Essay: Poof!

Words by Sloane Citron

Words by Sloane Citron

The years of your children living at home slip by silently and stealthily like unopened bottles of champagne languishing in your pantry saved for special occasions that never happen.

It was a profound moment that is forever remembered when my oldest, Josh, was preparing to leave home for the first time. Josh was 10 and he was going to Camp Ramah in Ojai for four full weeks. It wasn’t just traumatic for me, either. All six of us gathered in the boys’ room, packing his large duffle bag, alternating tears and laughter as though he was being sent off to war instead of to sleep-away camp five hours from our home.

But still, there was meaning in that moment, the first time the six of us would be apart from each other for a significant period—not together celebrating Shabbat dinners, squabbling with each other in local restaurants or all sleeping under one roof, and we all felt the impact. It was, if you will, the first tear in the bubble that was our family.

We got in our Suburban the next day, a bright June morning, and made the drive south. Camp Ramah was a familiar place for us, since my wife and I met there during a college weekend some 17 years previously, and we’d all been there for one reason or another over the years. So, it was full circle for our children to make the trek back to the place of their origin. But dropping off our Josh was tough, and I vividly remember the first hour back on the road, the tears so dripping down my face that I could hardly see to drive. Blame some difficult childhood goodbyes.

The next year, the balloon leaked a bit more as both Josh and his sister Arielle headed to camp. Again, the tears flowing down my face made it hard to drive the first portion back north on Highway 101, but I understood that the four weeks would go by quickly until we were all reunited.

Eventually, all the children went to Camp Ramah, though Josh, not such a fan, went only for a few years and so there was never a time when all four were gone at once. By this time, though, I had grown accustomed to the short breaks in our family unity.

In the speed of a bull whip snap, though, came the big leave: college. Specifically (and he was always the front-runner), Josh leaving to go to UC Santa Barbara, his choice for higher learning. We drove our big Suburban down the coast again, this time, just west of Ojai, to the bright and beautiful campus. When we got Josh settled in his dorm room, I came to appreciate his choice. Below his room’s large glass window was a swimming pool with about two dozen students lounging, and in the near distance was the Pacific Ocean. Not too shabby.

Saying goodbye to Josh was another trying event for me, made harder still because this really was the end of the home life that once seemed as though it would last forever. But it very quickly did not last forever. I think all young parents can’t imagine the integrity of their family ending and yet, poof, it goes in a heartbeat, and leaves us wondering about the flash of time and what the hell happened.

The next year, dropping Arielle off at Berkeley was easier since we knew that she’d come home often, which she did. And eventually, Talia also headed over to Berkeley; though, because her high school love (and now husband) was at Stanford, it seemed as though she never left home, so frequent were her visits to this side of the Bay. My youngest, Coby, made the biggest leap, going to college—and then serving in the Israeli Air Force and staying in Israel.

Over the next decade or so, the children came and went, often without me even knowing when, where or why. I had the pleasure of having two of our married children spend months with us while looking for homes or going through home renovations, and that was a wonderful last gasp of the children sleeping nearby.

But now things are coming full-circle. The second oldest of my six grandchildren (soon to be seven), three-year-old Liav, now calls her mother’s (Talia’s) old bedroom, her room, and it is where she sleeps when she spends the night. There’s no putting back the genie, of course, but it’s pretty sweet when she sleeps over, and I get to read her the same books that I read to her mother, bless her, and say the Shema, just like I did with all the kids. There is a peace to it.

Time is fleeting and rigidly pushes against our hopeless attempts to contain it. We’re left to capture as much happiness and joy while our children are briefly settled under our roofs. In those years that feel as though they will last forever, it’s easy to be preoccupied with work, technology and outside interests. Better to put those aside and spend time with your kids. Poof. Trust me.