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  But, as a child, I was late and lazy until her lessons started sinking in post-college, so it’s old, outdated emotional memory that her early-ness triggered in me which made me automatically annoyed before I could think to be grateful.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.

When You Live Across The Globe…

I love living in Japan.  Truly I love it here.  I love the people; I love the standard of service; I love the food; and I even love the Tokyo lifestyle pace.  But there are definitely days when I don’t like it.  Last week was one of those times.

My parents live in Florida in the U.S.  It’s not where I’m from; I grew up in Connecticut and my parents intended to retire in Florida.  They moved to Florida, but the retirement hasn’t happened yet.  They’ve been there for about five years now.  My mom still works as a kindergarten teacher in the Broward County School system (bless her) and Dad is a corporate travel consultant.

Two Mondays ago when I couldn’t reach them at home on a Sunday night, I didn’t really worry.  But it turns out that when they called me back Monday afternoon Tokyo time, it was from the emergency room.  I’m not going to go into the nature of Dad’s illness in a public way, but suffice it to say that the medications he was taking, along with the dosages, were causing some pretty hairy issues.   Mom felt it would be prudent to call the EMS, and I am glad she did.

After hanging up the phone with them, I called my husband right away.  My next call after that was to Delta airlines and I booked a flight for Tuesday.  There was no question in my mind that I had to be there with them.  Yes, I have a brother, and yes, he lives only three hours away by car, but no, I couldn’t just let him go and stay home myself.  Not this time.

I arrived Tuesday night American time and we were able to bring Dad home from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.  So that was a relief.  He saw his family doctor on Thursday and things were getting sorted out by the time I left the following Tuesday, November 2nd.  I helped them in a number of ways, including making lists of Dad’s medications, research on doctors and hospitals, insurance research and information, and other less medically related things including taking my grandmother and my grandfather, both of whom live independently, but are in the charge of my parents, out for a meal.

It was difficult.  It was hard on my kids, who luckily have the best nanny in the universe, but were still without their mother and it was hard on my husband who had to work and pick up my slack.  It was hard on my body because between jet-lag and worry, I did not sleep the entire week I was away.  And in a way, it was tough on my parents, who, for the first time, had to admit to some bit of imperfection and that they might need to lean on their child in even a small manner.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Luckily, the world is getting smaller and smaller these days and we have things like Vonage Internet Telephony and Skype, but there is no substitute for being there.  I was able to hug my mom and my dad and they could hug me.  My Dad even called my daughter when he got home from the hospital and thanked her for loaning her mother to him.   The flights were long, but not terrible and I was able to get one quickly – at the times that I preferred.  Luck? Who knows. But it happened.

So my silence in the past week has been for cause, please forgive me.  I am just happy to be back in Tokyo, my home, with parents who are well again and children who are happy.  It is tough to live across the globe from my close-knit, in-your-face family, but it doesn’t have to deter me when I really need to get somewhere.  How lucky I am.