My birthday is coming up. I had forgotten all about it because I have a lot on my plate right now. Also, for most of the year while at doctor’s visits or any other place where it is necessary to state your age, I am already 36. I count my age to the day. That means that the day before my birthday I am 35 and on my birthday I am 36. In Poland, people often count their age by the calendar year. So in Poland, I’m somehow 36 all year, subtracting the year of my birth from the calendar year. I like my method better.
I was reminded that my birthday is coming up by the two people who never forget - my parents. I think my parents alone are keeping the Hallmark card industry afloat. For every occasion, special or not, we get a card (a real card, I mean a paper one, not an electronic one) in the mail. We get birthday cards, Halloween cards, Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day cards, Easter cards, Independence Day cards and also the “just because we love you” cards. Misiu was amused by the cards that my parents started to send after we got married. The titles changed from “To our beloved daughter” to “To our beloved daughter and son-in-law”. Now that we have children, they each get their own cards too which is a cool thing for my parents to do because kids love to get their own mail.
My parents send pretty emotionally deep cards, none of the jokey, funny ones except maybe on Halloween. Actually, I should say that my father sends them because I know that he is the one who goes to the store and pores over the cards until he finds the one that is just right. One time he even sent me the same birthday card two years in a row. I won’t bore you with the whole text from this year’s b-day card, but it is a real tear-jerker. This from the man who never says “I love you” but instead “we love you”. This from the man who has never asked me how I was not even when I was pregnant or after I came home from the hospital. Sometimes, I wonder if my father actually reads the cards and if the sentiment is sincere. I mean they are deep and kind of mushy. Is that what he is really trying to tell me or did he just pick up the first pink/daughter/ birthday card he could find at the store. I would say yes, but I observed my father picking out a card for my mother once. I think he read about 20 before he decided on the one that he wanted, the sappiest, sweetest, mushiest card that Hallmark makes. It’s his way of letting us know how he feels, I guess.
I suppose that when I was little my parents hugged and kissed me and told me that they loved me. I can only suppose because I cannot remember ever having been hugged or kissed by them as a child or being told that I was loved. As a teen and a young adult, I carried a lot of resentment over that fact especially when one of my friends spent the night at my house and called her mother to say goodnight and ended the call with “I love you, too”. Whoa, other people’s parents really do tell their kids that they love them, not just the families on TV.
Even after growing up and moving to Poland, I still harbored a deep anger over the lack of “I love you’s” in our relationship. Until one day, when I decided to look at it from my parents’ point of view. Maybe they just got out of the habit of hugging and kissing me and my sister. I know from experience that to get a hug and kiss out of Lizzie I almost have to pay her for it. Then maybe later when they wanted to hug and kiss us and tell us that they loved us, they felt uncomfortable even attempting it after such a long time. Maybe they were afraid of my and my sister’s reaction, afraid that we would reject them. I mean that has to be the explanation. The only other explanation would be that they don’t love us and I know that is just not possible.
I devised a plan to get my parents to tell me that they loved me. My ingenuous plan: I would say it first. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They wouldn’t say it back? And so what? They already didn’t tell me so what difference would it make? I did it. I told them on the phone (I didn’t really have a choice about that with the different country thing and all) at the end of the conversation after the “I’ll talk to you later” and before the “good-bye”. There was a short pause as I waited to hear something from them (my parents talk to me together, at the same time on different phones in different rooms) For a second, I thought that either they hadn’t heard me or that they had dropped dead from shock. In unison, they responded. My mother with “I love you, too” and my father with “we love you”, his now standard response.
The real test came the next time I visited my parents in the US. As my sister and I headed out the door to hit the mall, I shot my parents a quick “See you later. I love you. Bye” to which they responded “Love you, too. Bye”. Ok, it could have been construed as “Love you (both), too. Bye.” but my sister didn’t see it that way and complained all the way to the mall about how my parents were the worst parents in the world because they never told her that they loved her. My suggestion to try out my method and tell them first didn’t sink in. My analysis that her new swimming pool and deck paid for by my parents qualified them as some of the best parents in the world and that it is their way of saying that they loved her also didn’t sink it. My sister is a pretty scary force to be reckoned with and I suggested that our parents might be afraid to tell her and that didn’t sink in either. So that’s where we left it. I get the sappy cards and the I love you’s and my sister gets the new cars and the swimming pools. Kind of sad, isn’t it?
PS Misiu’s parents never told him that they love him either. Misiu says that despite that fact he is sure that they love him. While there are no new cars or swimming pools given to him by his parents, there are a lot of pierogi and cheesecakes waiting for us whenever we visit . What says “I love you” more that homemade pierogi and cheesecake?
How do you tell your parents that you love them?