Travel with me, back to about the fall of 1996, but please – do not mention my eyebrows. I had not yet discovered waxing, that depilatory wonder. That would happen the next year. I was a junior in college having a phone conversation with my dad about plans for Thanksgiving. I told him I wasn’t coming home to
the most boring place on earth Maryland for the holiday because I was going to spend it with friends nearby. Dad, wanting to guilt me for abandoning them on that most American of holidays, responded thusly: “Well, fine. Your mother and I will go to Paris!”
“Have fun,” I told him, and thought nothing more of it. I had no desire to go to Paris in November, no more than I wanted to go Maryland in November. November is a month best spent in the south with palm trees, ice cold Bud, and a deep fried turkey.
I learned later that my dearest dad, upon hanging up the phone after our conversation, realized that the only way to save face out of this exchange – because God forbid he not save face – was to actually go with my mother to Paris. And, so they did and they loved it, of course. This started their annual Thanksgiving holiday jaunt to Paris which grew into annual fall and spring trips which then slid into fantasizing about purchasing real estate in Paris and living there six months out of the year after they retired. Fate decided that at that point, they should meet another American couple in Paris who had in fact fulfilled this fantasy. This couple enabled my parents to bring their dream to fruition by introducing them to two lovely ladies who make these kind of arrangements for Americans in Paris. About 12 years after that phone call, my parents were the proud owners of a tiny 400 square foot apartment in Paris.
How does having an apartment on the Continent work whilst maintaining a residence in the US? It’s called The Good Daughter Service. That first summer, they still had their home in Maryland so I just handled the mail. They had a nice young man to take care of the house and car while they were gone. After that first summer, though, they finally made good on their
threat promise to move down South to live near yours truly and the brood. They arrived permanently in November 2009 while Rex was cooking in the oven.
While Rex was cooking when they got here, he was in his full newborn glory by the time they left for Paris that next May. I will not sugar coat what this was like when they left: it sucked. It sucked in every way possible. Two large pillars of support that we had during those crazy infant days and maternity leave haze were gone just like that. To top it off, I was now responsible not only for my house, cars, mail, husband, and animals, but I was also responsible for their house, cars and mail.
I really resented them leaving that year. Not only was I getting all of this extra work, I felt like they were abandoning us. They weren’t there to see their only grandchild grow (and grow and grow) or reach those baby milestones of sitting up and crawling. They weren’t there to see and help me be a mom. This was that first major life event of mine that they weren’t around when I felt I needed them and it hurt. On my darker days, I was very angry with them for leaving me knee-deep in spit-up covered clothes, binkies and their AARP newsletters to frolic in Paris.
This year hasn’t been as bad simply because we have the hang of the Rex thing, we’re all sleeping pretty regularly and I’m not dealing with PPD. But, I still find myself getting annoyed at what I have to do for them and the New Yorkers that are threatening to take over my desk. I find myself not wanting to give them Rex updates to punish them for choosing Paris over us. Why should I send them pictures or videos when they can’t see the real thing because they decided to live the Gallic life? Childish, I know, but I feel it nonetheless.
To them, of course, this was and is the penultimate accomplishment of their post-working lives: they are literally living the dream. I don’t begrudge them that for a second because I know how hard they worked for it and how much they truly love it. And, they helped us so, so much while they were here last winter. I remind myself of this when they tell me how tired they are from trips to other parts of France and I feel like they expect me to sympathize with them about this awful turn of events. Or, when we Skype with them while its evening there and they are drinking large glasses of wine while I have a large glass of toddler in my lap who is trying to break my keyboard and the wine is under lock and key for another five hours.
I also just miss them. I can’t pick up the phone and just call them, which I prefer. The scheduled Skypes every Sunday frankly just don’t cut the mustard. Skype may be free but the delays in audio are annoying and it’s weird having my parents’ faces looming at me from the screen. If Rex is awake and around for the conversation, I have to keep him entertained and not breaking anything technical while also trying to have an adult conversation. And it ends up becoming yet another task that I have to do to help facilitate their fun.
I know I can control a lot of how I see this. I can focus on the fact that we basically have two free cars – with free gas – for the summer and an entire other house if we need it. We’re also doing a really good thing to help those people who gave up 18 years of their life for me. And, like everything in this world, it is not a permanent arrangement. The next 120 days – yes, I’m counting – will pass and they will return and we’ll get some time back. In the mean time, I think I’ll see what they left in their wine cabinet.