Ah, spring break! No school lunches to prepare, no early morning breakfasts to make, no lightning launches out the door to catch the bus, and no shuttling to piano and karate lessons. We joined the throngs of people crowding the airport for holidays in the sun. Our travel plans were less exotic, but we were just as excited to spend 10 days at my parents’ house.
It had been more than three years since our last visit, but the moment I walked in the door and breathed in the smells of home it was like I’d never been away. I went through every room looking at all the familiar pieces of furniture, decorations, and photos, wanting to remember or learn the stories about everything. So many of these material possessions are the stuff of family history and belonged to my great- or even great-great grandparents. I value them for their beauty and for providing a tangible link to my ancestors. As I looked at these beloved objects, I became painfully aware that someday soon it will be up to my sister and me to carry on the stories of their provenance.
The downside of being with my parents is that of course it’s been so many years since we’ve all lived together that we now have different ways of doing things and aren’t really used to one another. Our television habits, for example, are different. My TV-deprived kids were mesmerized by anything on a screen and ended up watching a lot of cartoons during our visit. It seemed like a miracle to them that one could turn on a TV and have something pop up without sticking in a DVD. When my 6-year-old daughter was asked what kinds of exciting things she’d done on her trip, she said “Watch TV!” (What about playing in the big backyard? Or all those trips to the park? Or to the museums? Or the gourmet chocolate tasting? Somehow nothing was as memorable as the TV.) My 9-year-old pointed out that we should have cable TV at home because if it were a normal part of our lives he’d be used to it and able to set his own limits. Hmmm. He may have a point, but I’m content to let them enjoy TV blitzes at Grandma’s and keep up the austerity measures at home.
One bit of screen time I especially enjoyed, however, was when my father shared with us a DVD version of a favorite film from his childhood, The Thief of Baghdad. He was a little worried that after a diet of cartoons and action shows the 1940’s special effects wouldn’t hold his grandchildren’s attention. However, they thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even hiding their eyes during some scary parts. My dad told them about how his mother, when he saw it in 1942, covered his eyes too. It was a wonderful chance for my children to connect with their grandfather’s childhood.
Not all family members could be with us, and we Skyped my husband and my sister’s family frequently. (I have to remember to do this more regularly; it means a lot to my parents to see their grandchildren, who spend most of their time making faces at the camera and hamming it up.) We often Skype one another when someone is in the middle of a delicious dinner or drinking a glass of great wine. Sometimes we hold up what we’re eating or drinking to “share” with those on the other end of the Skype line. This is a very, very bad idea, as we learned. On one of our frequent Skype sessions with my sister’s family, they displayed a beautiful, homemade pizza fresh from the oven. There was a bump, and my mother managed to capture the screen image of steam rising from just below the camera field of view and my nieces’ looks of horror. Then the connection was lost. My sister phoned a few hours later, and said that she’d had to take her laptop in for professional cleaning. Fortunately, nothing was lost, and she’s since backed up all her files. I believe that pizza is now banned from within 20 feet of the computer, and we may not ever attempt to share a virtual meal again.
How I wish that the travel were easier and cheaper so our visits could be more frequent. We can make do with technology, but we’ve decided that time in person with aging parents has to be a priority. Even though trips to visit family seem a little mundane compared to the Caribbean vacations some of our friends took this year (traveling alone for 7 hours with my two kids was kind of an adventure, though), I’m quite happy to go home to Mom and Dad any chance I can.