June 28, 2009
I'm a working mother with a preschooler, worrying about Mom and Dad, who are approaching their eighties. See, I'm part of the growing number of Americans who are caring for aging parents (or wringing their hands in anticipation of it) and raising a child simultaneously.
When we visited last November, we found that Dad had converted my old bedroom into storage space for his fishing equipment. I sang the cowboy song at bedtime as usual, and when I got to the part where it fondly describes New England winters and the wonder of blueberry pie, I paused to pay attention to the droplet of sweat making its way down my back. The house isn't air conditioned, despite the tropical climate. While my child slept, I quietly opened my laptop.
As an anthropology major, I tend to think that child development has more to do with what is learned than what is natural or instinctive (if I recall correctly, human beings don't have many instincts at all–most of what we display on a daily basis is learned behavior). From that viewpoint, exposure to grandparents can be fabulous for children's development, and seems so much healthier and socially connected than having only their photographs, a parent's recollections and an occasional telephone call through which to try to know them.
We (or more accurately, Dad) built this house during twelve weeks in 1971. My sister and I were in first and third grade, respectively, at St. Christopher's Girls School. We were a hit on the playground there, mainly for our skill in jumping Double Dutch.
There's open pasture to the east, and somebody's vegetable garden to the west. As a little kid, I cared only cared about running with our sheep, and riding them like the horses I wished they were, when Dad wasn't looking. And so I was truly surprised when the butcher, a family friend, visited us in his professional capacity. That was thirty-one years ago.
The incredibly blue ocean is still visible from the living room, but the eye can no longer rest without the interruption of clotheslines, galvanized rooftops, satellite dishes, and lately, the construction of condos. What was once quiet is now punctuated by the messy sounds of people going about their lives. St. Christopher's Girls still stands, but when we saw it last year, it looked empty. It was sad that the place where I spent part of my childhood seemed no more than a memory.
Nonetheless, emboldened by the jar of Herbes de Provence I brought along, I promised to do all of the cooking. The gas man was to bring more propane, and the ice-cream truck announced his bi-weekly visits by playing, much too loudly, a tinny-sounding "Home on the Range."
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Tricia Wellington is the mother of one toddler. little-turnips.com