It’s been years since the last time I spent 6 continuous days with my parents.
Here I was, headed up to Santa Cruz to share 6 full days of family time in a room with two queen beds at the Hilton on 41st. I was concerned.
If I’m being totally honest, when all was said and done, I think I laughed more than I had in some time. I cried more too. It was a strange, much needed hit of childhood nostalgia. I’d forgotten how it felt to be a daughter. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have parents.
Of course I’d always been their daughter. I was lucky enough to have grown up with fantastic parents – parents that cared, but not too much, that fought, but fairly. Parents that understood the importance of exploration, but with the comforts of a reliable safety net.
Isn’t it funny the way that family dynamics play out? Chatting with your mom about the events of the day or the latest developments at work just isn’t the same as being buckled up together in the car for hours on end and subsequently sharing one hotel room, is it? Plans were discussed, group decisions were made and my bed was 2 ft away from theirs.
It had been quite a while since we were all under the same roof.
Sitting in the passenger seat with my feet up on the dash – my mom behind the wheel taking the turns like a Nascar driver (and hitting the brakes with a remarkable amount of force) – brought back memories of many an afternoon spent together, headed to rehearsal or to dance class. Only this time, it wasn’t my little sister in the back seat. It was my father, with his muddled grey jacket wadded up and tucked at his side, his navy blue hoodie unzipped halfway down to expose a salt-and-pepper haired chest, because he’d forgotten to put on a shirt.
Neither of us had noticed.
That is, until he walked in to the Mobil Minut-Mart uniformed as such, armed and ready to thoroughly confuse anyone that caught a glimpse of him as he quickly rushed to the register to buy a bag of Lay’s potato chips and yet another pack of gum.
You had to laugh.
Though it seemed a bit backwards, we did laugh.
My father had dementia.
Something I was still trying to reason, to understand, to accept.
It was OK, because he was my still my dad…parts of him the dad that I had known all of my life, and loved. It was the absence that I struggled with. This feeling like I was meeting my father for the first time, though we’d spent years getting to know each other, arguing about the notion of a self-constructed reality and “what you resist persists”, or discussing the meaning of life while cooking Chinese stir fry in the kitchen, or listening to Steely Dan and Wang Chung with the front door open, the hallway aglow, and the Summer breeze swathing my memory in a subtle, faded sepia.
As fate would have it, I came out of the Minut-Mart with my own child-sized bag of Lays.
It was strange, but on this trip I felt, nurtured, almost like I could enjoy the simple comforts of childhood irresponsibility again. It was the shuffling of roles between daughter and parent – that was different now. It was a new (and at times exhausting) sensation for me, but one that after the fact, I was oddly thankful for. Searching for patience when it was so far out of reach, mustering the last bits of energy you’d stored, wishing you had more answers than questions –
I thought, this must be what it feels like to have a child.
All of which was quite interesting, considering the reason for our extended visit up to Santa Cruz was none other than awaiting the arrival of a child.
We were waiting for Baby Oliver.
This very handsome little guy came a bit later than anticipated, but he was so worth the wait! My littlest, sweetest nephew arrived early Tuesday morning and we couldn’t hit the road fast enough to get up to 26th avenue and meet him (I suppose, at times, Nascar tendencies come in handy 😉 ).
With sis, drew, and baby boy all happily recovering at Sutter, my parents and I dined (a lot), wined (with care) and laughed our way through Santa Cruz – even finding time to hit the crowd favorites…burgers at Suda, dinner and drinks at Johnny’s overlooking the bay, sweeps through the Bookstore and a lap around my beloved Stripe Downtown.
Oh, and Jazzercise at the Roller palladium was a must. Naturally.
While an afternoon spent trying sunnies at Urban Outfitters proved to be both surprisingly awkward and wildly entertaining (but seriously, dad was super into shopping now…??) – nothing at all could top getting to hold my little sister’s first child.
It’s strange getting to meet someone who’s not quite a “someone” yet. It felt like trying to make sense of a black hole. Especially when that someone came from a person you have known your whole life.
I could not conceptualize how this human came to be; it felt like my brain wasn’t wired for it.
Yet another thing I couldn’t fully understand.
On top of this confusion came a giant wave of empathy for the long journey my sister had taken through her pregnancy (and now the seismic event that is labor and delivery).
I felt detached. sympathetic. overwhelmed.
It was strange, but as the days crept by, somehow Oliver began to look more familiar…settling into his features, waving his arms – his eyes watching and wandering about. I thought about how I couldn’t wait to see him next. I wanted to see how his features would shift – to find out who he would become.
I loved him. I didn’t even really know him.
Watching my sister and brother-in-law take on such a task with effortless ease was awe-inspiring. And also infuriating. They were total naturals. The two stood patiently side by side, sharing duties, giving energy without cease, all of the answers at the ready…they were parents, through and through.
As I carefully unwrapped a newly exposed facet of myself, I felt a pang of self doubt. Could I ever do this myself? How would I ever be able to understand a child of my own, entering the world for the first time, and care for it as if I had known it all along? And later, after we had finally gotten to know one another, would this child too have to rely on memories of a parent he once knew?
All at once the loss of my Father and the joy of Oliver consumed me.
Rather than spiral downward, I thought about what my father would tell me when I was a little girl. When I felt like I couldn’t control my thoughts, my fears, he’d say “Close your eyes, and imagine the most comfortable chair”… he’d ask me to describe it – what did it look like? Once I had the image in place, he’d say “now sit in that comfortable chair – a comfy, cozy place for you, your fears and your feelings –
and let time pass.”
The passage of time. This had helped me many times before.
Hearing his voice inside my head, I realized that even with the passage of time, though the mind may sway, falter, change, fatigue – there were some things, some beautiful things, that it just couldn’t let go. Things it would hold dearly, within its deepest folds, to call upon in a time of need.
I hoped that my father still had a few of these memories hidden, tucked away, protected.
So there I sat, curled up in an antique blue paisley chair in the back right corner of my sister’s living room. I watched as Andrew delicately compiled ingredients for a salad. I watched as my sister folded the last pieces of tiny, crisp, freshly laundered newborn clothes. I watched as my parents took turns carefully passing a tightly swaddled 3-day old Oliver. And I thought of the beauty in the cycle of it all.
Creating life, sustaining life, celebrating life –
We are truly incredible creatures.