Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Things My Parents Got Right

So we're cruising down the highway, and Ainsley starts wailing, "John put underwear in my water bottle!"

"Your name is annoying," she tells him emphatically. "Annoying!"

You know, sometimes you just need to call a spade a spade.

This warm-hearted rant brought a wave of nostalgia as I remembered fighting with my siblings non-stop. My parents, bless them, took us on long road trips. In the early days, when we hit the highways in a woody station wagon, the seating arrangements never varied. Kathy and I road in the far back in the benches that faced each other. Keith, the oldest, got the entire back seat to himself. Karen, the youngest, was sandwiched between my parents up front. The plan wasn't born of favoritism, but of practicality, sheer Darwinian Survival of the Fittest. Kath and I would entertain each other, and, given the opportunity, the rest of us would have murdered poor Karen in cold blood.

How often I look back at amazement at the fortitude and restraint my parents displayed! Among the many things I appreciate about my folks are these:

1. We took great vacations. Not exotic vacations, but vacations with special memories of fishing in Northern Michigan and riding the waves in the Atlantic. On several occasions we drove from Detroit to south Florida straight through. (which makes the fifteen hour jaunt from Georgia to Michigan seem like a Sunday drive). I have amazing (Dare I say magical?) memories of our visits to Disney World. My parents' friends, Dave and Shirley, invited us to Pelee Island one summer (1973?), and we've been going there ever since.

2. We blew out holidays and big events. First Communion, eighth grade graduation, high school graduation -- Mom threw big parties. Big events called for sheet cake and tea sandwiches from Mrs. Maddox in Royal Oak. I've loved cream cheese and ham ever since.

When I look back at our Christmas photos, I'm impressed with the matching outfits and the plethora of presents under the tree. Where did my mother hide this stuff? Where did she wrap it? When did she wrap it?

The Christmas my sisters and I were about 4, 6, and 8, my mother knitted two piece Christmas outfits for all of us. Knitted! That qualifies her for rock star status, no two ways about it. And looking back on those outfits, I'm fairly certain all we did was complain that they were itchy. I sewed a Christmas outfit once. When I had one child.

3. We fished and boated. A lot. Oh, do we have fishing stories. The ones we caught and the ones that got away. Great memories.

4. They sent us to good schools. No small sacrifice. Big payoff.

5. We were free-range children. Growing up in the late sixties/early seventies, we left the house in the morning and came home for dinner. We rode our bikes everywhere. If there's a single element of my childhood I dearly wish I could recreate for my children, it would an open-ended summer with trees to climb, woods to explore, ice cream stores to visit.

6. We knew we could always come home.  I remember calling my dad when my best friend, the designated driver, tied one on.  Dad wasn't happy. But I called, and he came. I always, always, always knew he would. Both my parents have dealt with impressive equanimity the, hmmm, what would the word be?, stuff we have thrown their way. No details, but, wow.

7. They stayed married. My parents separated briefly when I was in seventh grade for reasons that were serious in nature and not mine to share here. I am so very grateful they stuck it out. Everything -- from weddings to my mother's health issues -- would be different had my parents walked away from their marriage.

The picture, above, shows my mom in 1962. The pearls she's wearing were a confirmation gift to me in 1978. At the time I remember thinking they were a ho-hum gift, one I barely appreciated. Thirty-five years later, I wear them all the time. If my house were on fire, and I could rescue just ten items, my pearls would be high on the list -- a cherished and irreplaceable heirloom, an enduring gift, little valued at the time.

So it can be with our parents. Before my parents' brief separation, I didn't fully appreciate or even notice the folks I call Mom and Dad. And then Dad was gone. And, believe me, I noticed; we all noticed. The longer I'm in this business of raising children, the more I appreciate the gift my parents were to me when I was young and are to me now that I'm not.

Today Mom turns seventy-six.

Happy birthday, Mom! I love you!

It's Theme Thursday over at Clan Donaldson. This week's theme is black and white. So I didn't take this picture, but I scanned it which in my book is way harder. Head over to Cari's to add your photos.


Laura Pearl said...

I loved this post! And I'm a bit older than you are (born in 1958), but it reminded me so much of what it was like when I was a kid! The long trips in a woody wagon, with two facing each other in the way back--with no DVD player to amuse us, no AC in the summertime--yes, I remember those days. And playing outside all day long...times have surely changed. I feel fortunate to have grown up when I did.

Happy Birthday to your wonderful mom. (Mine turns 78 in the fall.) I love it that she passed her pearls on to you. My mom gave me the ones that had belonged to HER mom when I graduated from college.

I just loved this post--it made me so nostalgic.

Cari Donaldson said...

I didn't think anything could top that picture (that picture!), but your reflection on it did. Beautiful.

and I agree, scanning is way harder that photographing!

christinelaennec said...

What a lovely tribute to your parents. I too, have pearls that were my mother's, given to her as a 16th birthday present by my Grampa.

We've been packing for our move, and part of the process has been looking back at old memorabilia together - there are many notes about our daughter's early years (some hilarious quotations) and also logs of our terrific struggles before our son went to a special residential school.

Last night before bed, our daughter came into our room and thanked us for loving her and being good parents. !!!! What a wonderful gift.

Happy birthday to your mother.

Christine said...

It is true...parents impart a lot. YOU are blessed they stayed married. Mine did not and it has been so hard.

Madeline said...

Wow. This is one of those posts that I will remember. Beautiful classic photo and wonderful example you had in your parents.

Kris said...

Your childhood sounds a lot like mine! We had 5 kids, so it was always vacation via road trip for us, too. We had a big station wagon and my memories are of my Dad (before my little brother was born and we were just the 4 girls) putting the seats ALL the way down and placing the luggage around the edges. He would put blankets and pillows on the floor and the 4 of us would lounge back there with games and books. It made the time fly. This was obviously before the advent of seat belts!! My parents, unfortunately, divorced when I was 9. I was blessed that they both remarried wonderful people and although there was some acrimony for a number of years, they have put all that behind them and are great friends now. My children are lucky to have "extra" grandparents - so that's the silver lining in the awfulness of having your parents divorce.

Natalie said...

Wonderful post and tribute to your parents. As we grow older we realize that sometimes the most simple of gifts become the most precious.

Lisa said...

Love. The nostalgia... I love a classic.