My middle son called the other day and told me he tried to call his older brother but there was no answer.
“I suppose he’s out with his friends,” I said, “celebrating his birthday.”
“Today’s his birthday?” my middle son asked.
“Isn’t that why you called?”
“Nope. I just called to say hi.”
The only thing nicer than knowing that my son had called his brother to wish him a happy birthday was knowing that my son had called his brother for no particular reason at all.
I think as parents we want so much for our kids to like each other because these are the people we love most in the world, and when they are friends it validates how right we are to love them individually. That, and it makes Thanksgiving a lot more pleasant.
Getting siblings to like each other can be harder than it looks. Just ask my Mom.
So how’d I get so lucky? I believe what brought my kids together is a cavernous lodge filled with 400 people under the age of 22 (the majority being under 16) hours of singing, praying, squirming and enormous amounts of food. Shabbat at Jewish summer camp.
During weekday meals kids sit with their cabin mates, a nice tidy group of about a dozen and a couple staff members. Meals are loud and boisterous, but the campers feel secure surrounded by people they know.
Shabbat is special. For three meals -- Shabbat morning breakfast is drop-in --- campers can sit anywhere they want in the Chadar (dining hall) which is the size of one of those new, urban Target mini-stores. I’ve never thought this was quite the privilege it seems. After a peaceful Friday night service, held lakeside, the campers race-walk about a quarter mile to dinner. Everyone aims for the perfect stride, slow enough to appear nonchalant, but quick enough to claim a spot. It’s so easy to get separated from your friends and stuck at a table with no one you know. That may be great for building small talk skills for future dinner parties, but it can be daunting when you’re pre-pubescent. And even when you know someone Friday Night Dinner can last a long, long time. Ask a 10-year-old. Better yet, ask their staff.
My sons have been at camp together for a combined 58 Shabbats. (They did the math, not me.) And every single, solitary one, they’ve saved each other seats. The mere act requires speed, some luck and a lot of perseverance.
They never plan this. In fact, the camp is so large and so segmented by age group that sometimes during the week they rarely even spoke. But every Shabbat, without making a concrete plan, they found each other.
My youngest, now 18, will be the only one of the three at camp this summer -- for the first time in twelve years. As a staff member he will sign up for a table prior to Shabbat, ensuring each table has some supervision so he will be fine wherever he sits. But I’m sure he’ll have moments when it feels odd to be the only one of his brothers there -- saying prayers without a familiar elbow in his ribs, or not being able to motion to his brother to pass a second, or third, serving of challah. Even without his brothers, I believe the sweetness of all those Shabbats my youngest has known will surround him this summer.
Why they'll stay close
My boys’ shared experiences and the concrete act of looking out for each other will bond them always, making them the kind of brothers who call each for no reason at all.
Because of all this, and so much more ... I resolve to stay the course set out by our courageous foremothers who fought pointedly, persistently for equality. I'm a woman raising a daughter in a world that values her more for her bone structure than her brain. This is my resolution. This is my feminist manifesto.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.