Wednesday, October 18, 2017

50 for 50 day 42: With gratitude for my parents

This is post 42 of 50 in celebration of my 50th birthday. You can read the rest here.

I don't know anyone who would describe their relationship with their parents as "simple." I don't think it can be simple. We are animals with brains so large that we have turned the basic act of passing on our genetic material into the stuff of dreams and nightmares. My relationship with my parents is no less complex than most, but now, as I near 50, I can finally be grateful for them.

I think every set of parents imagines that their relationships with their kids will be better than the ones they had with their parents. I don't know if that is the case. I do know that they will be different. And I have finally come to believe that most parents do the best they can. I know mine did.

My parents are Harvey and Florence Packer (neƩ Green). They both grew up in American cities, the children of immigrants. They met at a party in Washington D.C. in 1966. Family lore has it that when my mother told my father that, as a librarian, her job was to read, he turned to a friend and said with wonder, "She reads!" He wasn't being sarcastic. Reading was part of the foundation of my parents' relationship, and of our family. They married a scant three months later and I came along ten months after that.

I think we have a cultural tendency to either idealize or demonize childhood. It was either wonderful and mythic or lurid and dark. Certainly the stories are better when we think of it that way. Mine had moments were mythic and others that were dark. Mostly it was a childhood filled with childhood things. School, friends, adventures, homework, family dinners, books, and more.

My parents certainly planted the seeds that have led me to my life's work. My mom was a children's librarian and I remember her telling me the folktales she would later tell the kids in her library groups. My dad would tell me stories from the radio dramas of his youth and would craft adventure stories just for me. I understood from birth that stories mattered and that telling them and that the connections forged in imagination were vital.

As I grew things became more complicated, they always do, but there are still shimmering memories. Going camping in the VW van. Watching the fire and the sparks that drifted up to become stars. The foods my mother cooked that I still associate with comfort. The silly faces my father made to make me laugh. They did the best they could to raise me to know my own intelligence and to know I was loved.

Older still and things became even more complex, but again, there is bright, there is dark, and there is the rest of the time. Hearing my father boast about my SAT scores. My mother dancing around the kitchen when she was proud of me. The way they looked at each other.

I grew older and moved out into my own life. My parents and I drifted away from each other and back, a kind of tidal movement maybe, where the ocean cannot deny the shore. Even at its most stormy, we each did the best we could.

It was never easy. It was never less than complex. But my parents, their relationship with each other, and with me, has of course shaped me into who I am.

I chat with strangers, the way my father did. I love junky monster movies, the way my mother does. I read, as they both did.

The last few years have held a sweetness I never would have expected. No parent ever expects to have to comfort their child for the loss of a spouse. Just as a parent never expects to outlive their child, so too they don't expect to outlive their child's mate. My parents did. They had to try to find ways to help me through my great storms of grief, even as they were experiencing their own, even as they were seeing the ends of their own lives creeping closer.

They did the best they could, and that was enough. The rifts in our journeys through darkness and light were smoothed over and, while maybe still an uneven path, there was finally a track we all could follow together.

My father died in the summer of 2016. I was there, holding his hand as he drew in his last breath. Prior to his death we sat together, watched a lot of baseball, said we loved each other and that we were sorry for the harm we had each inflicted. I am so lucky. I don't think everyone has that chance.

My mother now lives 30 minutes away from me. We talk almost daily and we end each conversation by telling each other I love you.  I don't know how much more time I will have with her, but I am grateful for it.

My parents gave me gifts of intelligence and words and music and books. They taught me (intentionally or not) how to be strong and resilient and ultimately forgiving. Now, as I turn 50, I know how lucky I am. It was never easy, but not many of the things that most shape us are.

Thank you Mom and Dad. I love you.

This is what 50 looks like. Still my parents' child, no matter how old I am.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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