In a couple of hours I’ll be settling into a restaurant booth somewhere for a casual dinner with my folks as they pass through on the front-end of their annual trek from Texas to Nova Scotia. It’s a ritual we’ve carried out every year since they moved south a decade ago (aside from a couple of years when the whole cancer thing kept mom from going anywhere). I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again, to giving my mom a big hug and telling her to her face how much I love her. Doing so only twice a year is one of those things in life I wish I could change, but one I’ve learned to live with.
That being said, I’m not particularly looking forward to dinner itself. It’s a sad truth that given the distance now between us, both physically and emotionally, there’s very little to be said during these bi-annual get-togethers that are of much interest. Mom will update me on the status of what little family I have left that I can recall – who’s dead, who’s alive, who’s sick, who’s not speaking to who – as well as giving me the lowdown on relatives I’ve never heard of, let alone met. (It seems our family tree has grown in the years since they hit retirement and started to get in touch with all those branches they never bothered with before.) She’ll ask me about all my friends from high school that she still remembers, and I’ll do my best to fill her in despite the fact that outside of Fish and Steve, I haven’t so much as spoken to any of them since last time my mom was in town. My life has changed so much in the last ten years that it’s now populated with people she never met and has no point of reference for. Meanwhile Dad will sit quietly at her side, occasionally piping up with an annoyed “what?” before reminding my mother that he’s going deaf and she needs to speak up. There’ll be pockets of uncomfortable silence as I struggle to come up with anything of note to add, desperately searching for a nugget of a story they might appreciate. They’ll ask about my theater projects and I’ll give them the overview, knowing that any more than that will cause them to tune out. They’re supportive, but not 100% understanding, which is fine. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was their unconditional love.
And that will be that. We may spend an hour or so hanging out at the home of some friends from the neighborhood where they stay whenever they’re in town. The conversation won’t get much better, but it’ll be nice to be in their presence for awhile. I’ll eventually excuse myself and say my goodbyes, knowing that a repeat of the evening will be done in another four months when they make the return trip.
All of which, I realize, might sound a bit depressing. Certainly its not an *ideal* situation. But in the end it’s enough. I love my parents with all my heart, and there are times when I miss them immensely; when all I really want to do is give my mom a hug even though she’s a thousand or so miles away. But for the most part, I’m happy with the arrangement and with the fact that while my family may now live a half-continent away, my home is still here.