Wednesday, April 9, 2008

If I Tried To Tell You

If I tried to tell you about our weekend--really tell you about it--you might not understand. That's what's been keeping me quiet these past few days. Telling you about it and having you not understand would be worse than not telling you at all. Because it meant so much to me, that would hurt too much.

Plus, I'm not good with this kind of writing...the kind about emotions that you can't really label or explain in concrete terms. So, if I tried to tell you about our weekend in the earnest and "please understand me" way I'd like to, I would probably fail. And that, too, would hurt.

So, instead, I'm just going to give you the outline of our weekend, without the attempt at the emotional impact. Most of you, I'm betting, will be able to read between at least some of the lines and understand.

The background: Em, N, and I spent the weekend at a 'family camp' in the Malibu mountains, participating with about 60 of our temple friends in what is known as a Shabbaton. (The weekend was expensive enough to make it not worth dragging Baroy--who wasn't especially excited about the whole 'camp' thing in the first place--along and have to worry about boarding Snug and all that.) Although it was sponsored by the synagogue's religious school, of which I am the PTA president, the Shabbaton was planned by a group of women who allowed me to stay almost entirely on the periphery, and thus I was able to simply sit back and enjoy the weekend without feeling the need to 'work it' at all.

Because of the religious school link, the majority of the participants were parents with school-aged children, and the place we gathered treated our gathering somewhat like a traditional summer camp, with separate bunks for the children (who were divided by gender and had counselors who slept with them) and for adults (also divided by gender, but without the obvious need for counselors to keep us on the straight and narrow), as well as motel-style rooms for those adults who didn't want to sleep apart from their partners or en masse in a room full of bunk beds.

The outline:

1. I slept in a bunk with six other of my girlfriends. (Hint for reading between this line: Even though the bunk was cold and some of my roomies snored, there was a remarkable amount of giggling that went on among us all-over-40 ladies.)

2. Em slept in a bunk with her counselors and six of her girlfriends. (Hint for reading between this line: If Em could LIVE in a bunk with six of her girlfriends, she'd totally do it. She was BORN for this kind of weekend.)

3. After initially insisting that he was going to sleep with Mama and absolutely no way would he sleep in a bunk, and did he say no way? because really, no way...and after being told this was FINE, this was what I expected, it was entirely up to him...N slept in a bunk with his counselors and four of his friends. (Hint for reading between this line: Oh, please. If you don't get the ENORMOUS MONUMENTALNESS of that statement, you know nothing about my son. The fact that I just made up a word like monumentalness should give it away. If not, the fact that I told the two 18-year-old counselors who managed to change N's mind about his sleeping arrangements in under two hours that I was going to buy each of them a car might also give you an idea.)

4. During Friday night services, N found himself outside behind the full-wall plate-glass window that faced the congregation, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to do a little tap-dance while the rabbi was leading us in the Shema. (Hint for reading between this line: Although Em and I are still cringing in embarrassment, I'm pretty sure it was that moment that made N the complete and total darling of not only every member of our congregation, but every staff member at the camp. Man, did those college kids eat him up!)

5. During Saturday morning services, Em and her class got up in front of everyone and led several of the prayers, including the v'ahavta, which is the prayer that follows the shema. (Hint for reading between this line: It was Em's voice leading all her classmates'; she sang with power and understanding. She KNOWS this prayer. This is something that makes me melt with pride...and maybe a little jealousy, since I've been trying to learn it for ages, but can't read enough Hebrew yet to do it right.)

6. During the family activities Saturday morning, Em had a full-scale freak-out at the thought of trying the ropes course/zip line, and yet managed to go a little way up the rock wall, even if she was sobbing throughout and for as much as 10 minutes after. When she'd calmed a little, she went with N and I to tie-dye t-shirts and was so cheerful that people kept asking her if she had allergies, never suspecting that her eyes were swollen from crying. (Hint for reading between this line: Em's ability to bounce back in the face of even self-imposed adversity is awesome. She inspires me.)

7. During the adult activities Saturday afternoon, I went on a hike in the mountains, took a yoga class, was transported through an hour-long meditation that felt like maybe 15 minutes, and then sat at the top of a hill with a small group of my friends as the sun began to set, studying Torah with the rabbi. (Hint for reading between this line: Every single moment of those four-plus hours was sublimely spiritual in a way I don't think I've ever experienced before.)

8. Did I mention that N slept in a bunk? Away from me? With kids his own age? And that he went to every single activity they did, and even participated in some of them? And did I mention that this is absolutely unprecedented? (Once again, no between-the-lines reading needed.)

9. During the Saturday night campfire and sing-along, N--apparently exhausted by the unprecedented monumentalness of the weekend--fell asleep in my arms as I rocked him back and forth. Em, just a few bodies down from me, came over and smoothed the hair away from his forehead and kissed him gently, then kissed me and went back to swaying with her arms around her friends, singing at the top of her lungs. The girls' bunk later went on a late-night flashlight hike, and apparently laid on top of a big rock and studied the stars. (Hint for reading between this line: This is exactly the kind of childhood experience I want for my kids.)

10. Once the kids were settled in with their counselors each night, I realized I was totally and completely off the hook. We kidless grownups were feted with wine and cheese the first night, and martinis and kick-ass guacamole the second in the camp's 'conference center.' We schmoozed and laughed and bonded, and kept marveling over and over at how it was perhaps the first time that we all had been able to really talk without one or more children interrupting for food or water or to have us settle an argument. (Hint for reading between this line: This is exactly the kind of adult experience I want for me. Not every day, and not even every week. But sometimes, being really and truly not-the-mama even for just a few hours is incredibly refreshing.)

11. At the 'closing circle' organized by the camp director, kids and adults were encouraged to share their feelings about the weekend. More than a few voices--including a couple of adult male voices--broke while speaking. (Hint for reading between this line: It's one thing to find a particular experience remarkable. It's another to realize that you're not alone and that, in fact, there are many others who felt exactly as you did, even if you can't really express how you feel. That, I think, is the very definition of gratification.)

Don't get me wrong. I've had wonderful experiences before, and I hope to have many more in the future. This one was different simply in that it was so unexpected. When we do our annual trip to Big Bear, when we travel to visit family, when we went on our cruise a few years back...I have and do look forward to those sorts of events with delicious anticipation. In this case...well, frankly, I looked forward to it with wariness and more than a dose of dread about just how difficult it would be to handle the whole roughing it aspect with N hanging on to my arm for 48 hours and no Baroy around to help me out. So when what came to pass came to pass, when the reality so outstripped what I was anticipating, it almost felt like some kind of cosmic surprise party. ("Really? All for me? Oh, you shouldn't have.")

In other words, this was not the One True Transformative Experience of My Life or anything like that. But still. If I tried to tell you how much it meant to me, how much my mood has lifted and my soul calmed...I'm certain I'd come up short. In fact, I know I have.


kristenspina said...

It sounds awesome. How wonderful that you are able to see and appreciate the little blessings--and the great big one too!

Elizabeth said...

Wow, that sounds amazing. I'm planning on taking my boys to Havurah Institute this summer, and hope it's as good an experience.

Meg said...

You told it beautifully and with great meaning. It is crystal clear how meaningful and wonderful this weekend was. Even without your hints, it was clear how remarkable it was. Your writing is what keeps me reading.

Green said...

That was beautiful. It's not just because I read Dan Savage's column before coming here that I got teary.

Please thank N for this former dancer, who can't believe she never thought of dancing to any of the prayers.

Roni said...

Beautiful. What a wonderful experience to share with your kids. I thought you explained it quite nicely.

po said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. So wonderful!

divinemissk said...

sounds like so much fun! i love camp and can't wait for orion to be able to experience all of the fun and magic of that world.