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Homeward Bound - Tips on Seeing Family for the First Time in So Long

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Memorial Day is here...the “official” start of summer and the time for reflecting on those who are no longer with us, the freedom to wear white, and possibly gather in the backyard with family and friends.  I just read the statistic that 37 million Americans will be on the roads this weekend. How many of us will be traveling to see family for the first time in forever?

On Friday I will drive down to spend the weekend with my Mom; I haven’t been “home” since January of 2020.  Fortunately, my brother has been down to visit my Mom several times during the pandemic.  While he lives much farther away, he’s better able to help her take care of all the things that need to be taken care of - those things that my Dad did.  

Even in the best of times it’s challenging for me to go home. I have to be in the right frame of mind, which has nothing to do with seeing my Mom, and everything to do with not seeing my Dad there.  This trip on Friday is even heavier because it has been so long and while I expect it will be similar to how it was the last time I was there, I fear the changes...in the property, around the house, in my Mom.  

Those things you only notice when you’ve been gone for so long.

I try to push aside these worries and focus on how great it will be to be back home with Mom and my brother.  This is, afterall, such a long-awaited family gathering that too many families will never get and many, many more are still waiting to have.

I’m getting excited thinking about this epic reunion until I stumbled on this article from Bustle which brought me back to reality.  Beyond the tears of relief, of making it through the pandemic, we are still the same individuals and have the same dynamics as before. 

What is the best mindset for me to get into to get the most out of this long awaited gathering? 

Here’s what I’ve told myself I hope to do...

Don’t make it heavier than it needs to be.  

Yes, it’s been too long.  Yes, I can’t wait.  And yes, I still miss my Dad. My brother will tease me about something so not upset-worthy and, ultimately, I’ll say something to annoy my Mom.  Assuming these behaviors and roles will not happen in the tight 72 hours we will spend together simply because of the length of separation we’ve endured will only make it more difficult when they do happen.  My family has this pattern, this dynamic, these roles that repeat over and over when we are together. Wishing for an exception won’t make it so.

Be a good houseguest.

I did an internet search on how to be a good visitor to remind myself that even though I lived in that house for a decade and even though it’s my Mom, I am still a guest. I will take a gift, I will make my bed and do my own dishes and I will not overstep - she raised me better, after all.

I will overlook what needs to be overlooked.

Whether that’s my Dad’s favorite clock no longer ticking or a cobweb in the corner that even a basketball player couldn’t reach, if it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t need my attention.  Just like my best friend keeps her house differently than I do, so does my Mom.  And just because she keeps it differently than she used to when I was young, doesn’t mean she isn’t keeping it the way that she wants and is happy with.

I will ask about what’s important.

My Mom has had a long time on her own, and not just these last 18 months.  If there are things that need tending to that she no longer wants or can do, I will ask her about it.  The last thing I want is for her to feel like I’m judging her.  In the end, I just want to help her and for her to let me help her. 

I will listen to what she’s saying.  I will hear what she’s not.

My Mom lives on 15 acres.  She mows her very spacious lawn 2 times every 3 weeks, often with a push mower.  When she says she’s tired from mowing it’s because she’s tired, not because she can’t do it or doesn’t want to. This isn’t my cue to find a landscaper or start searching for an alternative house with a smaller yard.  It’s my opportunity to remind her of how beautiful her house always looks and remind myself how happy I am to have a postage stamp size lawn.

Now, if she mentions needing a nap after walking the back field with her dog, I might perk up and ask a question or two to learn if it’s because it’s the muddy field holding her back or something else.

I will not find answers for problems that don’t exist.

Even though I’ve seen her on screen and we’ve sat side by side in our cars, I haven’t seen her shuffle in her bedroom slippers across the floor. I know she polishes that floor on her hands and knees with wax to achieve maximum shine (and slip).  I might ask about the slippers, the shuffle, or the necessity of the luge-like linoleum, but I will not assume she is too old to walk across the floor and choose for herself how to maintain it.  She didn’t put me in a bubble when she was raising me; I’m not going to put her in one as she gets older.

I will see her for who she is, not who she isn’t anymore.

When I see my Mom, I hope she doesn’t say “geez...mid-life really snuck up on you these last 18 months” and then proceed to tell me I need to exercise more, eat less peanut butter, and get out more.  I will try not to look at her and see how the time has aged her.  This is the hardest thing for any child - to look at their parent and really see them for who they are today, without comparing them to who we remember them to be when we imagined they were everything.

The reality is, I will do all these things and Friday night, as I go to sleep in my little-girl bed, in the home my parents gave me, I will cry my heart out.  For the lost time.  For the loss of my youth in tandem with my Mom’s loss of hers.  For the loss of my Dad even though I can feel him in that house.

37 million other Americans will be on the road with me, finding their way, many to reconnect with their parents, grandparents, family and friends.  While we held our breath for the last year, time didn’t hold hers.  Celebrate these moments if you can, don’t memorialize it.

We're in this together...

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