Before Coffee: Dear Parents
August 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
I wasn’t going to write one of these today, because I’m sleep deprived and adorable baby animals are talking their shit. (No, I didn’t just have a stroke; that sentence will make sense if you click the link, I promise.)
But then I saw this on Facebook, and it plucked the catgut strung over the thumpy thing in my chest:
I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents, lately. Looking backward through the progressive lenses of adulthood made me realize how hard they worked when I was growing up.
We didn’t have a lot of money, and our house showed it. The slate blue kitchen cabinets were rubbed pale around the handles, and the linoleum sheet floor was cracked, peeling, and stained with years of spills. Paint literally peeled off the exterior. Goddamn mushrooms grew out of the wall of my bedroom at one point, due to water damage from a leaky roof. I could give you a phonebook-thick list of other similar details, but suffice to say, our house was a shitshack, and we didn’t have the money to un-shit it.
Both my parents worked, and worked hard. At that time, they owned a small chain of drycleaners, each one located at the absolute farthest geographical point from all the others. One anchor store that did all the cleaning and pressing, two more that only had steam presses for touch-ups, and one pickup location.
Dad did the drycleaning, maintenance, and all the driving between the stores. He had a blue Chevy van in which he’d installed bars to hang all the cleaned and bagged clothes from. He dealt with, breathed, and smelled of perchlorethylene almost every day. Sunday was his only day off.
He also maintained the cars and the lawn mowers and the plumbing and the furnace and anything and everything else that could (and did) break down.
Mom and a few other employees did all the pressing at the drycleaner, working in subtropical heat and humidity year ’round, despite being nearly 3,000 miles north of the equator. In the winter, it was almost bearable; in the summer, it was Hell.
Mom also did all the cooking, laundry, most of the cleaning, got us kids up for school in the morning, took us to doctor and dentist appointments, shopped for groceries (generic brands, to save every penny) and a mile long list of other chores and tasks.
(And before you start thinking we five kids did nothing, we all had our list of chores.)
And Mom did the shopping for birthdays and Christmas. I think that’s what boggles my mind the most. We never had money to spare, yet we always had gifts under the tree and by the birthday cake. (The cake was always homemade, and every one of them was better than any store-bought cake I’ve tasted since.)
How did they do that? How did they buy five kids a mountain of gifts every year? Star Wars toys, Shogun Warriors, System 7s, GI Joes (the old-school, Barbie-sized version) and all the accoutrements, Hot Wheels. Every holiday was a joy.
And at Christmas, Mom would cook dinner for the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and a rotating cast of boyfriends and girlfriends of all of the above. Easily 30+ people. Every year.
As a kid, you don’t think about all the work and time and energy and money needed to do all of the things adults do on a daily basis. At least, I didn’t. It wasn’t until I became a homeowner that I started to fully realize everything my parents did, and how much everything costs, and how little time there is for anything. Now what they did seems like a goddamn miracle.
In all honesty, I don’t know how they did it. I know they carried mountains of debt, so I get the financial end of it. But where did energy come from for doing all that they did every. Single. Day? Where did they find the time?
I have no clue, and I doubt I ever will, but I get it now. I understand the Sisyphean tasks that come with adulthood—even though I don’t do a quarter of what my parents did. I remember and appreciate all they did not only to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads, but also to give us the little extra joys that make an existence into a life. And I’m exceedingly grateful.
And parents, unless you’ve raised complete and utter ingrates—and that’s on you—your children will see it someday, too.
My sixteenth birthday (if I counted the candles on the cake right), complete with homemade cake.