As the summer draws to a close, Jason Kahan feels anxious and excited: soon his firstborn, Aron, is to begin his freshman year of college at UC Santa Barbara.
"On one hand, I recognize that he’s going to a good school and it’s a great opportunity for him," admits the psychologist from Playa del Rey. "But at the same time, it’s very difficult to imagine that come Sept. 23, we’re going to drop him off and he won’t be in house anymore. It’s pretty heavy duty."
Whether the distance is 100 miles or 1,000 miles, the experience of letting a child go off into the world can be just as stressful for parents as it is for the child, if not more. From nursery school to college, parents are having separation anxiety over issues such as safety, religious observance, independence and social concerns.
This year, Beatrice Levavi of Los Angeles will send her third of seven children off to college. She’s already sent Reuben to NYU, and this year, 18-year-old Max will leave home to join his big sister, Rebecca, at Brandeis. "It always feels as though someone is cutting off a limb," jokes Levavi, who works in public relations at Shalhevet High School. "At some level, it doesn’t get any easier. You feel this intense pride that they can function independently. At the same time, you feel this stark terror that you haven’t prepared them enough."
While Levavi admits that losing the presence of a child changes the family dynamic, in her own experience, the bonds have remained as strong as ever. "What you save on food bills, you spend on phone bills," she says. The advent of e-mail and Instant Messaging has also helped the children keep in touch with their older brothers and sisters.
Because her son has participated in a number of summer programs on the East Coast, actress Sarah Jane Schwartz of Hollywood Hills isn’t quite as apprehensive about Trevor’s departure for Princeton University. Schwartz is more worried about her son’s physical safety. Trevor spent this past summer at an internship in Washington, D.C.
"In a way, that was a bigger leap because while he lived in the dorms of George Washington University, he was pretty much on his own as far as getting around, and that was scary for us," Schwartz says. "This summer we were anxious to hear from him out of concern, but when he goes to Princeton, we’ll want to hear from him out of curiosity." Schwartz says that Trevor is very passionate about his Judaism and plans to become involved with the school’s active Hillel.
Ellen Greenberg of Beverly Hills has mixed emotions about seeing her daughter, Blair, off to Ohio University. "It’s difficult. In one respect, I’m going to miss her, but in the other respect I think it’s a very healthy thing for her to spread her wings, live on her own and learn self-discipline," says Greenberg, who works in the film industry. Since Blair flourished as a student at Beverly Hills High School, Greenberg is confident that her daughter will continue to prosper academically. In addition, Blair went to summer camp back east, so Greenberg feels that she’ll adjust quickly to being away from home. Her biggest concern is that Blair will leave behind the culturally rich city of Los Angeles. "She’s going to a very small college town that has one movie theater. There are no malls, no department stores and all the activities are campus-driven. I have a feeling she’s in for a culture shock," says the Beverly Hills resident.
Empty-nest syndrome isn’t unique to parents of college students. Parents of preschoolers also experience a loss when their children begin their early education. Alissa Block is adjusting to the fact that her 2-year-old daughter, Rachel, will start preschool in a few weeks at B’nai Tikvah in Westchester. After a six-month stint of caring for Rachel and her baby brother at home, Block is ready to go back to work as a legal recruiter. To ease the transition, she is currently helping Rachel assimilate to the school a few hours each week.
"It’s bittersweet," Block admits. "I’m excited for her, but it definitely pulled at my heartstrings when I saw her be aloof and not having friends, yet, while the other kids paired-off." Block is confident that both she and Rachel will adjust to the new situation, as she’s watched friends go through the process with their own children.
Heidi Birnbaum, who already went through the preschool experience with her 5-year-old son, isn’t worried about sending Jessie, her 2-year-old daughter, to Temple Etz Chaim preschool in Thousand Oaks. "I’m actually excited," admits Birnbaum."I haven’t had any free time since my son was born, because we don’t have any other family out here to watch the kids." The Agoura Hills resident is also comforted by the fact that her child will only be gone three hours per day.
As Kahan continues to prepare his son for his new life in Santa Barbara, he is comforted by the fact that Aron will be relatively close by. While his child is "not overly religious, but Jewish in his heart," Kahan is also relieved that Aron plans to be active in UCSB’s Hillel program.
While Levavi jokes that her house will be "much quieter, much neater and much less interesting" when Max leaves this fall, she feels that the process is a natural progression.
"As much as [children] are the most important things when they’re in the house, they can’t be the sum total of your life because that’s too big a burden on them," she says. "Everyone has to shift, and the family restructures itself. You begin to accept it as a healthy stage of their life and you just pray that you’ve put enough into them that they’ll flourish wherever they’re going."
Hints for Parents of College-Bound Kids
1. Find out if the school has a parents’ weekend and get information on it.
2. Ask your child if he/she would like to come home for the High Holy Days or Thanksgiving.
3. Make sure you have your child’s new address so that you can send mail and care packages.
Some schools have prepackaged goody baskets with things like laundry detergent, shampoo, a toothbrush, school supplies and study snacks that parents can send to kids.
4. Some synagogues offer college care packages for various Jewish holidays like Chanukah and Passover.
5. Get your child’s e-mail address. This is a great way to keep in touch without bombarding your son or daughter with phone calls.
6. Feel free to send reminders of home, like local newspaper clippings, homemade cookies and photos from recent family events.
7. If your child is far away, sign up for frequent flyer programs available through various airlines.
8. Try to keep your emotions at bay when you talk to your child. Remember, he or she is the one going through the biggest adjustment.
9. Talk to friends who are in the same situation so you can commiserate, if needed.