Kid #2

by Phoebe Kolbert

Child of Elders

My parents are old. I’m sure they won’t be all that pleased when they read this, but it is the god’s honest truth. My mother was 45 when I was born, and my father is seven years younger. There is this doorknob sign, like the kind that hang outside hotel rooms, that I made for her in elementary school. It’s purple foam and adorned with all these flowers, random bits, and the numbers 5 and 2, for her 52nd birthday. I have friends whose parents are that age now. When I was younger and every little different thing about me felt like a target, I was embarrassed about this. I’d known since I was 12 that when I turned 16, my mother would turn 60. The knowledge loomed over me for a while, which is odd considering she was the one nearing that milestone. I eventually realized that, of course, no one could give a shit, and that I didn’t either.

In some ways, though, it’s almost an advantage. My parents are great people. Like, really top-notch. And I don’t say that from the kindness of my heart, because my father’s ego is big enough without my inflating it. No, I say that because it is so true. My mother is the most sensitive person I know, with a huge heart to match. And my father is an asshole, but he does so much for everybody around him. It’s to the point where I can’t tell if he is just a really selfless dude or if he truly takes no joy in anything.

I went to the movies to see Lady Bird with a couple friends last year. I thought it was a bit extreme. The mother was overly nasty, unsupportive and stubborn, and the girl so dramatic. Now, my relationship with my mother is certainly not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. Certainly when I was younger and sadder, more irritable, we did not get along that well. Her habit of talking to the cats or scraping her fork made me explode. I still get pissed when she talks for 10 minutes to say something I could have in one, but patience has never been my strong suit. Point being, she supports me pretty much unconditionally, and I can’t think of a single time she took a jab at me just to hurt me, or forbade something just because she didn’t understand it.

The best way I can describe it is like this: When we got out of Lady Bird, my friends both said, “Wow, that reminded me of my mom!” I truly don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful for my mother than I was at that moment.

I don’t attribute her disposition entirely to her age. The things my parents have been through have shaped them. It’s stuff I can barely imagine. Like, my mother grew up the eldest of seven kids, and the next oldest had Down’s, so she was doing a lot at a young age. She graduated in ’74, and I have this picture of her from that year with her school clubs on it. She was such an all-American girl: pretty, a cheerleader, the senior-class treasurer and a candidate for prom queen.

My father grew up in the suburbs of New York. When we visit the city, he talks about how much Times Square has changed, how it used to be seedy clubs and strip joints. He went to Nicaragua for a year, contracted hep on the way home. We have these wooden painted pins in our key drawer from the ’80s and ’90s, when they were involved in the Latin America liberation movement in Portland. My mother put herself through college and graduate school. My dad graduated with a degree in history from a very respectable school and then decided he wanted to be a carpenter.

In sum, I couldn’t be more glad to have old-as-shit parents. Sure, it adds to my overwhelming nostalgia and near-constant sense of existential dread, but it also gives me so much — their maturity, all the people they know, all the places they can show me or tell me about. We grew up knowing the librarians at Reiche and the crew at Videoport. The guys who worked for my dad where huge parts of my childhood. My parents have known my best friend’s parents since long before we were born. I’m not sure why I’m all sappy all of a sudden. It must be because this senior year is forcing me to think about my past and future so much. I’m already dreading when my parents read this. But whatever. I love ’em.

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