Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Human Parents

It's the passing of an era to realize that your parents are only human.

My parent's house needs to be treated for termites, so naturally they need to get out of the house for about a week while the pest company puts up the big tent and treats the house. For the past two weeks I've been going to their home on one of my days off and moving a few things they wanted to be sure were kept safe, into a storage pod they rented. This has meant going through the house with them, looking into old closets and poking around in drawers, loading up a few boxes, and cleaning off a few shelves.

It has also meant dealing with both my mom and dad at a time when both a just a little stressed about the whole situation. They are both getting old. Dad is nearly 80 and about 90% blind, while mom is nearly 77, and has a very hard walking. Both are set in their ways. The house they live in used to be a duplex (my dad punched out a wall years ago when they bought it, making it one big house), so they both have their own "side" of the house. They have their own living rooms, their own chairs, their own TV's, and their own bathrooms, and their own bedrooms. About the only thing they share together that I see are meals.

Now, don't get me wrong. They love each other dearly. They've been married 57 years, and their commitment to each other is absolute and unending. They're not the most passionate couple I know, but they certainly are committed.

So, they got a room, I'd call it more of a studio, at one of the Extended Stay hotels near their home. They'll stay there for the week. It's a nice place, with a large handicapped access bathroom, a kitchenette, and two queen-sized beds. Not at all a bad place to stay for a week. I'm just not sure they can survive a week of intense togetherness in a studio while their house is treated!

My poor dad feels so lost and useless since he's gone blind. Oh, he's done a wonderful job of getting himself involved in the Blind Society, and he teaches cane-travel to other seniors, and goes on daily walks to keep himself busy. It's the day-to-day things around the house he can no longer do (things that were a snap just a few years ago), that get him down. During this move, mom has orchestrated everything, and dad just feels like a useless lump going along for the ride, something he is NOT accustomed to.

My poor mom is just running herself to rags. She has such a hard time walking (knee problems) but refuses to slow down. She's had a recent fall, and has been suffering some pretty painful headaches ever since. Add to that the stress and uncertainty of this whole episode, and my loving, kind mother gets just a little bit snippy.

And my siblings and I wind up in the middle. Mom complains to me about dad, while dad complains to me about mom. I've taken what feels like the priestly route of just listening and nodding, and letting them vent and say what they want, without ever repeating what I hear from one to the other.

My older sister told my mom some time ago she didn't want to hear any more gripes about dad because, well, he's her dad. My younger sister thinks my parents are both kinda crazy, and although she is closer to the problem (she lives with them), I'm sure they're not crazy. They may drive her crazy, though.

But to see my parents, today, while getting the last things out of the house, being short with each other, arguing over little things (they were already arguing about the temperature of the hotel room when I left), revealed to me a very human, very normal side to them that, I guess I always knew was there, but never really let myself see.

I guess that's the little kid in me that's still very much alive, wanting to see the world as I've always seen it, through child's eyes. I've been accused more than once of being Peter Pan, always a kid, never wanting to grow up. Even though I'm 41 years old (and very grown up and well adjusted, in case there are any questions in your mind, dear reader), I still have a child-like part of my psyche that just refused to grow ALL the way up.

After I got them all moved in (with some help from my niece), mom sat down on the bed (so freakin' tired, just bone weary), and looked at me. "I don't know what we'd do without you, Michael." she said. I could tell she meant it.

I guess it's that little child-like part that had to take one more step toward growing up today. Long ago I went from being just their child to being their friend. Today, I feel like I took a step from being their friend toward being their parent.

I began writing this post saying "It's a sad thing to realize your parents are only human", but I decided to change it, because to me, it's really not sad. It is somewhat bittersweet, but not sad. It's the progression of life. I take some odd comfort in that, knowing that things are going and progressing as they should. Parents grow old. Children grow up. The children have children and become parents. Parents grow old, and the cycle continues.

(Feel free to break out with Elton John's "Circle of Life" any time...)

Yeah, my parents are human after all, and that's OK. They're pretty good humans, as humans go, and I love 'em to death. They've been my twin rocks in life, and for that I'm indebted to them in a way I'll never be able to convey.

I just hope they survive the week without killing each other!

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