Monday, April 18, 2005

 

In Which They Come and They Go...

Question for discussion:

If fish and visitors stink after three days, how much fumigation must the Magazine Mansion require after a visit from my parents, who arrived three weeks ago yesterday?

They left this morning.

And indeed it does stink--it stinks that they're gone.

Don't get me wrong: it only takes about a week to remember all the niggling little things that drove me out of the house in the first place. My mom's elephantine memory may be a source of amusing anecdotes, but it is also a veritable Biography special--a negatively slanted one--on my life (and I'm not just talking about the time I crapped in my footed pajamas when I was 4).

And my dad may be handier than a Swiss Army knife with legs, but heavens, he requires a lot of babysitting to stay on track. He'll run downstairs to grab a piece of strapping to shore up the large piece of panelboard he's left me holding against the wall--balanced in that perfect spot, you know. And I'll wait. And wait. And finally the board slips and I go downstairs and find he's gone off to Home Depot to buy jigsaw blades. And this will remind my mom of the time I left my brother handcuffed to a doorknob and went off with my pal Shawn for the rest of the afternoon (an incident of which I have no recollection. Except that my brother deserved it). It does get old after three weeks.

But now they're gone and everyone is desolate. Before they depart, the Brownie hides in her room, withholding her goodbye "smackeroni and squeezes," reasoning that they can't leave until she bestows them, so if she never bestows them, they can never leave. Of course, at the last minute she relents and tries to turn the smackeroni-and-squeeze-fest into a morning long event, stretching it out for as long as she can. But go they must, and then Her Lovely Self, who gets used to my mom's nattering--like a kind of sonic wallpaper--calls me up most of the morning of their departure, all teary and sad. My son sulks when he gets off the bus and sees the old GMC Jimmy (or this time, the rental) vanished from its usual spot.

Even the dog seems mournful. In his dotage my dad's position on animals has softened considerably. As a child, he was so unsentimental, he knew his dogs as That Goddam Dog and The Other One, and regarded cats as merely useful creatures that kept the rat population down in the barn. Now, he has bird feeders at every window in his house in order to entertain the eight or so cats he and mom own. They are currently between dogs, so when Dad visits, he greets Blazey like a long-lost relative. Every single day they went about 14 long, rambling walks (including one while I was left up in the darkened walk-in attic, waiting for someone who was supposed to throw the switch-breaker back on). Every night, Her Lovely Self has to police Dad at the dinner table, since he's more apt than the kids to slip food to the dog. No wonder he whimpers and whizzes on the rug every time they pack up to leave (The dog, not my dad).

I feel sad, too, of course. But it would be dishonest if I didn't also admit that I am looking forward to getting back to our usual routine (since we've been on the sleeper sofa and my parents have been staying in our room, I will be especially glad to sleep in my own bed again). Mostly, though, I feel lucky. If I lived closer to my parents, we'd see them a lot more, yes, but familiarity breeds contempt. The more I saw of them, the harder I think it would be to enjoy the time we'd spend together. We'd just grate on each other too much, and take for granted that we could freely piss each other off, because there'd always be tomorrow. Or next weekend.

Living as far away as we do, most parents could only manage a long weekend (and most families could probably only stand a long weekend together. Have I ever mentioned my in-laws before?). So I'm doubly lucky that my parents are both able and willing to stay as long as they do. Instead of feeling like they have to cram three or four days with "meaning" and "quality time" and other similar descriptors in "quotes," they actually have a chance to settle in, spend time with the grandkids in their natural habitat and routine, and actually be at leisure without having to think about the long trip home in a day or so.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that this block of time is long enough to accomplish any number of useful projects--even if it means occasionally being stuck in the middle of that project while someone wanders off to the corner store to buy a Slurpee. Or having someone else come in while you're working on wiring and remind you of the time you electrocuted your own father by screwing the fuses back in while he was still rewiring the family room lights.

Before I left for work this morning, after he had finished loading the car, Dad and I split a last pot of coffee and he reminded me of an old saying of my grandfather's: "When family visits, you're glad to see 'em, but twice as glad to see 'em go." I can go along with the first part of that statement, and even at the second part--hey, it's funny because it's true.

But it's also true that I'll be three times as glad when I see my parents roll into our driveway again in five or six months.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Comments:
Oh, what a great post. As yours always are. After having lived with my mother for the last 8 months, I can certainly appreciate the 'familiarity breeds contempt' thing. We get along WAY better when we have at least 7 states in between us.
 
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