When my father visits any of my four siblings, there is always something for him to do. Usually some project around the house for which his help or advice is needed. Or a grandchild that wants to play. Or a magazine he can read. Or a television that he can watch.
But when he visits me? First of all, up until three months ago, I was his only non-home-owning child. So I didn’t have a running list of projects that Dad could help with. I don’t have grandchildren for Dad to play with. That was never part of my plan. And the only two magazines I subscribe to are Mindful and Cooking Light — neither of which appeal to my father, a man whose typical breakfast is donuts and whose typical lunch is hot dogs. And yes, we have a television, but I don’t think Dad can operate it without assistance.
So I feel like I must keep Dad entertained when he comes to visit. I need to find a scenic drive to some adorable small town. And we have to go out to eat. Because most things I cook would not qualify as meals by my father’s definition: my home-cooked meals rarely include meat and usually include some vegetable that he’s suspicious of. Or worse — one he’s never seen before. Which reminds me of the time Mom and I cooked parsnips and when Dad eyed them with a sneer and asked, “What the hell are these?” we told him, “Oh — they’re just white carrots.” He ate them. The next night, we had dinner at a friend’s house and he questioned a vegetable in one of their soups. “Those are parsnips, Lou. Haven’t you ever had them?” they asked. “Nope,” he said. Mom and I couldn’t hold in our laughter. “Actually, Dad, you had them last night.”
So parental visits to my adopted hometown of Asheville, NC have caused me some stress. Weeks before my parents’ arrival I would start polling co-workers for ideas of what to do with them. On my whiteboard, below the lists of clients and projects, I had a list titled “Parents.” In more recent years I’ve moved that list to my phone.
But three months ago, I did something that will make parental visits much less stressful. Or, now that I think about it, maybe just stressful in a different way: Michael and I bought a house. Not a new house–that wouldn’t solve my problem at all as there’d be no projects for Dad. Ours was built in 1986. As was evidenced by the popcorn ceilings and the bar sink on one living room wall. Above which are three shelves tucked into an alcove lined with mirrors. Yeah. I know. You’re jealous.
Purchasing a new home was not part of my 2017 plan. Neither was getting engaged. But Michael decided to propose on August 6. And within four days our wedding venue was booked and he was on the phone with a realtor. “So what made you decide to start looking at houses?” she asked Michael. “We just got engaged four days ago and I read in the manual that buying a house is the next thing we’re supposed to do.” Thank God for Michael’s sense of humor. Because mine was dwindling as we drove from one outdated home to the next.
But six weeks after we started our search, we closed on our first home. My parents had a previously planned trip to visit us the last weekend in October, which had now become the weekend we were going to move. But Michael told me to postpone their visit. “I want the house to be ready when they get here,” he explained. In the month between our closing date and Mom and Dad’s proposed visit, we were scheduled to:
- Put hardwood floors in the living room, dining room, and kitchen.
- Put new carpeting in all the bedrooms.
- Get the crawl space lined, a dehumidifier put in, and some floor joists bolstered.
- Paint most of the house.
- Move in.
“I don’t think you understand,” I told him. “My parents want to help. They love this stuff.” I paused. “Well, I’m not sure they love it. But they do it a lot.” I called Mom to confirm. She laughed. “Yes, I like helping my kids nest.” And Dad? He loves projects.
I know relationships require compromise. So despite my strong desire for my parents’ help, I told them we’d need to reschedule their visit. “We’ll keep it in the calendar in case Michael changes his mind,” my dad said. Thankfully, Michael did.
I didn’t see much of my dad on that visit. He and Michael were always off working on or getting supplies for some project. I can’t even list them as I don’t recall a single one. All I know is that Mom and I got plenty of bonding time while packing and cooking. Dad still wanted to go out to eat, but Mom and I knew we’d be exhausted at the end of the day, so we took breaks from packing to cook together.
Cooking is relaxing to me. For many years I was the only child who lived away from home, so when I returned for holidays I had plenty of time to help Mom cook for our holiday gatherings. Now I only go home for Christmas. “I SO miss you helping me,” my mother tells me. I try to hold back my tears. I miss it, too.
Mom and I were right. After the first day, Dad still wanted to go out to eat. We were exhausted. In their impatience, the men ordered pizza, which arrived just about the time the chicken and potatoes finished cooking. We let it cool and packed it away for lunch the next day.
Mom and Dad helped us pack, move, and then unpack. “I don’t know how you would have done this without us,” my mother said. I had no plans to do it without them. I did as Michael had asked and attempted to postpone their visit, but deep down I knew they were coming.
We didn’t go out to eat the entire time they were here. Unless you count Michael taking Dad to Chipotle for lunch every day. Mom made roast beef. Then stew. Our new neighbors brought over lasagna. “We can go out to eat next time we visit,” Dad said. Yep. And to my list of things to do when my parents visit, I will now be able to add a whole bunch of projects for Dad. Because I hear there are always a few on any homeowners to-do list.