When we were little, we couldn’t fathom our parents aging. We imagined them living forever, just as they were at that time. We couldn’t imagine them getting older or sick, retiring or even for some parents, remarrying. We envisioned them as timeless and in many ways, invincible.
But that isn’t life. As we age, so do our parents. No one is more powerful than time; it slips through our hands faster than we can consider the moment. And in many ways, watching our parents age is tough and heartbreaking. But in other ways, there are many things that are enjoyable about “growing up” with our parents.
When I became a mother, I could finally grasp what my mother had gone through with my three sisters and me. I could finally understand her working mom guilt. Her cranky moments and desires to float away behind a book without a kid to bug her from its captivating narrative. Her undying support of my love of the arts, whether I was in a play, a show, colorguard, band, dance or what have you. All the hours she spent driving to competitions hours away, listening to teenagers and music she probably despised … I can relate as I sit on a floor playing dolls with my daughter. As I drive her from soccer or to dance, watching her become a little being right in front of my eyes.
I understood her commitment. I could have conversations with her that had more meaning. It was like I saw her in a way that was impossible to see beforehand. No matter how hard I tried in my teens or twenties, I could never have truly “seen” my mom the way I do today.
As I dived into a career and dealt with the financial ups and downs of being a sole income household as a single mom, I could relate to my father in ways I never had.
My mom went back to work when I turned six, but even after that, my father was the breadwinner. I saw him stress and feel pressure at keeping everything together, financially. I watched him create business deals and partnerships whenever he brought me with him to work. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate him, but that I was too young to understand what it took to maintain a family of six. Too young to understand how days of long commutes and bargaining at a table in a showroom in Manhattan could weigh on a person or also, shape them for the better.
Today, I understand intimately. When my dad lost his job and the market crashed and my mother went back to work when I was six, I knew my parents were stressed, but I couldn’t possibly understand the pressure, until now. Recently, for eight months, I hunted for a job after my former company closed its doors. Eight long hard months.
Now? I understand my dad’s agita and constant desire to stay on top of his game, lest he ended up unemployed again.
And he didn’t. Not until he retired.
When I sit down at a meeting or correspond with coworkers, I am instantly transported to showroom after showroom, in which I watched my father banter, debate and hold his ground amongst his coworkers and clients. I remember following him on a city street. I remember going in elevator after elevator of tall city buildings in the garment district.
I understand my parents more than I could ever have before.
My desire to walk to the library on a whim or pick up my favorite Ghirardelli chocolate squares, are parallel to my mom’s gigantic collection of mysteries and romances, often read as she chewed on chocolate Twizzlers.
My ability to make friends and converse with baristas, gas attendants, admins, teachers and anyone else in my community reminds me of my sociable father. My wacky sense of humor and incessant need to be neat, presentable and lint-free, are completely my father.
What a gift it has been to watch them age as I age, although sometimes, I wish I could hit rewind on the “tape deck” of my life and see them as I once did. My mother, witty with her dry and black humor, has grown quiet and forgetful. At times, I see glimpses of her spunk. The woman, who debated politics with all of my friends and stood in protest line after protest line, is silent and often, not present in the same way. I grieve for the mom I once often leaned on way more than I probably should have. I long for her to be the same mom who held me when I cried, whether it was over a stomach bug or a stupid boy.
All the stupid boys. Man, did it take me a long time to learn. Wink.
This is the most painful of all: My grandparents had all passed by the time I was two years old. I wasn’t prepared for this. For the possibilities of what could happen.
I want to run back in time, and shove its doors open for a bit to have the mom I remember. To insist that she not go. To insist that she not change.
At first, it was a vivid anger. I felt angry. How dare she change? Did she not love me anymore? Was it me? Did she just not care?
Until I realized that it wasn’t personal, but that my mom was aging and in a difficult way. That anger has since given way to acceptance and grief.
In turn, I have seen my father try to uphold the family and care for his wife in ways that many men today would never do. I see a man of class and dedication do everything he can for his wife, while taking care of his own health. He too, is also growing old, as time escapes no one.
Truly, even as aging can be difficult and also wonderful, it is no matter what, a blessing that I get to have my parents here, today and now. Because one day, I will not have the same blessings I have today, I take this new experience as we all get older together to rejoice in having the people who raised me here to love still.
And truly, that is blessing in itself.
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