As I drove home from Fargo last Thursday after spending 4 days with my parents, I had lots of time to think. And I decided that life is really all about investment.
Mom and Dad were married in 1949 and Mike was born 9 months later (yes, he was a wedding night baby). Over the next 7 years, Chris and I came along.
Mom and Dad were not hands-off parents. They were heavily invested in our lives. They gave us roots and wings; taught us integrity and honesty and a strong work ethic. They guided our decisions until we could make good ones on our own. They helped when we needed more hands to do the job, but had tough love when they knew we could do something ourselves. They loved us deeply and not for one moment of one day did we doubt that love or their commitment to giving us solid lives. Without even knowing what to call it back then, their investment in us gave us a soft place to fall.
When the 3 of us started having kids of our own, we started investing in them. We did the same things. Taught, helped, gave advice, molded, nurtured, cheered on, listened, prayed for, loved and encouraged. Sacrificed some retirement money for help with college tuitions. Passed on accumulated wisdom whether our kids wanted it or not. Collectively I figure the three of us have had about 175 years of investing in our seven children.....and counting....
And now, the torch has been passed. As advancing age has crept up on Mom and Dad, the three of us have turned our investment to them. At ages 89 and 93, time has begun rusting their well-oiled lives. Everything is a bit harder. Every task is a bit more difficult. Every outing takes extra time. As my niece Betsy wrote me, "Their lives now are patchwork quilts of body parts that work and don't work."
You look at your aging parents and you are struck by the reality that there is no way you can ever give back to them even a fraction of what they have given you. The circle of life is not equitable. Parents give all. Adult children can only give back a fragment. It is all we can give, but we do with all that is within us.
We give them a ride to some appointment, and think about the days of them hauling us all over creation multiple times each day. We cook them a meal, and remember that Mom was tethered to a kitchen, making amazing meals every single day for decades. We help them with some financial issues and are taken back to the days when Dad sat each of us down and taught us about checkbooks and savings and budgets, and then for years afterward, reminded us how to be frugal.
As I assist my mother in getting her compression socks off her legs, I wish for the days when she made all of my clothes, coats included. I long for her to have the legs that were on-the-go all the time until about 5 years ago. As Dad struggles with his eyes and his beloved pastime of reading, I am transported back to the days when he read books to us, then bought books for us, then recommended books for us to buy!! And I am ever grateful that he instilled the love of reading in us.
And now, we try to give back but a portion.....
We are offering what we can. Encouragement, chores, advice, visits, errands. (I also have an amazing sister-in-law who lives in Fargo who is johnny-on-the-spot with so much love and care.) Anything that helps the wheels stay oiled.
We do not parent our parents. I have told my Gerontology students for years, no matter how far the car travels, the rear wheels never catch up to the front wheels. They are still our parents and we respect their decisions about their lives. We are aides. We are conduits. We are oilers only.
We help with love (and humor). Because that is what families who love each other do. Because the 5 of us have always "been there" for each other. Because they raised us to be compassionate. Because they deserve nothing less from us. Because they invested so much of their lives in us.
And what is the return on this mid-life investment?
Our dividend is knowing that Mom and Dad know that for this season in their lives, we are here to be their soft place to fall.