Monday, April 17, 2006

Love Song to Bubbe and Pops

My parents are about to leave.

How do I tell them 'goodbye' ... more importantly, how do I tell them 'thank you'?

They live a couple of states away, but they have an RV and do a bit of traveling. After spending Oct-Dec down here with us, they had just returned to their desert home when they got a phone call from yours truly.

"Hi, Daddy. It looks bad. They're talking about it being cancer."

As soon as the ER had ascertained that yes, it was cancer, my parents jumped in their car and drove hell-for-leather to my house to temporarily become parents of our three children, ages 3 - 9, while we spent two weeks at the hospital, immersed in tests and diagnoses.

At ages 75 and 76, it was not their plan to learn the intricacies of getting the schoolkids off in the morning and convincing the 3 year old not to wear a swimsuit when it's 50 degrees out, but they performed admirably.

This was a new thing for all of us. My family is close, but we are all quite independent, parents included. They have their life, we have ours, my siblings have theirs. We get together a few times a year and enjoy it, but other than frequent phone calls, we are not a part of each other's daily existence.

That changed with Little Warrior's diagnosis. As soon as the doctors began their refrain, "It's a marathon, not a sprint," my parents returned to their home just long enough to grab some clothes, their coffeepot and their rv, and returned to my town. They set up camp about 15 minutes away and became, as we quoted from 'Pretty Woman,' our beck-and-call-girls. They dropped kids off at school on rainy days, entertained the 3 year old on chemo days and picked up more pizza in 3 months than they'd probably bought in the previous 3 years.

Every time Mom came over, she kept the laundry going, washing, drying, folding -- she even learned which were the 6 year old's clothes and which were the 3 year old's. (No mean feat since the 6 is small for her age and the 3 is large for hers.)

After doing odd jobs around my house, fixing door knobs and shower heads, my father began a labor of love that lasted several weeks. We moved to this house just a year ago, and inherited a garden that had been neglected at least two years, probably more. Worried about his grandkids running into copperheads, he began clearing away brush and trimming up bushes that could attract their nesting. "You ever read 'The Secret Garden'?" he asked, surprising me as I learned that he had read on of my favorite books back when he was a kid. "Well, I think you've got a secret garden here." And so I did. As he cleared away weeds, neatly trimming and bagging the refuse, he uncovered a treasure trove of plants -- azaleas burst into bloom when the light could reach them, elephant ears appeared, lantana, little white flowers, and other plant life I couldn't identify.

The grandkids got accostumed to 'Bubbe' and 'Pops' being around all the time, so much so that any good behavior they might normally accord them was tossed out the window. They disobeyed, they argued -- in short, they acted with their grandparents as they do with us. And I think they began talking with their grandparents more than they ever had. Pops knows all about the Star Wars movies now, and Bubbe knows (and hates) Polly Pockets. They know that when you can finally get The Princess to do her homework, it'll only take her about 10 minutes. They know that if Bo Peep starts acting naughty, it probably means she needs a cuddle. They know that if The Boy gets argumentative, it means he's tired. And they know that when Little Warrior puts her hands on her head, that's her sign for "grandparents." She only does it for them.

Did they learn anything about their daughter? I don't know. I feel like they knew me pretty well before all of this began. They knew that I can cry unceasingly and still keep doing what I need to do. They certainly knew housekeeping isn't a priority for me, a fact which has only been confirmed during the last three months. And they knew that I can be a mama lion when it comes to my babies. ROAR!

I learned more about them. I learned that they have far more patience than I ever would have credited them with. I always suspected the marshmallow-inside of my gruff father, but I saw it prominently on display every time he looked at Little Warrior, his face showing his desire to scoop her up and take her far away from needles, prodding and poking. I learned that my mother has the ability to steel herself without detaching -- when I had to express out loud my darkest fears, I could see my pain reflected in her eyes ... but her replies were always calm, warm and reasonable. I saw in both of my parents a pride in my husband. He was a boy to them when we got married, now, they saw him as the man of his family.

My father has always used a certain classification for a special kind of person. "Can you send him for the ammunition?" he asks. You're down in the trenches, and the enemy is coming over the hill. If you send your foxhole buddy back for more ammunition, will he return?

There are many people out there who are good people, but you know you couldn't send them for the ammunition. And there are people whom you may not be as close to, but you know that they'd return with it.

I always knew you could send either of my parents for the ammunition, but this was yet more confirmation. I never even had to ask them to come. It was a given. There were no conversations. They were simply here.

It is time for them to return home. Hopefully, the worst is behind us, and now it's just time to finish out the chemo and begin healing. All of us, healing from this. They have a house they need to tend to, friends who have missed them, adventures that still beckon.

Part of me, when I think of their upcoming departure, feels a bit panicky. "What will I do without them???"

If they knew this, they'd be torn, but I think this would be the final sign that it is time for them to go. As parents, they were both very clear on what they knew was their one job with all of us. It was to teach us to fly. Building self-esteem, nurturing us, being friends -- pah. If that happened, fine. But it was never the goal. The goal was teach the baby birds to fly on their own.

If you find a bird with a broken wing, you can fix it, make it a little nest in a shoebox, put a little food near it. But as soon as it begins to move the wing on its own, you need to put in back in the wild. Otherwise, you are making it a pet, and it will not be able to survive on its own.

My wing is on the mend. It will be hard for them to leave Little Warrior, but it is time.

For my parents, love is a verb. They love their children. And they are still parents. I am grown with 4 children, but they are still parenting me. And teaching me to fly.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

1 comment:

Anne said...

That was beautiful. It gave me chills and made me cry. Im glad that I have an ammunition person as well..I dont know what I do without AJ.

Im so glad that they were there with you guys.

That was just the greatest post.