When my alarm rang Saturday morning to wake me for my parents’ arrival, I ignored it. I have a relationship with alarm clocks that ought to require counseling. I have longed for the morning when I will hear one and pop out of bed like a sitcom happy adult, I thought perhaps this visit was the one during which I would convince my parents I was on my way to this responsible, well-rested state ‘- but it will have to be the next one. I eventually made it out, with both myself and my apartment presentable, by noon. I met my parents in Brookline, a good place to meet parents, and my dad flagged me down with his bagel.
I never have to wonder when I’m with my parents, about the origin of my tastes. I did not wonder when my dad split his bagel without asking and handed me half or when my mom began talking to me on the T about the poem on which I’m writing my English essay. It had been hours since we talked about it last, but her new perspective surfaced unprompted with the familiar inquisitive tone of voice that I hear so often coming out of my side of the room in whatever class I’m taking.’ My friends, watching us at dinner, recognized that exact tone of enthusiasm, the one we have when we see a color we love, or sip a really good espresso drink.
I took my parents on the rough path out of Brookline to the Super 88. With an old anxiety I watched them pick around the broken glass. My parents have happily followed me across the world with the oft-hoped for refrain, ‘as long as you’re happy.’ While I’m not exactly putting them through a sex change, or even New Delhi, I sometimes feel a certain amount of guilt when my dad tells my mom for the fourth time to watch out for that broken handle of Jack.
I avert my eyes from the condom I know has been down the block for months. ‘Is this someone’s earring?’ my Dad asks. Well of course it’s someone’s earring, but how do I tell him that she probably lost it on the way to a regrettable sexual encounter or while bending to puke and most likely never wants to see that pair of earrings again? I usually phrase it a little differently.
I want my parents to know where I live. They gamely picked up the routines of my student life, which is largely different from their own. They listen attentively while I explain that while they are comfortably sitting on the B line now, in an hour or two they would not be able to even catch a breath much less a handhold. Where we have dance parties, they spent evenings with the Dean trying to convince him to have a symposium on Vietnam. Only the guilt is the same.
I want their endorsement and their sympathy. The little girl part of me wrinkled my nose when my Mom said, after searching briefly for the right word, that my area ‘wasn’t that sketchy.’ I wanted them to know I was succeeding at the starving student bit. But I swept and wiped, made my bed and shelved my books. ‘It’s your mom but it’s also your mom,’ as my roommate put it, she’ll put up with anything but do you want her to? Maybe my mom was more willing to put up with my dirty room than I was.
I have found the most confusing moments are when we cross the street. My dad puts his hand on my arm just as he has since he could lift me with it. ‘Heads up for the cars sweetheart.’ He did this in Beacon Hill and on Brighton Avenue, while I was taking them through my territory. Were they parenting or was I?
In a similar dialectic I often want my parents to see the norm. We ate and sat on my couch, and sat on my couch and ate again. But we made it to the sparkling Harbor Islands. My parents could find pristine national park land in New Jersey, I swear. Suffering from chronic parent fatigue, I nearly fell asleep on the windy top of the ferry. They’re here, they’re happy, they’re paying for this, I can relax. The roaring harbor waters were more soothing than the low tones of the attractive pub we picked out for them. Was that my mother drinking whiskey?’ It did have mango in it, but what was her justification for sharing a sip of my roommate’s martini? My dad actually smiled for the picture my mother insisted on, the first six times. He encouraged my mom to run for the T.
More than once this weekend I considered that while I’m busy getting older, my parents might just be getting younger.