Thursday, January 8, 2009

It ain't easy parenting grown-up kids

My dad took me out to lunch today, and I realized about halfway through the meal that I was really not good company. I apologized to my dad for being so grouchy, explaining that I've just been feeling all sorts of junk this week, yada yada yada. And then I said, "It just wasn't supposed to be like this, you know? We're too young."

I looked up and noticed his teary eyes and thought, dammit, girl, you're an idiot! You see, those were the exact words my dad said to me on the morning we realized that my mom was dying. She had been admitted to the hospital on the previous night with seizures and by morning they had determined her cancer had spread to her brain; it was, therefore, only a matter of time before she was paralyzed, and death wouldn't be far behind. We'd been in the ER most of the night, and once they admitted her, Chris and I came home to take care of my sister. My dad walked into the room where we were sleeping on the pull-out sofa, and he just completely broke down. I hugged him and we crumpled down on the floor, and he just kept saying, over and over, "It wasn't supposed to be like this." My mom and dad were both 47 that day. They'd been married for 26 years and had planned to be old world-traveling fogies together. It wasn't supposed to be like this. They were too young.

But today Dad calmly replied, "It never is as you planned, but you've got to do your best and make the most of every day and every experience, right? You'll get through this. You'll just have to learn to live with being skinny, that's all." This sense of lightness in dark times is one of my favorite qualities about my dad; he's a pessimist, really, but always knows the right things to say to his kids when it counts.

When I looked at his face today, I realized how terribly hard it must be to be the parent of grown children. On Monday, he took my sister to the airport to board a flight for Ghana, where she'll be until February; he called my brother to see how his first day at his new job went; and he called me throughout the day, after having spent the whole weekend with me and Hayden, to get updates on Chris and on me. I can't even imagine the worry that he carries this week...and probably most weeks. Because now he doesn't just have three kids -- he has three kids, two kids-in-law, and one grandchild. That's a lot of people to love with your whole self. And my dad shows us daily how much he loves us. He is so reliable and steadfast. He's the only person in the world that I count on more than myself; he's the constant, especially when I'm not.

I am often critical of my mother-in-law, even though she has always shown me love and friendship. She was such a brave woman last weekend. She came to our house and spent the day with Hayden so I could go be with Chris, even though I know all she wanted to do was to run to Chris's side to be sure he was ok. That's what we moms do; we take care of our babies. I took her to the hospital later in the evening to see him, and she sat calmly at the foot of the bed, mindlessly working a piece of string between her fingers over and over. She just sat there watching him sleep, and it nearly broke my heart. I can't imagine how much pain she felt, knowing that his illness was caused by her genes. She had been through countless hospitalizations with Chris's father, and now she is watching both her sons go through her ex-husband's illnesses...I don't know how she's bearing that.

I know we all love our parents, and I know our parents often drive us bonkers. But I don't look forward to the day that I'm far away from my own son, wondering how he's getting on at work or worrying about the congestion I hear in his voice over the phone. It must be excruciating at times to be the parents to a grown kid. Which is why I'm going downstairs right now to hug my dad and tell him I love him.

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