My parents have been following my brother and me around the country for years now. They’ve tried to be nonchalant, but I’ve seen through their shady reasoning and flimsy alibis. I’m not buying, “There’s better property tax in your state” or “We were just looking for a warmer climate.” They’re hunting us kids down to get to the grandchildren, and worse, they’re trying to be our adult friends.
I left home at 18, meaning I said goodbye to obligatory household chores, weeknight family dinners, and guilt-laden events. I was free from family-movie nights and weekend trips to boring, historical sights up and down the east coast. I no longer had to load the dishwasher the way my mom insisted. I was liberated.
Over time, my parents found ways to infiltrate their children’s budding independence by employing subversive mind games to make my brother and me spend time with them. They would pick up the tab on family vacations and make delicious meals that warmed the heart. To make us think of home, they would send pictures of the family dog looking ridiculously adorable. Their dubious tactics didn’t fool me for a second. They wanted us to be their pals.
Then I moved out west and started a family of my own. My brother eventually did the same. The addition of grandchildren seemingly blinded my folks from the healthy distance we craved. Wherever we went, our parents soon followed in a moving truck filled with old photos and furniture they were hoping to unload on us. We were doomed.
Then something changed. My mom would call to check-in and hear something in my voice prompting her to come stay with me for a few days. She quietly folded the laundry, filled the dishwasher (albeit her way), and made the kids take daily baths. She would let me win at Scrabble. Sometimes my dad would mail care packages filled with food and share stories we all heard a hundred times before. I’ll admit, their psychological warfare was working. I missed them and I wanted them in my life.
Some 30 years after I disavowed my parents’ regime, I was surprised to find myself adopting a similar parenting style with my own family. For example, there have been weekly tutorials on how to properly load the dishwasher hosted by my husband. Chores are heavily doled out. We eat as a family most nights and try to light candles on Friday evenings. I find it all comforting, yet eerily annoying, because I’ve stolen my parents’ routines and traditions and they’re not even smug about it. I’m cautiously optimistic I’ve been spared an “I told you so,” yet I see it in the way they watch me watch my kids.
Most recently, in a most obvious turn of events, my mom and dad moved a mere stone’s throw from my own home. We’re now in the same town and in the same neighborhood with only one street separating us. I can’t even walk the dog without bumping into my mom getting the mail. My brother is overjoyed.
However, serious encroachment aside, I would have balked at the move a few years ago when I believed autonomy from family meant success as an adult. Now I see things differently. For instance, I welcome my dad’s latest retirement hobby, a weekly trip to Costco, since he keeps my home stocked with food. On the other hand, my mom’s passion is impeccable table manners. She has the bandwidth to teach my children why this is an important skill to master. I’m too tired to tackle this one with my mom’s zeal, but I trust one day I will. Until then, I’ll let her do the nagging for me.
I’m learning to cherish the beauty in our multi-generational family dynamic, and quite honestly, I don’t have much of a choice. My parents are now part of our lives in a way I didn’t know I wanted, and I could never deprive my children from being near their grandparents. And, although it comes with its own set of issues, I’m warming to the thought that my parents are already a part of our circle of friends. I’ve had to let my brother know to brace himself for the inevitable. One day soon, he will want mom and dad down the street, too.