February 24, 2005
I recently returned from Florida, where I spent the Kwanzaa break (I've coined a new name for the winter break that I hope will sweep the nation) with my parents. Actually, they used to be my parents. Now they're my son's grandparents. I was once my mother's middle child, her youngest son, one of three apple-cheeked children around which her world revolved. Now I'm just the thing that brings the grandchild during the Kwanzaa break (I think the name is catching on). I'm pretty sure, if she could have, my mom would have skipped motherhood altogether and gone straight to being a grandmother. As a mother, she would never have given me an icing-laden cinnamon bun and a glass of chocolate milk for breakfast and then, just as the sugar rush kicked in, gone off to her aquatics class. As a grandmother, she does all that and throws in a chocolate muffin just for fun. But, to prove she has limits, she doesn't buy the kind with the chocolate chips because that would be too much.
My son and I have developed a fun game that we play upon seeing my parents: Let's count how long it takes before Zayde swears. I'm sorry to say that my father disappointed us all by taking well over three hours to curse. Last year he dropped an F-bomb in 53 seconds. We were both proud and impressed.
There are things about my parents that I had forgotten. For example, their refrigerator is a scientific anomaly. There is so much food shoved into that poor, overmatched appliance that, if you want to get anything to eat, you can't just reach for it. You need a strategy; a plan of attack. You have to remove the orange juice, put the Costco-sized packet of margarine where the orange juice was, lower the mystery tub that is labeled "caramel corn" (so you know that it could be any food on earth except caramel corn -- it turns out to have been either mock liver or spackle) on top of a different margarine container (this one has lasagna in it) and reach for the cottage cheese, which turns out to be soup. It's like a giant slider puzzle. I didn't really feel like soup, but after all that work, I needed to eat something. And Mom makes a good soup.
I'd also forgotten the volume at which my parents communicate. You know those noise-canceling headphones you see ground crews wearing at airports? I could've used a pair of those, if only so my parents' voices would have come through at a normal volume. My mother, who has herself been a mother (if you ever need anyone to state the obvious, I'm your man), would stand over my sleeping child and say, "HE LOOKS SO CUTE WHEN HE SLEEPS!"
He also looks cute when he wakes with a start, clutching his chest, confused as to why his 11-year-old heart is pounding to the point of giving out.
My sister has, on occasion, pulled me aside and said with a look of dismay, "OUR PARENTS ARE SO LOUD! IT'S EMBARRASSING!"
This amuses me to no end. But then, I'm a big fan of irony.
My mother was kind enough to take my son and I to Walt Disney World. It's the "Happiest Place on Earth," you know, but not for me. I don't enjoy paying $9 for a sucker, even if it is the size of a zeppelin. I'm not thrilled waiting in line 75 minutes for a ride that lasts 75 seconds. I did, however, really enjoy "The Land Pavilion," a building that pays homage to the environment. It's sponsored by Exxon-Mobil. (As I've stated, I'm a big fan of irony.)
As the end of my trip approached, my parents were beginning to get on my nerves. How did I live 20 years with these people? They're loud. They're giving my son diabetes. They have a fridge full of food but I can't get at any of it. I've got to get out of here!
Lest you think I'm ungrateful (I am, by the way, but I'd prefer that you don't think it), the feeling was mutual. Whereas I was once the focus of my parents' lives, now I was the guy who needed the car on my father's bowling day.
About 10 days into my trip, my parents took a sudden and repeated interest in the time and date that my flight was leaving. It wouldn't have hurt their feelings if, to be safe, I got to the airport two or three days early. But a funny thing happened on the way to my departure. We realized that we were going to miss each other, and we do. It's OK, though. We'll see each other again next Kwanzaa break.
Howard Nemetz is just getting over a bad haircut. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.