We didn’t really have any big plans for spring break this year. When Tim found out he would be away for work during the same week our kids were off school, I thought it would be nice to pack up the rest of us (me and our two girls) and drive to visit my parents an hour away.
My mom and dad recently moved from Michigan to a place closer to Chicago. It was a big move. It meant changing to a new city, a new neighborhood, a new movie theater, a new grocery store. It meant change. A difficult thing for anyone, but even moreso for a couple in their golden years who had made habit and consistency part of their happy routine. We asked them to do it anyway. It meant they could be close to my brother and his family, and to me and my family. And despite their creature comforts, they are true adventurers deep inside and very much up to the task. So they said yes.
What it also meant was purging a house, full of 36 years of memories, down to the barest. When faced with this, my mom (a retired nurse who keeps a spartan home) and my dad (a retired architect content with clean lines), narrowed their focus even further and began to donate like crazy. So much so that when my mom called to ask me what I wanted to do with “that wedding dress” stored in my old room, I hustled home the next available weekend to grab it before it too went out. When it was finally time to leave, my dad went from room to room and stood in the emptiness. Then he and my mom collected the last of their boxes–and haven’t looked back since.
Now, visiting my parents is new for us too. No familiar mile markers. No stopping at our favorite deli midway. No walks to the creek with the dog and the kids to the place where I caught my first frog. It is simply mom and dad to look forward to. And time to be with family.
Here’s what I notice about going there: from the moment we cross the front steps and into my parents kitchen, the girls scatter and start digging through drawers and closets in search of the new and unfamiliar. I am less in charge, more of a watcher. I watch my mom prep snacks in the kitchen. I watch my dad entertain the girls with cars, dolls, whatever is nearby. I wander between the two of them just to be near. I also regress in my parents home, often to extremes. I stay in pajamas until the afternoon. So do the girls. Though I arrive with a bag full of crafts and games, only one is opened. The rest stay packed away in favor of lazy television and a pick from my mom’s selection of old movies.
My parent’s kitchen is immaculate. Just like in their previous home. Inside the fridge there are neatly-cubed plates of fruit, a wedge of cheese, cold sodas. A fresh loaf of bread and some baked goods sit on the counter. Though my mom and dad like to cook, we all felt like keeping it simple this trip: Chinese food, burgers and thickly-cut pizza–all ordered in or carried out from local places. It made me realize how feeding my own family can cause me stress at times. But not my parents. I watch as they take care of us happily, effortlessly. After decades of doing it, they are naturals.
All of this made me think: what is going home if not a return to childhood in many ways? No matter where home is, or how often it may change over time, if it’s a place that holds your parents, it will always be home. Because no matter how uncertain a new town or a new place might be, the comfort of being with those who loved you first outweighs just about everything else.