months on a kibbutz right after high school. And she will have plenty of time over the next few years to deepen her understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – returning, if she wants, to visit the West Bank or work on a kibbutz or sail on a flotilla or do whatever she feels is left out from this trip. 

So she’s excited about the itinerary. But she’s equally excited about being “on her own.” 

Even with 90 (!) other kids and attentive adult supervision, when you are on a different continent from your parents you are in fact “on your own.” 

I remember as a child being taken to the bus for sleepaway camp, which on the East Coast typically lasted six or eight weeks rather than the wimpy five-day or eight-day camp sessions they do out here in temperate California. My parents would bring me to the  bus in downtown Manhattan and load my trunk and give me lots of hugs and I would wave a borderline-teary goodbye from the bus window. 

Decades later, I felt a sense of outraged betrayal when my father told me that as soon as the bus pulled away, the parents all broke into cheers. 

(Of course they were thinking: A month of martinis! Adult conversation! Non-furtive sex!

Now, I’m not going to cheer when Becca gets on the bus that will take the East Bay kids to the airport. But I feel very good about her going. 

I suppose some parents are all knotted up inside at the prospect of being away from their child for a month. There was one father at the orientation who kept badgering the staff to set up a Skype connection so he could talk to his child on a regular basis during the trip. (They declined.) Other parents were all a-flutter about safety and security. 

I spent enough time in Israel in my teens and 20s to be unfazed by ha’matzav, or “the situation.” Becca will be safer on this trip than crossing the Bay Bridge on a Friday night surrounded by God-knows-how-many drunken drivers. She will have a great time. Sam and I will also have a great time on our own vacation (except maybe for the part where he is whipping me up those Czech hills on our bicycles). 

So, no worries. We’ll all have great summers. 

But still, the past two days I have been running around like a maniac buying little items. 

Sunscreen that isn’t on the Environmental Working Group’s list of toxic dangers. An adapter plug for her iPod charger. Toothpaste in a small travel size.  A laundry marker. Too distracted by all the little things that need to be bought and organized, I haven’t even considered trying to do any writing. 

It’s slightly talismanic: If she has the right kind of sunscreen and an extra pair of sunglasses, all will be well.  

And the funny thing is, I know all will be well. But I still need to find that sunscreen and those sunglasses. 

This is one of these parenting moments where little actions carry the luggage for very big feelings. It reminds me of Becca’s first soccer scrimmage, back when she was in first grade. We stood on the sidelines, watching the little girls run around chaotically, and glomming together in packs wherever the ball was, and I rooted “Go Becca!”

I was rooting for her to kick the ball. But I also felt like I was rooting for her whole life — standing there shouting “Go Becca!” with all the power in my lungs and asking the universe to make her strong and smart and have good values and find a passion and build wonderful relationships and succeed in school and work….

Well, fast-forward ten years and instead of rooting I am shopping.

Sunglasses? Check. Sunscreen? Check. The white v-neck t-shirts she wanted? Nope, couldn’t find them but she will survive.

In just an hour and a half, we’ll head over to the bus and I’ll drop my little twig-raft in the stream – knowing that in two years, we’ll be doing a similar launch through the equivalent of the Golden Gate. 

Out into a real sea.


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4 Responses to “A small launch”

  1. johnmangels Says:

    Sounds like a great trip.

  2. Lisa Brodkey Says:

    Ilana, Gabi left Sunday night for 5 weeks in Eastern Europe and Israel with NFTY. I can totally relate!

  3. Patty Nolan Says:


    Our 2 are off for their first overnight camps this summer. Not being experienced, of course, their time away is overlapping for all of 4 days, with no weekend for their parents to spend sans kids! However, the time will still be quite momentous. Having read your post, I also hope some day they will go off to Israel, too.

  4. Susan Fernbach Says:

    and to think I knew Becca when she hung out in a portable car seat in my living room. Twig-raft launch indeed! Any chance she could do a guest post upon her return?

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