After we moved into our home here in NC we found ourselves in need of a new washer and dryer. This was not a surprise, as we had sold the set we used in Oklahoma to our landlord when we moved out. They were bought used (at a great price), and had served us well, but the dyer used natural gas, and since that was the only house we’d ever lived which actually had a gas hookup for the dryer, we figured (correctly) the odds were against us finding a another home we could use it in.
Plus we literally had no more room on the truck. Or the trailer. Like, zero room.
So, having had good luck buying used in OK, we figured we could do the same once we found a place in NC. When my wife found a “great deal” on a gently used washer and dryer at the local thrift store, we jumped on it. “Works great!” the store claimed. Ummm…turns out, not so much. They turned on, yes, but working great would be a stretch. Of course we didn’t find that out until after friends helped lug them up the tiny stairwell (who designs these houses?) to the second floor laundry, hooked them up and we tried to run a load. Turns out, the washer had a fatal flaw which would be more than the cost of a new one to repair, and the dryer, though it huffed and puffed mightily, would not dry a damp Kleenex after four hours of running full blast. And did I mention it was a thrift store so, you guessed it, no refund.
What does any of this have to do with parenting? I’m glad you asked.
While we gasped at the cost of new appliances and tried to figure out what we should do, my mom volunteered to do our laundry for us. The house we’re living in is very close to my folk’s place, and while our intent in this near proximity was us being a help to them, it turns out we would need them to be a help to us. Every few days over the past few weeks my dad would run by our house after his morning trip to the gym to pick up the dirty laundry and drop off the clean. My mom may very well be the only person on earth who actually enjoys doing the insane amount of laundry our family-of-five produces on a daily basis, and my dad absolutely loves anytime he has an excuse to interact with other human beings, especially family.
Truthfully, I think the reason they jumped in so willingly and quickly was this: they’ve never stopped being parents. I’m the baby of the family, and I flew the coop almost 24 years ago, but my mom and dad have never stopped caring for me or for my siblings, in ways seen and unseen. This is just one of a myriad of examples of how they continue to love their kids. If I listed all the things they’ve done for us over the years, I’d have a massive case of carpal tunnel by the time I finished.
Then, while my mom was doing our laundry and we were hemming and hawing on what kind of appliances to buy, my in-laws called. It seems my mother-in-law had never really bonded with her newfangled agitator-less washer. They decided they would to get a new set for themselves and we could have their “old” ones. So yesterday afternoon my in-laws showed up with said washer and dryer in their pickup truck. Thanks to the help of my brother and his two teenage sons, we were able to get the old ones out and the new ones up the stairs without incident (well, besides my brother taking the washer lid to the grill and nearly losing a tooth…but I digress). And these ones worked. Hallelujah.
My wife’s parents have done so much for us over the years, more than I could ever thank them for or hope to write about. My father-in-law may have chased me around the yard with a broom when I asked to marry his daughter, but this gift of the washer and dryer is just the latest in a long line of things they’ve done for us. Why? Well, that’s what parents do.
As a dad of two teens and one tween, I’m starting to realize you do whatever you can, whenever you can. As your kids become more independent, more “themselves”, and less in need of your help, you look for ways to be a part of their life, to keep that connection, to just be near them. Why? Because you love them more than they could ever know, and perhaps, more than you know yourself.
And on those days when you know they’re struggling, when you know that life as a teenager is beyond difficult, when you know the weight of the world is on their shoulders, you just want to reach out and hold them, to fix whatever it is that’s worrying them, whatever is burdening them, even though they most likely won’t let you in. And it makes you feel even less capable as a parent – wanting to help them, knowing a bit of what they’re feeling, not having totally forgotten what it felt like to be a teenager, but also feeling suddenly very old and very unable to do anything for them besides stand and watch, to just be there if they need you.
Even when they’re no longer teens and are raising teens of their own.
And so you do laundry. You cook meals. You offer to baby sit and to dog-sit. You deliver appliances. You open your house and let them move in when they’ve decide to completely reset their life mid-stream. You help with unexpected and unforeseen expenses. You give them things against their protests of “this is too much.” You sit and listen to their stories. You pray with and for them. Why?
Because…that’s what parents do.
(I was very much aware as I typed this that our experience is not the experience of so many of our friends. Some lost their parents years ago, others never knew one or both of their parents. For some there are broken relationships, abuse, physical and mental wounds and so much else wrapped up into the word “parent” it’s hard to even fathom. My heart aches for those of you who may read these words from any of those places. I would only say that, one, I am so very sorry, and, if that’s you and you find yourself now wearing the label “parent,” know that you aren’t bound by your past. You can choose to be the kind of parent that loves much, forgives much, and gives even more. You can be the kind of parent you perhaps never had, but always needed.)