On Parents, Not Parenting
My parents left last night after a ten-day visit. I was sorry to see them go, but the feelings were much more complex than just missing them. There was a bit of relief to get my house back; a little sadness for my kids missing their grandparents; and a lot of deep nostalgia for my childhood, even though the visit was nothing like the way I grew up.
Like almost all adult parent-child relationships, mine is fraught with not just emotion, but emotional memory. I have forty years of remembering my father’s quirky and wonderful habit of wearing cowboy boots with a suit. When I see those boots, I am reminded of being a child and young teen and pulling them off of him at the end of his long work-day. Simply watching him don his shoes and take them off in my wholly Japanese genkan for ten days flooded the emotional memory part of my brain with the smell of rich leather. My mother is the most organized and put together woman on the planet. She makes me, the consummate planner, feel like a slacker. So instead of being grateful that she was showered and ready for the day (leaving the shower free for others to use) at 7:30am, at least two hours before we planned to leave, I got annoyed and felt like she was taunting me for being late or lazy, neither of which is remotely true, nor was she taunting. But, as a child, I was late and lazy until her lessons started sinking in post-college, so it’s old, outdated emotional memory that her early-ness triggered in me which made me automatically annoyed before I could think to be grateful. Once I thought it through, of course I was pleased that she had been so prompt and thoughtful, but it took me a moment to remember that I’m no longer seventeen and entitled to that trigger.
Humans learn and grow every day and I’m pleased to report that my parents visit was a great one, full of new sights and adventures, as well as regular family time. They got to attend the Tokyo Bar Mitzvah of their grandson, and meet all of my friends and the boy’s. What my husband, the kids and I were able to show them in a concrete way, is that we have a warm and loving community in Tokyo. While they are sad that their kids live so far away, I think they were gratified to know that we have such a rich, full life here.
What I see happening with my parents as they get older and so do I, is that our neural pathways continue to expand and we continue to learn about each other, with each other. No one is perfect. We all slip into old, unwanted and discarded patterns far too easily. But we continue to make the effort to be together, enjoy each others company and plan future visits. Emotional memory only extends so far; the future needs its own time to unfold. Nurturing relationships requires work – all relationships require care and feeding – the good ones, anyway. It’s worth the work.
My house is very quiet today as I’m in recovery mode and trying to get my proverbial house in order. Without the quiet times we cannot fully appreciate the noisy times, however, so I am glad for the chance to move forward with my own to-do lists, writing and other tasks that did not get completed in the past week or so since they arrived. We will see my parents again in December and I’m already looking forward to it.