Friday, November 2, 2012

Staying Back

My parents haven't seen their grandchildren for 2 years. They claim that they are old and it is difficult to travel. Since we live abroad it is a long trip from the West Coast to get over here, and I can understand that. So why haven't they even asked to talk to the children on the phone?


The last time that they were here, there visit proceeded as usual, for them. Upon arrival they came to our place with most of their suitcases. They filled up 2 additional suitcases of stuff to give us. We go through the ritual of emptying all the items from the suitcases onto the floor and chairs, sifting through the items. The things pile up, and my wife puts on her satisfied smile. Then I take my folks over to holiday apartment that I rented for them.

Back home, I look back at my wife. "Well there's a couple of good things, but there's a lot of junk." She looks at how many socks they brought for a 5 year old, and at generic crayons and other items from The Dollar Store. "If they want to impress us, I would be happy with just a few items that are name-brand clothing," my wife says.

I shake my head and we look at each other again. We've psycho-analyzed my parents many times and realize that there is nobody to reason with, or explain things to. Repeatedly I try to discuss on the phone with them, asking them what they plan to bring.
"It's a surprise," they say.

The Stuff

Yes, it's a surprise all right. They pack into their suitcases junk mail that had accumulated for me. Things like alumni catalogs from my university, requests to sign up for credit cards, statements and sales from airlines on mileage. After they bring these things, I try to explain to them that had we talked for 5 minutes about this I could have told them to put it all in the garbage. "Oh," they say. I feel like my explanation floats right through them.

The clothing is often odd colors, those items left on the sale rack or end of season. Then they bring my wife, their only daughter in law, a flame retardant oven mitt, and another pocket sewing kit of needles for mending holes. She laughs it off, not expecting something more significant.

That's it. After the first night arrival, there isn't much more to say about a two week visit. Throughout their stay, they don't ask about the grandchildren so much as ask about the stuff they brought. Are the kids wearing it? Do they like it? I explain that much of the items are sized too big, and will fit them in a couple of years.


We try to get the whole family together when my parents come for their visit. My wife's parents and brothers come over and we all enjoy a meal together. Then I saw my parents step away from the table. "We're tired," my father said. My in-laws chatted away in Hebrew between each other. The grandkids were at the table. My father in law held my daughter.

I talked to my father. "Is that dress she's wearing one that we brought?" he asked, looking at my daughter in my father in law's arms.

"Yes," I say, "I think so."

Looking at my father's eyes, I see some exhaustion but also tightness, like a rage starting to burn. I think at that moment he declared to himself that he didn't want to come to visit anymore. For him, maybe he saw my father in law holding the dress he brought, rather than seeing him holding my daughter.

My children were not off limits to them and were very happy to see their 'Grandparents from America' but my parents took the step back, now staying only in their hoard-filled home.

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