I still remember the excitement I felt as I got ready for the trip – I assembled all of my favorite cassettes: James Taylor, Barbra Streisand, the Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel. I didn’t have much, but they were my travel friends. My Plymouth Duster sedan was the most basic of cars – it had manual transmission, and it didn’t even have carpeting, no less a built-in cassette player. I seem to recall, now twenty nine years later, that the radio didn’t even work. But I was content and happy to be creative. I had a responsible job as an educator, but very little money – it was just a year and a half after my college graduation. So when I decided to take a winter vacation visiting a friend in Florida, I planned the road trip from New Jersey carefully. I went to the AAA and got maps and a trip-tick and I remember preparing and packing my food for my trip: broiled chicken legs, crackers, fruit. Maybe some vegetables, but on that my memory is faded.

I sang at the top of my lungs to all of my favorite songs, stopped at rest stops and had my picnics, arrived at my friend’s Fort Lauderdale apartment fairly close to schedule. Then, after a delightful week, off I went again, heading home on New Year’s Day. Food and music at my side, I relished the concluding leg of my adventure. But the trip home was interrupted when my car broke down in Hardeeville, South Carolina. AAA towed my car to the service station, but I would have to wait until the next day to have it diagnosed and fixed. So when I checked in the Holiday Inn, I was a little stressed and a little lonely. So I called my parents, their voices a touchstone that was all I needed to get over the momentary distress. I hadn’t called them at other points in the trip – neither they nor I needed it.

That was long before cell phones and in another age. Back then, college kids and twenty-somethings took off on adventures across the country or through Europe without the opportunity or the need to call home frequently. That was before our culture began to measure the quality of our parenting by how closely we suburban parents supervise our children. Fear of a myriad of dangers lurking out there that might harm our children, anxiety promoted in our media crazed culture, created a huge culture shift. Now parents give their children a very short rope with which to play, and they expect to know where they are at all times. Today’s kids embarking on an adventure are armed with cell phones and expected to keep in constant communication.

I admit to being influenced by this culture of constant contact. When my three kids, all college kids, took their first trip together out of the country, I insisted that they carry a cell phone and call me daily so I would be reassured that they are ok. They balked; they had no intention of spending the money and didn’t feel the need. So I paid for it and made the arrangements. Those daily calls were very, very sweet – it gave me a chance to hear their excitement each day as they eagerly described their adventures. They may not have wanted the cell phone, but they sure did enjoy using it. But did they need it? I wonder what would have been different for them if they didn’t call me unless they found a pay phone. Did they have the exhilaration of independence that I felt on my Florida trip? I hope so.

When my twenty-one year old daughter set out with two friends for a winter break road trip she told me they had a general plan but weren’t exactly sure how far south they’d drive and where they’d stay. They’d be fine, she assured me. I made my now-standard request: please just call me one time a day so I know you are ok. Fortunately my daughter was prepared to humor me.

On the fifth day of her trip I happened to mention in casual conversation with folks at shul that I was waiting to hear whether my daughter had made it to Nashville. One couple, themselves parents of a college student, shared that they would have required a call home twice a day. Oh, no, I said, my kids would not like that. Well, the dad offered, you can put a GPS on her phone so you know where she is. “Really?” I thought, “You’d do that to your adult child?” I told him that my kids would disown me if I pulled a stunt like that. (Right, JAB?)

Really now, haven’t we gotten a bit extreme? Just because we CAN keep track of our kids all the time, should we? Just because there are risks associated with travel, do we really need to worry so much? Are we gripped by some collective neurosis that makes us feel the need to “hover” close and low? A GPS on my college-age kids’ phones? No, I draw the line. I need to trust my kids. And I need to have more faith.

Perhaps that is part of the problem – a loss of faith. I hope not, in my case. But maybe we have less faith than we think we do. After all, America is a country that boasts a huge percentage of people who claim to believe in God. But, at least in my corner of American suburbia in New Jersey, our faith needs a readjustment. Because at least in a Jewish sense, self realization comes in living in partnership with God, each one of us, one at time. Family and community teach us and guide us, but if they smother us, our true selves will never fully emerge.

Much to contemplate in this New Year. How I wish I once again had the freedom and guts to contemplate it on my own youthful adventure. But instead of going back to Florida, I’ll try to observe it through my kids.


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