Indelible images of my parents

15 June 2018

Sometimes I zoom to the 30,000-foot level of parenting.

From there, I can both look back, to my own memories of childhood, and forward, to what I imagine June might remember from her childhood. It’s a helpful perspective.

One thing I think about is how June might picture me when she thinks back in many years, which reliably leads to me thinking of my own parents. Though I have thousands upon thousands of memories of both my Mom and my Dad, when I think of them in my childhood in moments separate from me, this is what comes to mind first.

Not me or my parents – an adorable photo of John with his Dad :)

Of my Mom:

In the driver’s seat of our minivan, waiting. Usually reading a magazine — Redbook or Ladies Home Journal, later Real Simple. In front of the middle school, waiting to pick me up after a practice or activity. In the parking lot at ballet, waiting for lessons to be over for the day. Waiting – always with a smile on her face when I appeared at the passenger side door.

In the study upstairs, at our desktop computer, playing solitaire and watching General Hospital. This is almost always where I found her when I came home from school, where we did our afternoon debrief.

At the stove. Not so much because she was a passionate chef, but because feeding us was one of her most important daily rhythms. That work led to sitting around the dinner table together, which ranked near the top on the pile of sacred family traditions.

Of my Dad:

In his recliner in the family room, legs stretched out on the footrest, left arm stretched down to stroke the side of our black lab out on the floor beside him. This was his spot, whether reading, correcting papers for his college students, watching golf on a Sunday afternoon, or “resting his eyes.” The approving murmur, soft clap, and gentle accents of golf commentators is as much a part of the soundtrack of my childhood as anything else.

Behind the mower, clad in golf shoes for “aerating the lawn,” a disgusting pair of cut-off jean shorts, and a wide-brim straw hat, glistening from the exertion of traversing our yard under the hot June sun.

Pulling up to our house in his Ford pick-up, stepping from the driver’s seat in his impeccably-crisp Coast Guard uniform. His briefcase in one hand, the last notes of “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys fading from the tape deck, and the joy of being reunited with his family stretched wide across his face.

There are happier moments and sadder ones, ones where my parents yelled at me or nagged me to do something for the one millionth time. I remember those, too. But when I think back on my parents as people, these are the things I remember first.

In every “Living With Kids” feature on her site, Gabby asks her guests what they hope their children remember from their childhood. I don’t know how my parents might answer that question, but I find it powerful that, as the child, what I remember most strongly about my parents in their private moments is a combination of duty and leisure. As busy as their lives were with raising three busy children, working full- or part-time, being good neighbors and church members and civic participants, they still found time to do things they loved with no apparent guilt or complicated feelings, no need to make even their leisure “efficient” or “edifying” (see: General Hospital).

I think that example is one powerful reason why I don’t feel the need to hustle these days. By slowing down, they gave my sisters and me the chance and permission to slow down, too, both when we were children, and now, when we are the ones shaping childhoods.

So what do I hope June will remember? Me reading, of course. Sitting on our front porch. (Hopefully in a porch swing, because that would mean we HAVE a porch swing.) Being a woman of the Word – reading my Bible, spending time in prayer. Driving her to whatever sport or activity she chooses to fall in love with. Hugging her daddy. And speaking of him — I think she might remember John whistling while doing the dishes, playing his guitar, or watering our front flower beds.

The obvious answer, of course, is that I don’t want her to remember us with our noses in our phones — not so much because I am reflexively anti-technology (though John says I am), but because that memory would give her no useful road map to follow when she is grown. It’s an opaque memory, a wall, where she has no idea whether we’re gently caring for a friend who’s hurting, planning our next family adventure, catching up on work, or reading an essay. There’s nothing there for her to take away, to make her own, and though I dearly hope she will forge her own path, I believe my job as a parent is to set her some useful guideposts along the way.

Friends, I hope you have a wonderful weekend celebrating the amazing men in your lives! If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear either the image that comes to mind of your parents in childhood, or something you hope your children will remember of you. xoxo

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June 15, 2018 9:26 am

Em, this is a terrific post.

Abigail Gray
June 15, 2018 9:27 am

The image that comes to mind for me is of my mom at the stove stirring, inevitably cooking something delicious and comforting like her spaghetti and meatballs, while my dad, clad in a plain the white cotton t-shirt that he wears underneath his button down, washes mixing bowls in the sink. Cleaning dishes while my mom cooks is one of the smallest and greatest ways my dad loves my mom; she comments frequently how much she loves turning away from the stove and realizing the piles of dishes she created are gone. I also love that after all these years (they have been married for almost 27 years!), this small act never became an expectation but has remained an act of service.

Thank you for this fun reflection!

June 15, 2018 10:40 am

I so appreciate this post, Emily! Your words brought to mind my own observations of my dear parents throughout my childhood, which is fitting because I just recounted some of my favorite moments with them during a drive last night. :)

Kelly Strawberry
June 15, 2018 10:51 am

I just want to say that I love this post and especially the first comment. It just brought a smile to my face. Have a great weekend celebrating your dad and John!

June 15, 2018 12:54 pm

What a wonderful post!

What I remember most about my parents is my mom reading, and my dad taking naps, ha! My dad worked for the Postal Service, and he was often gone early before I went to school and came home right around dinnertime, but he would come home in the afternoons when I came home from school to eat lunch, mow the lawn and take a nap before heading back to work. :)

I want Lucy to remember me reading, just how I remember my own mom reading.

Darby Ratcliff
June 15, 2018 5:53 pm

This is such an inspiring post! I truly hope that I can remember this each day.
I admire your thoughtfulness in each thing that you do.

June 16, 2018 6:30 am

Oh, Emily, this is SO good and so beautifully written. I’m going to be thinking about this a lot–both for my parents and for myself.

I really love the point you made that we are sometimes using phones for very good things, but to the people around us, those things are invisible. Case in point, I have snapped at Dave multiple times over the years for being on his phone, only to realize he was studying Scripture! One little thing I do sometimes, since I’m with Charlie almost all the time and do need to do things on my phone from time to time, is that I’ll say my texts to Siri. I still have to double check them, but it gets the job done a bit faster and makes it more obvious to Charlie what I’m doing. I also want to be better about getting up and going to sit at a computer to do anything work-related. I think it is a good thing for him to see me working from time to time, but my phone doesn’t communicate that!

Megan H
June 19, 2018 3:01 pm
Reply to  Lisa

Great post.

and…This is so TRUE! We both are guilty of reading our bible APP or (for me, I do a lot of the IF Gathering APP Bible studies, audio/downloadable articles or books, and I tend to do much of my online sourcing for my work from my phone! All good things, but it’s true that no one else realizes what’s being done.

I hope I’m remembered for lounging with a magazine, reading, playing on the floor with my kids, or painting from time to time. I know I’ll be remembered for laundry/cooking/and tidying up around the house!

June 20, 2018 11:34 pm

I love this! You are so thoughtful in the way you write. Your blog is such a joy to read and is refreshing. Thank you for sharing! This could make an amazing series for after your baby arrives!

June 21, 2018 8:37 am

What an amazing post Em – and so thought-provoking too!
A little sad for me because I don’t have the fondest memories of my parents as we weren’t that close – my mom sitting on her lazy boy watching Days of our Lives with her Cola or sitting outside smoking, hiding it from my StepDad. But really something I want to think about and being more intentional about, for my own girls x