I realized some years ago that my parents don’t know me. I am not even talking about the inside me, my thoughts, my feelings, my beliefs. I am talking about the regular, old outside me - how I spend my time, what my home looks like, what car I drive, what books I read.
To tell the truth, years ago I hid a lot from them. I mean it was easy to do living so far away from them and it’s not as if they visit. Actually I only hid from them the fact that I was seriously ill. I didn’t want to worry them needlessly. I was pretty sick. I only told them years after.
I mean who doesn’t edit what they tell their family? Some people edit out the bad, others play up the good. Now I do neither. I tell it like it is. Too bad nobody is listening.
The realization that my parents don’t know me hit me even harder the last time we visited them -we, meaning me, husband, and children. It was their first time to see me as a parent and after not having seen me for several years including two pregnancies it must have seemed to them that I arrived with an instant family. The parents had trouble getting used to me as a parent and to my girls. I chalked it all up to the fact that we had to get to re-know each other. I did my best to acquaint them. I loaded hundreds of pictures onto my parent’s computer. I showed them the girls’ school on-line. I repeated the stories of their births and all their “firsts”. I got a few polite nods and even one nodding off (my father). Not exactly the reception I was expecting.
As it didn’t go very well last time, I don’t know why I was expecting something different this time, but I was. Last time I figured it was just a matter of getting to know each other. It would all smooth over. This time I figured that my parents just didn’t know how to get to know us. This time I’ve tried my extra best. I’m armed not only with pictures, but also with short films of our home. I’ve got a few nice stories about us on deck. And the girls, well, they are older now and they can speak for themselves. I’ve tried some relaxed conversations. I’ve tried some staged conversations forcing out the stories about swimming lesson successes, A+ book reports, school absences, birthday parties. I have given the grandparents alone time with the grandchildren as well.
Lest you think the flow of information is all in one direction, I have been filling in the children with stories about my parents, where they grew up, went to school, worked, I have shown them where my parents go to church, where they spend time. As well my father has driven them all over showing them his hangouts. I watch as they listen attentively and how they shyly begin to ask questions and then to tell their grandfather something about themselves only to be interrupted by something much more important that their grandfather has to say. I see how their faces crinkle up. I see how they shrug their shoulders. I see how they are giving up. I see myself as a child.
It hurts when you tell somebody you miss them and they say nothing. It hurts when you tell somebody about their grandchildren’s school and they dive into a 15 minute story about another grandchild. That’s just me, an adult, I can take it, but the kids?
I am not one of those people who expect the world to stop just because I moved away – my goodness I have been away too long for that. I guess I just expect some balance. I know they want to tell me what I have missed out on here, but they forget that they are missing out on our lives there. And they’re not even willing to listen.
I just had an expectation of what it would be like for my children to have grandparents, for my parents to be grandparents to their grandchildren. In my mind’s eye it all looked a little different, not even ideal, just different, closer, less going through the motions, more real connections. Oh lord, I have to stop now because that last sentence just reads like some sappy, late-night commercial for an internet dating site. I warned you that I get peculiar when I visit.