Writing from the airport now and man, this wasn't easy. By "this" I don't mean the security lines. Sure, there were some blips, but on the whole, things have moved rather well. I spent the day hanging out with Maddie. We went to the hardware store and bought a large chain and lock after figuring out how we would secure the chain to her apartment wall to ensure that no one steals her washing machine (which is outside her apartment) - if you see some guy running down the street carrying a washing machine, you will know that we have failed. We also emailed the medical insurance people to process an address change (now that she, for sure, knows her address) and we wandered down Yafo just because. We stopped into a Fox Home store which was beyond both of our financial reaches but it was air conditioned, so there's that. We also looked into a few other stores just for fun. It was nice to be able to make nasty comments to each other. We ran into a friend of Maddie's who has just started in the army (3 weeks ago) and she seemed still excited. Maddie and I also went into the local book store (Steimatzky or something like that) and she bought a couple of books to tide her over. I had a nice chat with her about what she ashould be doing to fill her days until the army stuff kicks in. That's the real concern -- without the structure of work or school, how does she stay busy. We brainstormed and I listed a number of options:
1. Set a daily walk (one suggestion, to the Kotel and back)
2. Set up a daily workout regimen to prepare for the army.
3. Buy a newspaper daily and read it to learn about Israel and Israeli politics.
4. Find people and talk to them to brush up on Hebrew skills (also, hire a teacher to work on Hebrew, but that may be out of budget)
5. Find a website which has relevant Hebrew words and study up
6. Start a list of things she needs for the army and keep track of prices
7. Volunteer at one or ore of the soldier centers (to learn lingo and make connections)
8. Help out family with child care
9. Write me long, daily emails detailing her life (or just start a blog).
There were other suggestions but 9 is a lot to ignore in one sitting so we'll stop there.
We had lunch at Apple Pizza which was surprisingly good (at least thge pizza...we were unimpressed with the fries). Back at the apartment I sprayed for bugs (we had bought the Israeli equivalent of American bug spray called "Raid at Entebee." No...no it wasn't.) And we contemplated moving the refrigerator. We talked some more about how she can be prepared, what the upcoming challenges would be and how she can deal with them. Her neighbors (including the guys upstairs who hung the Confederate flag on their window) are lone soldiers so she is only as alone as she lets herself be. There are plenty of people to connect with. Eventually, I started staring at the clock so it was time to get dinner before I went stir crazy. Note -- we called the sheirut (shared minibus service, 64 shekel to the airport, about 16 dollars) and told them our departure time so it was just a matter of waiting.
We argued about where to eat dinner and eventually I said, "I have never at an actual meal in the shuk, and I'd like fish and chips." So that answered that. We went into the shuk and ate at a fish restaurant. She had a grilled salmon salad and I had cod based fish and fried mashed potato balls. That's a thing, apparently. The food was good and we ran into a teacher I used to work with who, as everyone has done, gave Maddie contact info and sincerely asked her to stop by for a meal or a week. Whatever she needs. There really is a spirit of Middle Eastern hospitality going on. It is lovely to watch even though I'd rather be pampered in a really expensive hotel.
After dinner we went back to the apartment to hang out and wait for my ride. On the way, I was pulled into a mincha minyan. This wasn't some group of a few kids who wanted to dash off davening; this was a hardcore sephardi mini-shul and the mincha was substantially longer than I expected, but I, again, felt like I was part of something important. Afterwards I went to catch up with Maddie in her apartment. This is where it got real, and real tough. She is no longer a child. She is a woman. She is independent, smart, driven, and bottom line, still my little girl. I held her when she was tiny. I comforted her when she skinned her knees. I watched her grow up through high school when I drove her back and forth every day. I have been (I'd like to think) an important and constant presence in her life. That could be good and it could be bad, but whatever it was, it was. So cutting that cord and letting her be on her own was very tough. I want to be just a moment away so I can fix everything, or at least be there when things can't be fixed. I want to be the daddy who is needed by his little girl. I know that she was away for a year already but there, there were surrogate parents who kept her in line and who established structure. Now she is truly (at least until the army kicks her in the pants on a daily basis) on her own, running her own household. She's almost 20 and I'm not old enough for this. Anyway, we went outside to wait for the van and she hugged me and I hugged her back. She was, for one last minute (or 10, as it turns out) my little girl, wearing my coat, grabbing my arm and just wanting to be held. When the van came the scene was just pathetic -- the two of us blubbering like whales, or something like that. Eventually I climbed on and waved goodbye as we pulled away. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt, and as much as I am excited and proud, as much as I admire her and know that growing up is a part of life, I wonder if it will ever stop hurting, or if I would ever want it to.
I sniffled my way through the van ride which stopped on top of every hill in the surrounding desert, but only after hitting every bump along the way. I refrained from throwing up because I didn't want to appear any weaker than a crying, fully grown man already looks. I held everything together until, at the airport, I had to explain why I had 2 tickets and was only one traveler. The kindly ticketing lady let me have a tissue which was nice of her. I then made it through a few other levels of security, ran into some other people who didn't want to be seen with me, and am now here, a barbarian at the gate. I will update with what I hope are boring details about a boring flight which I sleep through. But I doubt it.