I've done some challenging things in my life. I've earned graduate degrees, worked with some of Georgia's most hardened criminals, even managed to keep a small business afloat during these scary economic times.
But the task that I've found to be the most daunting is that of parenting.
It's a never ending tightrope walk of holding close and letting go. Of perpetual second-guessing, which leads to both high-fives and late night recriminations. It's an art not a science. There is no magic formula to tell you when a child is old enough, mature enough or savvy enough to do everything from walking alone to a friend's house to traveling internationally. Sometimes it's nothing short of a crapshoot.
Last February, I thought our daughter's summer was all planned out. Rachel, 16, had been nominated to participate in the Governor's Honors Program in Valdosta. She would spend four weeks studying theater with some of the best teachers and young actors from around the state. Case closed.
Oh, but not so fast. Rachel had learned of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. According to their website, since 1987, the BYFI has supported a five-week, all expense paid "summer program in Israel that educates and inspires exceptional young Jews from diverse backgrounds to become active participants in Jewish culture throughout their lives, and to contribute their talents and vision to the Jewish community and to the world at large."
The 26 rising seniors from the U.S. and Canada would spend the summer "traveling through Israel, exploring their Jewish identity, and engaging with thinkers, authors, artists and educators."
This then leads to a lifelong connection to the BYFI nurtured through national gatherings and seminars, community service projects and even venture capital to fund alumni initiatives.
It sounded like a long shot to me. I warned Rachel against getting her hopes up. She raised one eyebrow, gave me her "What good are low hopes?" look and set about filling out the application.
Some day, I'll learn to stop underestimating my children. In March, Rachel flew to New York for a face-to-face interview. In April came the good news: Rachel was a Bronfman Youth Fellow, class of 2011.
A friend dashed cold water on my elation when she said, "You're not really going to let her go, are you?" Her accusatory tone made it clear that she questioned both my sanity and parenting abilities in equal measure.
My response was, "How can I not?" It sounded much braver than I felt. Sending our treasured child to the bull's-eye of the target in the Mideast wasn't something her father and I took lightly.
But we knew what this experience would mean to her. We knew she was in capable hands, with security that extends all the way up the line to the Israeli Army. The group's itinerary was kept confidential until the last minute and even now is subject to change based on security assessments.
So I compartmentalized those fears, and on June 28, Rachel departed Atlanta to begin her greatest adventure.
Rachel plans on writing about her experiences when she returns in August, so let me just say that this trip has been an epiphany. For the first time ever, the girl who may well be the only practicing Jew in her school has been able to immerse herself in her faith and traditions. Her time in Old Jerusalem moved her to write this haiku, "Air holds no vapor/Half-moons lend no heat/And yet - pomegranates grow."
I've spent the last three weeks alternately missing my daughter and reveling in our all-too-brief phone conversations. Everything was copacetic until a few days ago when the phone rang at my shop. It was Ava Charne from the BYFI's New York office. In a millisecond, a thousand scenarios flashed through my mind, most of them involving fiery crashes and missiles blasted out of Lebanon. My knees went weak and I could only gasp, "Is everything all right?"
Of course it was. Ava just needed some information about Rachel's return flight to Atlanta. But that momentary blast of adrenalin left me climbing out of my skin and then limp with exhaustion as it dissipated.
So maybe I wasn't as copacetic as I thought.
But that's how it is when you're a parent. There's always some worry nibbling at the back of your mind. The only time you feel completely whole and secure is when all of your children are peacefully sleeping under your roof, and even then, you worry about whether or not the smoke detector batteries are working. That's both the joy and the terror of parenting. Allowing a child to venture out when everything in you begs to hold them close is an important, necessary milestone for a parent.
I suppose Rachel isn't the only one who's had an epiphany this summer.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.