As I was driving to Fort Worth for a funeral this past weekend, I talked to a friend about occasions we’ve both had with our kids in which we’ve tried to explain that we, as their parents, actually have a life outside of caring for their childhood needs. We discussed how the offspring don’t quite grasp this concept…they just naturally think we’re here on earth to cater to their every demand. That’s not me complaining or whining. It’s actual fact. If you’ve spent any amount of time being the primary caretaker for young children, you know it to be truth. We all come into the world that way, thinking we’re the center of our parents’ universe. But somewhere along the line (hopefully), we figure out that our parents are people with their very own friendships, loves, and struggles. They do indeed have their very own LIVES. Imagine that.
The events of my weekend reminded me of that fact with special regards to my mother. The funeral was for Bob Bolen, mayor of Fort Worth from 1982-1991. Just a few months after he left office, he became Senior Advisor to the Chancellor at TCU, and put an ad in the paper seeking an administrative assistant. Enter my mom Leah. For over 22 years, she’s assisted and organized Mr. Bob’s calendar, and loved on him and his family. Because of Bob’s role as mayor and because of his charming and extroverted nature, he crossed paths with all sorts of interesting folks. As a result, I’ve heard countless stories about hundreds of people with whom my mom interacted on a regular basis.
Spending two-and-a-half hours at the visitation and observing my mom chatting with all these people was truly fascinating to me. There were a couple hundred folks who came through that room on Friday, and I’m pretty sure my mom knew every one of them. I watched her converse, hug and squeeze hands. I met about a dozen of her friends/acquaintances and they all expressed deep affection for my mom. Some told stories about occasions they had spent with her. Some talked about how fabulous she was at juggling all that came with being Bob’s assistant. They all spoke of her in adoring tones. I adore her too, of course, but it was affirming and validating to see other people – who have no connection to me – expressing the same sentiment.
Because of past conversations, interactions and the natural ways of a parent/child relationship – and because my mom has always been open and constant in expressing her love for me – I suppose there’s a tiny part of me, even at 39yo, that’s considered myself the center of her world. It’s so easy to think your parents revolve their world around YOU, when you’re The Kid. The fact is, my mom has dozens of thriving relationships of her own, outside of ours. Observing her interactions with so many others was a sweet, appreciated reminder that she has a fulfilling existence completely separate from being my mother.
I remember realizing this about my dad too, back in my late teens. My mom had organized a Christmas party for his department and I watched my dad, who at home was quiet, laid-back, and not-very-emotive, enthusiastically greet and joke around with all his employees. It took me aback so much that I commented on it with something teenager-ish like, “Who ARE you???” He had friends! He had a life outside of being my parent!
I’ve known this intellectually for a long time, of course. I know my parents weren’t born to serve only me. I know they have friends with whom they banter over the shrimp buffet. I know they like attending TCU games and cheering on the Frogs. I know they have interests and pursuits that were there before I was ever part of the picture. But this weekend was different…I saw up-close what I’ve known to be true…and another light-bulb came on.
If you’ve been fortunate to grow up under the care of responsible, provisional, loving parents (I did), you might have a tendency to put them up on a pedestal (I did). But as life moves along, you realize they have struggles. Or that you don’t see eye-to-eye on every matter. And it can be unsettling, to realize your parents are human and imperfect. But the flip side of that coin? Seeing your parents interact with their community, having that community tell you of their deep admiration and love for your mom/dad, and realizing that – despite those human imperfections – your parents are doing just fine. They had lives before you came along. And they still do. They always have. Yes, they want you to visit. Yes, they wanna dote on the grandkids whenever possible. But their every waking moment isn’t hinged on you and you alone.
The funeral I attended this weekend affirmed the life of a man who guided a Texas town for almost a decade. But the affirmation of my mama took centerstage in my eyes. Complete strangers sought me out to share how they’ve been recipients of her love. And for every person who spoke to me, there were dozens more who gathered to my mother to give and receive friendship. I stood back and watched, and my heart smiled.