Monday, January 30, 2012

Parenting Forward and Back


My parents are moving and getting older. These two facts are beyond question and yet I find myself forgetting both things all too often these past few days. Beside me on this tiny desk is the stack of papers and piece of scratch paper I used this morning to do my taxes. I hadn't expected to do them this morning, but I had the time and had logged into the TurboTax site to see if I remembered my username and password. Since I was able to recall them (using Gmail's search feature), I just sort of let the taxes happen and submitted them electronically this morning. I'll have a refund in 7-14 days. Isn't that nice? But it also reminded me of what is going on with my parents and me.

They are in the process of moving from the home I think they expected to remain in until the end of their days. The place is in the 1000 Islands, north of Alexandria Bay and is quite lovely. It's also large, has a lot of property attached, and is becoming more than they can afford (taxes) and maintain. All this and they are feeling the need to be closer to their doctors who are all back here in Syracuse, 110 miles away. It's a good decision for them to move, but hard for them to contemplate and make happen. I know that my mother especially thought that she was creating a homestead to which everyone would flock and that would be handed down through generations. That didn't pan out and so it's a bit of a shock to them.

The moving process has proven even more shocking to them. While they are fairly young, in their seventies, the complexity of the move, the shopping for a new home, and even the sudden sale of their home (for the asking price) has shown the things that they are and are not capable of at the moment. And I am learning that a mere suggestion thrown out by me feels to them just like an order. Even my questions (do you want to try this...?) feel to them like commands (you must do this!).

I mentioned the taxes because this is the sort of thing my father did day-to-day in the years he owned a thriving business. A task came along and, though he often had no idea how to get to the finish line, he plugged away and found out how to get it done. So it is with me now. And the thing I used to marvel at in him--his innate ability to get shit done--is now my own and, as if I've stolen it, no longer his or my mother's. After they move here, he and I will sit down with my computer and do his taxes with me leading the way.

Tonight, I called both of them and asked them to consider three things. I  had to explicitly state that it didn't matter to me which way they chose to go, so long as they chose what they wanted instead of what they imagine I want. It was an interesting conversation to try to have.

A few moments later my wife and I had to have a similar conversation with my ten-year-old daughter about her writing. Write what you want, my dear.

It occurs to me that I am in the process of parenting two sets of children both of whom I feel enormously indebted to. It's not a burden so much as a new challenge. My parents have done their best to raise me. They gave it most everything they had and they did very well (though I may be more than a little biased about all this). They deserve to be given some of that back just as I hope my two daughters will help me some day. I'm not exactly paying back or paying forward so much as living with the way things are and trying to find the joy in it.

And like parenting my children, I can't make the decisions for my parents. I try to suggest things to them, but tonight I learned how much more gentle I need to be with them, how much more compassionate. It's a good thing to be reminded of. It's a necessary thing. And when the time comes, I'll sit with Dad and do the taxes. Before then, I'll carry boxes and likely drive a big-ass truck from the 1000 Islands back to Syracuse. And all the while I'll imagine my daughters thinking of the magic power their dad has to just know how to do these things. I'll wonder how long before they realize that I just have a higher power of faking and that like them I'm taking it one moment at a time, one new challenge at a time, one nervous step after another. Eventually, as I have with my parents, they will come to see that I'm writing one word, then another, and that the magic is simply to write on.