Toby finished his language camp, and his final orientation, and started school this week. He's got a pretty full load, and it's all being taught in German, so he's struggling now to understand what is going on. I find myself trying to reach back to me teen years to imagine how I might feel then sitting in school all day literally not knowing what's going on. (I know I'd have no patience for it today!)
We've settled into a rhythm of mostly weekly calls. He calls usually in the late evening there (mid-afternoon here). We also get brief e-mails and messages on Facebook, and he's posted a couple of nice notes there and a slew of photos too. (For those of you who intentionally keep your distance from Facebook, I've got his posts copied on our website. I'll also put up a photo gallery soon.
And there are still those moments when we remember that Toby isn't there to "hang with Jer while Ian runs to temple to get Judy and Shar after hebrew school", or to help get the recycling out to the curb, or any of the dozens of other things we've come to take for granted. These realizations aren't unsettling, they just keep catching us off guard.
After talking with Toby today, Judy said "he already sounds different". I think I noticed something too, a slight feeling of greater independence is the best I can describe it. He sounds happy and adjusting well to his life there. Funny how that makes me feel terrific and just a bit sad at the same time. It's reassuring to feel that he's thriving (he's at a birthday party tonight with three friends!), being able to let go just a bit of that back-burner worrying that simmers there all night long.
And yet, there's that little tug that let's those voices pipe up, asking why he would be happier there than here. Of course we know it's a completely unfair comparison, and that it has no reflection on the life we've made here...and yet those voices still pipe up as if they delight in annoying us and sowing doubt.
I've had these thoughts running around in my head for a week or so, second-guessing how I've done as a step-father to Toby for the past 7 years. Did I do enough for him? with him? Did I genuinely find interest in his life and the things that delight him? Those voices keep bringing up archery.
Yeah, archery. Right after becoming a Bar Mitzvah, Toby wanted to buy a nice bow and some arrows and take up archery. I did research, consulted a friend, and when out and purchased him some terrific equipment. Despite zinging his forearm with the arrow shafts several times, he seemed to really like it. But finding a place to shoot was a challenge. This bow would put an arrow straight through those straw bales that the put up over at Lake Calhoun! And somehow, we just never seemed to find or make the time to get out and do it. Time past, and he stopped asking, and I never knew if he just lost interest or lost the energy to keep asking me.
Maybe one day we'll talk about that. Until then, I listen to him laughing on the phone, look at his smiling face in his photos, and read about all the things he's doing, and I tell the voices to go bother someone else.
Toby's host family, the Gudrun's