When my in-laws come to town, we sit around the kitchen table talking for hours. They ask good questions, but more than that, they listen as if they aren’t in a hurry. “Tell me about…” How do you feel about…” “What is going on with…”
None of their inquiries can be answered mindlessly with a yes or no, so I answer in tears, run-on sentences, and stories from childhood that I only remembered at exactly that moment.
Conversing with the DiFelices is like participating in an archeological dig within yourself. Their gentle questions are brush strokes that help you unearth your deepest convictions so that you can finally say what you actually mean. To be around them is to discover the truest parts of yourself.
And when my mom comes to visit we move. I mean this literally— we actually moved when she came to visit in the spring — but I mean it generically, too. When she visits we go on walks or go shopping or chase Molly around the backyard.
In my formative years, time with my mom was most frequently spent on the sidewalks. Every night we rode our bikes beside her as she jogged five miles at sunset. Eventually we grew old enough to actually run beside her, and this was a very big deal. Then we grew old enough to injure ourselves at running so now we jog far less and wear all-day athletic gear to makeup the difference.
When my mom visits we talk about life as it is and life as it used to be. She asks about each one of my friends from preschool to present and demands a full rundown of their family life, occupation, and perceived level of happiness. Also, she wants to know how their mothers are doing and if they still live at that address on Pilot Court where I used to have sleepovers on the trampoline.
I find that when my mom is around, I’m my most unguarded self. I tell my bluntest jokes. I give my curtest answers. I am my most unpolished, most sarcastic, most needy self. Stubbornly, she loves me anyways. So for better or for worse, when she comes to town I sometimes act like a child because she is so good at being my mom.
All sets of our parents live in Colorado. They come to babysit their granddaughter by way of frequent flyer miles and a guest room that waits for them in our new house.
They come to San Diego. We go to Colorado. There is always a ‘next visit’ on the books, and, of course, there is always FaceTime.
Generally, I don’t consider it a hardship to live far from home. The notable exceptions are when Mike deploys, when my brother has an extra ticket to a show at Red Rocks, and when I don’t feel like cooking dinner. By that description I suppose miss home a lot. I am an uninspired cook and my brother has tickets to Red Rocks shows CONSTANTLY.
But I enjoy the distance, too. I like charting our own way. I like the independence of establishing ourselves in a city unfamiliar with our bloodline. I like encountering local restaurants and parks and churches with fresh eyes, with untouched expectation. And I like that we get to report back our findings to family when they come to visit. I like that we are the authorities on our city because we got here first.
After a lifetime of being dutiful students and younger siblings, finally we get to play the teacher, the tour guide. We get to ride shotgun. Better yet, we get to drive.
Overall, this long distance arrangement seemed amicable and even easy until the happy genesis of parenthood. Then the ties that loosely anchored me to home violently retracted. I began to feel a pull, not in a casual, holiday-airfare-is-so-expensive sort of way, but in a STOP EVERYTHING, I-think-my-worldview-just-changed sort of way.
It’s not just for the free childcare, although that would be a huge help. And it’s not because my mom tends to overbuy at Costco, although my empty pantry would happily mitigate the situation. It’s because I’m convinced that one of the best gifts we can give to our daughter is exposure to our parents.
From this vantage point in the weeds of early parenthood, I’m loaded with good intentions and unreasonable guilt and absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m self-critical and uncertain a lot of the time. But grandparents are different. They are light with grace, with seasoned perspective. They have a lifelong narrative that proves how tenderly the years redeem what makes the days long.
And often I could use that counterbalance. Daily, I could use it.
There are some families in the military that want to stay in the mobile lifestyle for a patriotic lifetime. There are others that count down the days until they can get out of the circus and move back home. And then there are people like us that really love the military, really want to move home, and cannot, for the life of us, decide what is next, or worse, what is best.
So we sit around the dinner table and have long conversations, unpacking life and ourselves since Mike’s parents taught us how. And we continue to move forward, to unpack boxes quickly and meet our neighbors as if they’re long lost best friends, because my parents showed us that. In fact, my mom met half the neighborhood before I found the box with pots and pans, and it was in the cab of a moving truck with my dad that I saw my first shooting star.
So here we are: our parents’ children at the very same moment we are our most independent selves. Echoes of our parents. Sounds altered by the timbre of new voice.
And I suppose that sometimes we have to go to new places to make room for the people we’re supposed to become.
We have to miss our parents to realize how deeply we love them— and still need them. We have to feel homesick on the way to where we’re going, because we just aren’t there yet.
For now we have summer visits and FaceTime and group texts. We have the pride of independence and the hustle of a prodigal that knows there is really no place like home.
Most of all, we have the kitchen table and the sidewalks, the familiar sites where we were shaped into being. And when we feel lost or displaced or a bit squirrelly, we return to those places to remember where we started and to pick up where our parents left off.