Today my parents are celebrating their 46th wedding anniversary. WOW! This milestone is pretty incredible. Since getting married, they have moved completely from the East Coast to the West Coast with a 40 year “layover” in Arizona. They’ve gotten their advanced degrees, and started and retired from their careers with pretty significant accomplishments and accolades to boot. They’ve made countless friends, traveled a good portion of the world, and raised a pretty awesome lady (if I do say so myself!).
Today, for their wedding anniversary, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to them. After all, a good portion of finding the “me” in mommy, comes from how they raised me. And a good portion of the “mom” in mommy comes from how they raised me, too. So, instead of a Hallmark card or a bottle of champagne at dinner, they get this blog post (is that the equivalent of those “someone I know went to some random tourist destination and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? Man, I hope not!).
As the only child of two educator parents, I grew up in a household that valued kindness, social justice, education, and above all, love. We were a small but mighty unit of three (except for one special year when we had an exchange student from Brazil who made us a happy family of four. Hi sis!). My parents taught me independence at an early age which allowed me to forge my own path and to become my own person from from the get-go. One of their favorite stories to tell is about the first time they put me on a plane alone to visit my grandparents in Southern California. At the age of five, my parents took me to the gate, told me the flight was the same length of time as an episode of Sesame Street (which, to my disappointment I soon figured out did not mean that the airplane would actually show an episode of Sesame Street), and handed me off to the flight attendant to board the plane. I said goodbye and didn’t look back as I walked down the jetway and onto the airplane. “You didn’t look back,” they’ve told me time and again. And, I’ve always just laughed it off and held that moment as a point of pride. Until this week.
This week was my five year’s first week of summer day camp (another important part of my childhood). The first day, she gripped my hand tightly as the counselors introduced themselves and started a game for the kids to get to know each other. As she got more comfortable, I loosened our grip, first by standing next to her while we played, then sitting to the side while she played without me, and then giving her one last kiss as I walked away. And so, the second day I anticipated a similar progressive exit. But to my surprise, we got to the door of the camp building and she abruptly turned around, gave me a kiss and said “Mommy, I can go in by myself. I don’t need you to walk me.” Sure enough, she walked down the hall without turning back. And then I understood. I knew why that moment had been such an important milestone for my parents. They’d put me on a plane and sent me away for a week to stay with my grandparents; my experience with my own daughter was for 3 hours and was less than a mile from my house. But still, I finally understood. That independence that we so deeply try to instill in our children is a wonderful blessing, but man does it pull at your heart.
As with most parenting decisions, there are always unintended (or maybe unexpected) consequences. Teaching me independence at a young age resulted in me leaving home at eighteen. Like many others, I went off to college in another state. But when I left we all knew I wasn’t coming back. Of course, I returned for school breaks, extended holiday weekends and family vacations in adulthood. But really, when I moved out to California after I graduated high school, I had no intention of moving back to my hometown of Phoenix. That was it – bye bye desert. And that’s how it was for fifteen years – me going back to Phoenix with my family or my parents coming to visit us here in Northern California. We made the most of our visits, but we all knew that those condensed weekends were jam packed with activity and emotion because there was just never enough time. So, when my parents retired from their long careers in education and moved last year to a new home just a few minutes down the road from us, that created an entirely new and special reality. Suddenly everything had come full circle. I’d left home all those years ago without looking back (just like before that first flight) and created a new home and new life for myself. They’d continued building their lives, careers and community in Arizona. And now, here we are, together again. The weight of their move is not lost on me and I count my lucky stars every day that it was possible.
Living so far away from my parents for many years, I’d often felt jealous of my friends who had random movie nights with their moms or dinner out with their dads. But this last week, I saw my parents nearly every day. I took my dad to breakfast for a belated Father’s Day celebration. I spent a few days in my mom’s studio as she taught me to sew on her sewing machine. As a kid and even as a young adult, I never could have appreciated this time together. But now, I cherish it. I love that my dad can call us when he makes a dish for dinner that’s too spicy for them but knows we’ll like it, so he asks if he can bring it over. I love that my mom can take the time to teach me how to sew on a project that has taken months (even though it should have taken a few days) because we have the luxury of starting and stopping whenever we want to. I love that my kids can go to their grandparents’ house at 7am on a Sunday morning so my husband and I can get a little extra sleep. And I love that my kids are growing up with all of their grandparents (my parents and my mother-in-law) all only minutes away so they can be an active part of the kids’ lives and can attend sporting events, art shows, and special dinners out (and can watch the kids when we need to run errands or get in an occasional date night! Thanks everyone!).
My parents are two of the bravest, strongest, smartest, and most loving people I know and I am inspired by them as individuals and as a couple. When they sold our home in Phoenix, I was sad about the loss of those memories, but what we have gained is so much more. And their house here is just as special as was the house in Phoenix. This year more than ever I’ve learned that a house is just a house, but home is where the heart is and my parents have two of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.
Happy anniversary you two! We love you! Have a wonderful celebration!