Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who was it that first said, ‘You can’t go home again’...Odysseus? Of course he arrived home after an epic twenty year absence to find his home occupied by interlopers wooing his wife. And while that thought never echoes more strongly than after a visit to the parents, it’s not that I feel I’ve been replaced by an interloper, rather by a shadow of who I once was.

My mother (northern Ohio), father (Florida Panhandle) and in-laws all live in different residences, several times removed, from where my husband and I grew up. He and I have moved three times since our children went off to college (yes, we gave them forwarding addresses). In our increasingly mobile society, home is not realistically a place for most of us, but an emotional link. “Wherever we’re together, that’s my home,” sings Billy Joel, and that sums it up for me and the hubby.

But the parental ‘home’ concept is different, somehow more fraught with peril and complexity. There’s an immediate temporal shift when we walk through the front door, into ‘their’ space, and we’re kids again, subject to all the guilt-inducing burdens of being a ‘good kid.’ Meet those parental expectations:
"You need a haircut.”
“Growing that scruffy beard again, huh?”
“Putting on weight are you?”
“How’s the job? Get a raise yet?”
“Still driving that beater car?”
“What do you mean you voted for xx?”
“Why aren’t you going to church with us?”
...or be relegated to the kids table on the back porch while the adults carry on important discussions about NASCAR and pro football, the latest American Idol, the always enlightening organ recitals, and who got married/divorced/had yet another child with that good-for-nothing SOB.

Maybe the kids’ table isn’t such a bad idea after all.

But back to ‘home again.’ At what point do we graduate to being treated like adults with valid thoughts, decisions, and lifestyles? I love my parents and in-laws. And I’m sure the parental inquisition is not an intentional disregard for our feelings. In all likelihood they are as confused as we are with our evolving relationship. Throw in a generational shift or two as the younger set moves into adulthood, and things get even more dicey. I’ve never been the mother of grown children before; I’m constantly adapting to the shifting paradigms of our nuclear family status. And now Mom and Dad have not only their own grown offspring to deal with, but the idea that the grandchildren they fawned over for so many years are moving into their own lives. Change is always difficult, and when we feel out of control, it’s that much more frightening. Clinging to the status quo offers a sense of security, a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ that means one less new decision to face in our uncertain world.

When it comes right down to it, I don’t want to go home again. Most of my childhood was not a time I care to revisit. What I’d really like is to find that those adults I’ve looked up to for so many years are now my friends and partners on this journey through life. My dad and I are getting there, probably easier than it will ever be with the others because he didn’t raise me. We don’t have a lot of the parent/child baggage to shed as we age together. But even with him, it’s tough at times to be taken seriously, to be treated as an adult.

And now it’s the holiday season, when going home again is all but mandatory. Instead of dreading and bemoaning the next few weeks (and the past few, actually) as I generally do, I think I’ll look on those trips ‘home’ as my gift to the parents. If it makes them happy, even for those frenetic, too-short visits, to treat me like a teenager again (any younger than that and we’ll have to negotiate!) who doesn’t know how to drive in the snow or who can’t be trusted to contribute anything more than paper plates for the Christmas dinner, then so be it. I’ll focus on the ‘home again’ of hubby and me and we’ll get through it together, as we always do.

Do our children feel this way when they visit us? I certainly hope not.

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