Jewish Parents, Imperfect Indeed

Should they be revered?

Of course we all love our parents……I think.  But are they always the responsible people we remember?  I doubt it.

When I was 17, some 60 years ago, I had a job in a Catskills hotel called the Tanzville.  It’s no longer standing but the lake, the deep, deep lake is still there.  It will always be there and, fortunately none of the day camp kids that I looked after my summer as a counselor there ever sank to the bottom.  They could have.  One of my assignments was to take a row boat full of 4 year olds out on the lake. Daily.  This was an activity I dreaded and protested, to no avail.  I couldn’t swim.  None of the kids could either. We had no life jackets and no lifeguards.  What was between us and the lake’s bottom was my terror.  I instilled such fear into those kids that I’m sure they remember it to this day.  The only movement allowed on the boats was breathing.  Sneezing:  not permitted!  Scratching:  not permitted.  You get the idea.  The kids had to sit paralyzed, fearing rightfully for their very lives.

So what’s my point?  All of these kids had parents who were guests at the hotel.  They knew that their kids were going out on a lake without any safety precautions whatsoever.  Did I ever get a complaint or hear a worry from any of them?  Definitely not.  The parents trusted the camp. They should not have.

We also had a practice called night patrol.  All of the region’s many hotels had the same routine.  Parents put their kids to bed in buildings that were largely fire traps, unequipped with sprinkler systems or alarms. Then the parents headed for the casino,  normally a separate building, a distance from the rooms where the kids slept.   There the parents would dance or watch a movie or play Bingo, trusting the day camp staff to babysit their children.  There were often more than a hundred children spread out in separate buildings.  There was usually only one counselor assigned to night patrol each night.  Come on!  How could one person be responsible for so many children, quite a number being infants and toddlers. And what was night patrol?  It was a walk around the perimeter of each building once an hour.,  Parents knew.  They never complained. It was a miracle that the kids all survived night patrol.

Don’t think that I’ve been a perfect parent.  Believe me I haven’t.  There was the time that I was busy with something or other and three of my kids were playing doctor in a bedroom.  The kid in charge was about 8 and her younger brother, then 3, was the nurse.  He decided to sterilize his instruments.  That meant he put a scissors (a safety scissors of course) into a socket (precocious indeed) and miraculously got a major shock but not electrocuted.   This same little boy was seen riding a tricycle indoors in a Jerusalem apartment that was heated by a kerosene furnace.  A decent parent would have realized the foolishness of this but I was not that decent parent.  His very lightweight little bike tipped over with him on it and he broke his fall on the self same heater. At age 46 today he can show you the scars from that bit of maternal dereliction.

My own parents swung back and forth between being super careful and super casual.  My father’s car always seemed to have bald tires and our family trips were often punctured by a flat tire.  I remember one on the Pulaski Skyway in New Jersey.  We huddled in the car, quaking, while my grandfather directed traffic  away from us with his cane, on a dark and stormy night.

I was allowed complete freedom from about age 8 on.  This included using public transportation to get to disparate locations like my piano teacher in one of Newark’s shady locations.  While things were safer in those days I still remember being allowed lots of freedom and never reporting in.  How could I?  My cellphone was 50 years into the future! I always arrived in time for dinner.

And then there were the carpool moms.  We raised our kids in the New Jersey suburbs so there was lots of driving.  One of the moms had an infant and she would never dream of taking out her baby in inclement weather.  Nonetheless she did her share of the driving, leaving the child home alone, asleep in her crib.  After all, the mom reckoned, what could happen? Hmmm.

Oftentimes it’s others who compromise your children’s well being.  I was in a carpool to our local synagogue where our preteen children had after school classes.  There were three of us. One was a somewhat older father whose wife didn’t drive.  Sadly, this Mr. Cohen died suddenly leaving his wife and child alone in their suburban home.  Walking distance to nowhere!  The third member of the carpool astounded me.  She would no longer drive the Cohen boy since neither of his parents would be participating.  This would have left the child, aged about 11, with only his feet to get him the three miles to the synagogue…..each way.  Impossible and dangerous at night.  You can’t make this stuff up!  She really wouldn’t drive the kid without reciprocity.  That ended the carpool and I wound up driving the Skopp kids and the Cohen boy.  I’m no saint but, give me a break.  How could she?  I don’t understand that logic to this day, many many decades later.

I’m not the perfect parent I claim to be. I know I did better as a grandparent.  Can’t wait to see how I do as a great grandparent!

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of two. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.