My mom will tell you that my brothers and I were, in her words, “such good kids.”
I can’t speak for my brothers but I can say that I was.
I was the kind of kid who asked permission first and hid nothing for later. No surprises.
At least for the first 20 years or so.
I think the first time I came clean with my parents after the fact was just hours after my feet touched the ground after my one (and only) parachute jump.
It was something I had talked about doing for a couple of years. It was the spring of my senior year in college, and a nearby skydiving club was offering an outing. I jumped at the chance.
Exhilarated after the experience, I called home. “Guess what I did today?” I asked, my voice pitched with triumph. Perhaps too triumphant for my mom replied, “Go skydiving?”
For more than 30 years, she has stuck by her story that she wasn’t sure why she said that. At the time, I didn’t let her bring me down to Earth. My mind was still a good 1,400 feet off the ground where my mom insisted I must have left it when I first stepped out of that plane and gripped the wing, waiting for the command to let go.
But I do remember that was the first time I deliberately — wisely — thought it was better to tell my parents about my exploits after the fact.
And over time I learned that it was better to tell my mom what I’d been up to after I was home safe and sound. To spill out my plans in advance invariably results in a flurry of worry stretched over 150 miles of phone line.
But in recent years, my parents’ worries have mushroomed. I blame it on too much talk radio and too many murder-mystery books on tape they listen to on long car rides (it took me months to reinforce reality after the book that had a serial killer who murdered a woman along a highway).
They’ve become fixated on worrying about me driving by myself anywhere beyond my daily 12-mile commute to work. Somehow, they must think that nothing can happen along the Benner Pike or that stretch of I-99. Fortunately, they’re probably right.
The other week I forgot about reporting after the fact. I mentioned that I was heading to Hazleton the next day for a trip for work.
“I don’t like you driving by yourself,” my mom fretted over the phone. I pictured her with arms crossed and stomping her feet like a petulant 10-year-old. “Why don’t they send someone with you?”
I reminded my mom that the buddy system is for children, not grown adults in the workforce.
My mom’s reply: Perhaps my father should drive over and accompany me on this little trip.
Right. Like having my 82-year-old father driving across Interstate 80 would be so much safer.
We laughed, both of us knowing that the conversation had dissolved into the ridiculous.
But now I’m finding that the older I get, the more I become like my mom.
Or should I say like a parent.
Like a parent to my parents.
I worry about them. They came here for a weekend and after they leave, I can’t wait for the phone to ring with my mom calling to let me know they’ve arrived back home.
Other times I call them and the phone rings four times before being answered by what I call “that annoying man,” a halting robotic male voice on my parents’ 1980s-era answering machine. In the middle of one of my typically rambling messages, my mom will cut in. She admits that she can’t make it from the family room to the phone anymore in just four rings. I tell her to change the set-up, to give herself seven or eight rings to answer.
We laugh about “that annoying man” but I worry that she’s going to fall and break a hip or something one of these days as she races against those rings. We both know that’s not funny.
I find myself in this odd neverland, a life space between too young and too old. It’s a new and unsettling place for me, dim with a realization that I have chosen to ignore for a long time — that all that I’ve known for my entire life is not the way it will always be.
The two people who have loved me without question, unceasingly, completely, have become, in their own words, old.
My mom still looks amazing — effortlessly stylish (although we joke that it’s taking a lot more effort these days). My dad still tells funny jokes that I can never remember.
We’ve already started planning for next year’s family beach trip. My dad keeps talking about taking another trip to Europe.
And yet. I wonder how much they won’t be telling me.
Until after the fact.