My husband snuggles with our four-year old daughter and asks, “If I get sick, will you take care of me?” She smiles, hugs him around the neck, and says, “Yes, I will take care of you daddy.” I chime in and ask, “If I get sick, will you take care of me?” She smiles and says, “Well, I already have to take care of daddy. Maybe my sister can take care of you.”
I laugh out loud – partly because I’m hurt…she’s such a daddy’s girl…but also because at such a young age, she already seems to understand the responsibility involved in taking care of someone.
This past Monday I hugged and squeezed my parents tightly as I said good-bye to them at the airport after we all spent a wonderful long weekend together in Northern California. I hadn’t seen them since November. As we pulled away, my four-year old asks, “Momma, are you sad?” I answer, “A little bit.” She says, “Why, because you will miss your mommy and daddy?” I say, “Yes.”
I have a close-knit family and a great relationship with my parents – Mami and Papi. We can talk to each other about anything. I talk to Mami everyday and never hesitate to ask her for her advice or opinion on an issue at hand. It was hard for me to relocate to the Northwest U.S. from the east coast because I was putting almost 3,000 miles between us…and it’s gotten even harder after I’ve had my own children.
I am a mother and wife, but also a daughter, a sister, and an aunt. In a way I feel guilty for being all the way out in the Northwest U.S. and not in closer proximity to all of our family (I grew up surrounded by extended family)…but then, I remind myself that we came out here to seize an excellent professional opportunity in order to establish a good life for ourselves (and our future children at that time). Not too different from what our own parents did when they left their homes (my parents immigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela).
I grew up knowing only one grandparent – my paternal grandmother, or Abuela, because all my other grandparents had passed on before I was born. I cherish memories of my Abuela because I grew up near her. I remember she would polish her nails in pastel pinks and loved lilacs. She would take my brothers, cousins and I out for walks.
She made delicious apple pie (granny smiths were her favorite kind of apple) and pan de jamón. I remember how excited Papi would get when she made Hungarian goulash over homemade gnocchi…and we certainly savored it after watching her work in the kitchen a few hours making it.
I want my daughters to have memories like this to cherish. So, despite the distance, my husband and I make the effort to visit with our parents (his parents are also back on the east coast) so that our daughters get to know their grandparents and extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. (Sadly, with the exception of my sister-in-law and her husband, our extended family never makes the effort to visit with us, so if we didn’t make the effort to “make the rounds” when we go back east, we would probably never see them…but I digress, that is another story).
Mami was out here for two months last year when my second child was born, and it was an amazing experience – both for me (I felt SO lucky to have three generations under my roof, and to have her help) and my four-year old, who really bonded with her Abuelita. I loved watching it happen…and now I love when she asks when she will see her Abuelita, or if I can make her some arepas or empanadas like Abuelita makes 🙂
I am in my mid-thirties and in the past year, five friends have lost a parent. It has heightened my awareness to the fact that as time passes, our parents’ health is deteriorating. I especially notice this in my husband’s parents, especially his dad, because they are older than my parents. I sometimes fear that when we visit and say good-bye to our parents, it might be the last time we get to do that physically in person.
(I know, morbid thought, but I can’t help it since that is what happened when my Abuela died.) And, going back to my four-year old’s comment that she would take care of my husband…well, I don’t want to generalize for Hispanic culture in general, but that is a sort of unspoken rule I grew up with in my family – we just don’t put our parents in nursing homes. As they begin to show signs of age, I start to feel that responsibility for my own parents as the only daughter and the oldest of three children.
Aside from moving back east, which we are not prepared to do at this time, I know there is not much more I can do until we are faced with a time when my parents can no longer care for themselves. So, in the meantime, I enjoy our time with our parents to its fullest potential. I also take lots of pictures and talk a lot about our parents to our daughters when we are not all together.
I do wish I was closer in distance, so that I could enjoy more of the day-to-day routines with them and help them more with daily tasks as they age. But, for now, we use modern-day technology to help bridge the distance and visits through the use of phone calls, web cam conversations, text messages, and emails.
What about you? How far away are you from your family, and how do you help your child(ren) connect with their extended family? And, what about your parents? Who will take care of them when they can no longer take care of themselves?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Eva Fannon. Eva can be found on Twitter @evafannon.
Photo is of Eva’s parents with her oldest daughter in Lincoln City, Oregon, USA. Photo credit to Eva Fannon.