“You know, Mommy, that if you were going away and we were staying home, it would be bayit rek,” Daniella said to me a few weeks back, the day she and Simone were boarding a plane for San Francisco.
“I hadn’t thought about that. It’ll be bayit rek indeed—for Abba and me.” With the girls gone and Benjamin living in his own apartment a few miles away, we could walk around naked all day if so inclined.
“No, you don’t get it: bayit rek is when the kids are home alone, not the parents,” she said as if she knew more than me. Which is probably true, especially when it comes to biology and calculus and maybe Hebrew. But not in this case; I understood the concept clearly. I just hadn’t applied it to our situation.
“Yeah, but do you know what we’re doing while you two will be away? We’re going to Netanya for the weekend and having a party one night. Now that’s bayit rek if I’ve ever heard it.”
“A party?” she said with an incredulous look on her face, probably envisioning empty beer bottles strewn across a room and girls and boys sitting on top of one another, or more. I nodded my head yes even though Philippe and I hadn’t discussed it yet.
In terms of my Hebrew vocabulary, the two words bayit and rek have been in it for decades. Bayit means house, a word I probably learned in third grade Hebrew school. Rek is the antonym of maleh, words I learned together in ulpan immersion classes over twenty years ago, the former meaning empty and the latter, full. But when you put the two words together—empty house—they become a concept, an idiomatic expression to mean parents away, kids home, party.
I first learned the meaning shortly after landing two years ago when our British friends were flying to London for a long weekend, telling me how their three teen daughters—then 17 and 14-year-old twins—were staying home alone. When I offered them to come for Friday night for dinner, she laughed. “No, you don’t understand, they want the house all to themselves. Bayit rek, get it?”
When Daniella and Simone first concocted the idea of flying solo to California for part of the endless holiday season in September, I had thought it excessive after our summer trip. Somehow, though, they made it happen and Philippe and I ended up with 14 days alone, in the house. A staycation of sorts. Initially I feared the holidays would be sad without them here, but then, as time passed and we began making plans, life got full.
During the first week between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we spontaneously treated ourselves to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv. On Tuesday, I hosted the usual yoga teachers’ practice and added a potluck lunch.
One morning we met my brother- and sister-and-law and nephew in the Tel Aviv shuk where we roamed through the old Yemenite neighborhood adjacent to it as if time didn’t matter. It was the start of the weekend, and we had no place to be, no one to answer to. Then Philippe and I indeed threw an end-of-summer, Sunday night pool gathering as a farewell to night swimming until spring. The next day I walked to the nearest movie theater and saw an afternoon matinee of “What Maisie Knew”, which had been high on my list. Then, after sitting and eating in our friends’ sukkah all afternoon last Thursday, we adults decided to see “We’re the Millers” at 10pm, crawling into bed after midnight. We could sleep all day long if we wanted. Just a couple of days before the girls were due home, we spent another late night out at a wine and cheese party in our friends’ sukka on Saturday night.
Now that our kids are 20, 16 and 14, now that Philippe and I turned 48 this past August and we celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary this month, bayit rek is starting to mean something else altogether. Something inescapable, almost ominous, as our kids—and we—get older.
During our trial bayit rek, while Philippe and I lived with meager amounts of food in the refrigerator, eating only if and when we felt like it, while we checked in with one another every morning to see who was working from home and who was away, sometimes spending too much back-to-back time (our desks are on opposite walls in the same office) and others not seeing each other all day, I began contemplating the meaning of it all. My next career move; my parents’ inevitable aging; turning 50; kids’ post-army paths and the unknown world ahead of them, culminating in our empty nest.
The real, full-on bayit rek will surely happen faster than we wish. There is no way to back up, freeze any of us as we are now and hold time in our hands. All we can do is hold on to one another and squeeze tightly.