2003. The ridiculously looking Christmas tree scrapes the ceiling as dad barely manages to maintain his balance on a ladder to hang the fairy. It’s presence belongs in the heart of its home, the forest, but instead it is here, dominating our small living room. But why is everyone grinning? My siblings surround the tree in hope of decorating the green thing. Packets and boxes of previously used decorations lie on the floor. The snake-like tinsel, the miniature half-eaten candy canes and the loose strips too. Mum reaches forward to plug in the lights and we mesmerise at the scene in awe and proudly sighing. We were so wrapped up on making the tree beautiful all those years ago that the memory of actually enjoying eachother’s company does not come to mind. Gladly, I’m fine with just that, otherwise I’d be just left with the bad memories, the times when the turkey was undercooked because of the electrical problems that mum had been nagging on for dad to get fixed three years ago. When she found out she turned out to be right, we sure did get an entertaining time. Or the times when mum forgot we had dads mum and dad over (who she had never met before) and didn’t have any gifts for them. She scoured the room until she found a book about engines and a dusty mug; she presented the badly wrapped presents to them and insisted on them coming back- which they never did. Our parents failed to maintain their cool, but they could never admit it. But this memory reminds me of how they tried, how they did love, but not exactly face to face.
I sit in the subway station waiting for the northbound bud with the dim light filtering through the film of ash and oil on the plate-glass windows. With a whine and displacement of air, the train arrives and I hurry on. Perched on the hard seat I flick though my phone and look at messages I already read, anything to avoid eye contact. Anything.
+ + + + + + + + + + +
I sit on the end of my bed in my dorm room; four walls, a bed, a desk and a wardrobe. I loved this place because there was no rules, no mum to tell her to tidy up, no parents arguing and no restrictions. I could hear indistinct chatter in the kitchen below; Kathy, Martha and Liz obviously, who else. But soon the voices raised and her friends, drinking buddies and partners in crime stood by my door.
“What happened?” I ask patiently but concerned.
“Promise Anne, you won’t get angry at us,” Liz asks.
“I won’t promise anything, what is it?”
“Your parents are here to see you…” Martha trembles as she speaks.
“Tell them to get lost!” I shout as the anger pumps through me like adrenaline. “Actually, why don’t I?”
“No, no… Anne! Stop!” They shout after me but by that time I was already charging down the steps. Like a bull coated in threatening anger; ready to hurt those back.
I reach the bottom of the steps and glare at the pair. Their now-grey hair stood on their wrinkly face. Hers plastered with makeup and his accompanied with a bushy beard. They stood like bags of cement.
“Anne! How are you dear? How…” she says.
I cut her off mid-sentence, “Get lost! Both of you!”
“That is no way to talk to your mother.” He says.
“You and her don’t decide what I can and can’t do, okay!”
“We are your parents, call us mum and dad. And we can tell you what you can or can’t do… we are your parents.” She replies.
“You’re not though, are you?” I say.
“We struggled 19 years for you and your siblings! We cared for you!”
“Parents? You just fought in front of us. I did everything. I was the CHILD but I was the adult really.”
“What did you do?” She scoffed as she said this.
“I cooked, I cleaned, I fixed… I did everything… I took the role of being a mum and a dad to Timmy, Jimmy and Billy,” I say.
“As if… I was the one who looked after you guys…” they say in turns but soon their voices trail off.
“I’m done…” I say as I walk out of the kitchen and into the garden.
It was described as a formal garden. The bonsai trees lined the perfect lawn in their wooden boxes. In the centre there was a pond as large as a small lake with flowering lily pads and a wooden bridge that crossed the middle so you could look down at the koi carp. The flower beds were a riot of May colour and even on close inspection they were weed-free.
“Look, we’re not saying your parents were right… we just think you should speak with them,” Liz says as she follows me around the garden.
“Why should I? Did you see them back there? They acted as if they did nothing wrong.”
“They’re your parents. Some don’t have any but they still love theirs…like me. If I were you, I would go and start a convo. Don’t be like me, take the chance before it goes.”
It takes me a while to understand… but as I catch on, I realise how lucky I am. Some people don’t have parents or, in fact, anybody whatsoever. Take the chance before it all slips away, anyone would die to be in your shoes.
It is the role of the parent to be the "rock" for their child, but never the other way around. Children may be "anchors," their needs and love keeping their parent grounded, but that is where the lines are drawn. When parents lean on children, unless the child has grown into a mature adult, damage is caused. It is not the natural order for support to go be given from child to adult, though their love may indeed be a kind of invisible healer.
+ + + + + + + +
“So dad, you told me Jimmy, Timmy and Billy are married, but where about are they?” I ask dad as we sit around the dining table.
“Well dear, after you left, things started slowing down and Jimmy, Timmy and Billy went into social care. All we got to know was that they were married.”
“Why didn’t you ask where…” I ask mid-sentence.
“Did that? Scumbags… I mean the workers wouldn’t let us know where they were.” Mum answers.
“I’ll find them, I’ll make sure I do.” I say determined.
“I’m sure you will.” Says mum.
“Oh and Anne… I’m sorry… for everything.” Dad says.
Parenting is the one job you never quit. Every day is a new chance to get things right, to sow the seeds of love and confidence. We guide and nourish, allowing our children to develop into the people they were born to be. We help them find what they love, what their talents lead them to. And then, we let go. We watch in anxiety as they try out their "wings," yet are proud. We let them know that their home is still their home should they need it, and that their parents are still there just as before. They are our children for life and our love for them is eternal.
Transform. Transform for love. Transform for the love of your relationship- we all know chances like these never come twice.