There is a packet of blackhead-removing nose strips in the top rack of the door of my parents’ fridge. The fridge also holds batteries in a ziplock bag, medicines, lipsticks, Belladonna plaster sheets for stubborn sprains, vinegar and vanilla essence. I am about to ask about the Belladonna plaster and the nose strips but I won’t. Though I am not the perfect adult child, I have learnt the following things in the last few years:
No ‘Whys?’ – A ‘Why’, more often than not, leads to irritation and can sometimes escalate to an argument. To my parents, it feels like a combination of criticism, condescension and interrogation. I have no power over how they feel, even if I do not intend to criticise, condescend or interrogate. The scrutiny I put them through makes them feel all these emotions. I have learnt that usually they will have, what they consider to be a logical reason for my ‘Why?’ And if they don’t, I have no right to question their decision because I flew the nest a long time ago. It is their house – I hate having my decisions questioned by my children, my husband or my parents. My parents have similar rights.
An Even Tone – When my adolescent child speaks to me in an irritated voice, I make it very clear that I do not appreciate being spoken to this way. He, bless him, apologises immediately and makes it possible for us to continue with our conversation once more. When either one of my parents cannot hear what I have said and I have to repeat it, I get irritated beyond the very first time. Usually, my parents put up with me! They do not reprimand me. I do not apologise. This is abominable. I know that my parents pine for me to visit them, they pine for the company of their grandchildren. They take out their best towels, their softest blankets. They plan trips around the city to shops and restaurants they know all of us like visiting. They pick up on irritability in my voice as quickly as I pick it up in my son’s. But they feel more hurt because they do not have the luxury of telling themselves that I am a hormonal adolescent. I am a full-grown adult. If I cannot speak calmly to them even now, they know they are doomed to walking on egg-shells around me for the rest of their lives.
The Passage of Time – Every time I visit my parents, I realise there are a lot of things that are now physically tiring for them to do. Yet they are doing them as best they can. During the past two trips here, I have seen my mother develop crippling muscular sprains. They happen all of a sudden and don’t ease up for long periods of time. My father confessed, possibly for the first time, as we were climbing the stairs to their apartment on our way home from the airport, how grateful he is for the presence of their driver, finding it impossible to bring luggage up the stairs. He went as far as to say that even grocery bags are too much for him to bring upstairs now. When I was little, I was convinced of his superpowers in the face of all evil, which I usually imagined as a gigantic serpent with its fangs ajar slithering towards me. I never doubted his physical strength, his presence was the greatest source of strength and vitality to me even as a young adult. I have learnt that it is now my turn to be all of those things to him and to my mother. It is my turn to worry, to show my concern, to call, to visit.
I hope my parents can feel a similar sense of dependability in me. I hope somehow, I have conveyed to them how deeply I love them, how I worry for their continued happiness, their health. I hope they know how important they are to my children, how thankful I am to them both for the love they have showered on us all, continually, all our lives.