I spent most of last week escorting my parents around Universal, trading my generous employee discounts for free food and lodging. It seems they’ve moved into the “Can’t Take It With You” phase, and didn’t blink at the usual array of exorbitant theme park prices. Although they may have squinted a bit. And that — apart from never getting an adjoining hotel room next to your parents — was the big realization of the week.
When you’re a kid, your parents are pretty immortal. You don’t notice the little changes, the slight graying, the new wrinkles. Grandparents are the old ones. Parents are constantly middle-aged, this comfortable zone you imagine you’ll get to one day, without giving a thought to the idea that your grandparents had to have been young at some point too. It’s only when you’re suddenly taller than your father that you realize they’re not always going to be the protective figures they’d been for so long. Then you hear them talk about trips to the doctor, slowing down, aches and pains. And they start looking like grandparents, even if you haven’t made them into ones yet.
That’s one big wake-up call to your sense of mortality. If enough time has gone by to age them, what’s it doing to you? When you’re their age, will they still be around? And once they’re gone, what does that mean for you? It’s the inexorable march of time played out on your family tree, children becoming parents, parents becoming grandparents, grandparents becoming memories. And there’s nothing you can do to step out of line.
So I watched my dad lean on his cane as we walked around the park. I saw my mom ready to go to bed by 8:00. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like I was leading a nursing home outing or anything; they’re both in good shape for their age and certainly not lacking in enthusiasm. But there were plenty of bathroom breaks and stopping to sit and lingering in the air conditioning. Not enough to be annoying, but enough to remind me that my parents have become grandparents, and what that makes me.
There were hints that this could be one of their last trips down here. No imminent health crises looming, but my dad doesn’t have many ten-hour drives left in him. And I don’t think my mom wants to spend that much time stuck in a car with him anymore. If that’s the case, the last thing this visit needed to be was a wake for two people who are still very much alive. So I put aside worrying about how old they looked and how old I felt and just enjoyed spending time with them. I’m not at a point where I need my parents, but I sure like having them around.
Just not in an adjoining hotel room next time.