Gifts of the Road: My Parents
If we look at our lives from the perspective of what was a ‘lucky accident’ versus the choices we made that enhanced us, our parents fall into the category of “lucky or unlucky accident”. We take what we get. Alas, if we are one of the unlucky, we are stuck for a very long time and for some, stuck forever. Our parents are accidental, but then, so are we—at least for now in January 2004.
Some of us, however, are extremely lucky. Often we are discovering our good luck at about the same time the unlucky are discovering their bad luck. This is usually about the time we discover, or fail to discover, who we are or are not--emotionally.
At some point in our young lives we all believe that we have the “world’s worst” parents. Our friends’ parents: give them anything they want; let them stay out late; buy them new cars; buy them great clothes and stuff, etc. But when the dust settles, and when we can see ourselves, our backgrounds, our emotional stability or instability, our ability to make good choices, then we understand what composes real parent luck.
Now we arrive at the crossroads and take a road. Many authors write of this juncture—Robert Frost and Scott Peck leap immediately to mind. Unfortunately most of us do not recognize crossroads. If we do, we seldom look upon them as opportunities only as dreaded decisions.
Robert Frost wrote his poem as a reflection and recognition that he would not be going back to take the other road once he had made a choice. He also recognized that he took the one less traveled and that it made a difference. As poetry, Frost does not elaborate but leaves it to the reader to fill in the excitement or the sorrow. Dr. Peck, however, clearly describes the Road Less Traveled. He makes it abundantly clear that there is no going back and that the road is less traveled because there is difficulty to be found in the road to self understanding. To Scott Peck the road less traveled is difficult but rewarding.
The roads presented in life are not marked “If you have lousy parents go this way” or “If you have the gift of good parents go here”. Most of us just stumble along with or without the awareness. Really good luck is awareness. And awareness is the road to be taken. For some, there is difficulty in even getting to the road of awareness.
When I was a young child I was not aware that we were poor. I often heard my parents discuss money—or lack of it. They spoke in their native Italian, but despite the fact that none of my siblings or myself spoke Italian, we all understood it because that was the language our parents always spoke. We, however, communicated in English. We did not speak Italian, they did not speak English, but we all understood each other.
The awareness of my own materialistic poverty was slow and non-threatening to my personhood. Actually, there were many people in our sphere who, like us, had few material possessions. I began to become aware of my status at about 6 or 7. Some of my little friend’s families were beginning to become middle-income folks. This was evidenced by the “things” they were able to have: baseball mitts, baseball bats and balls, and “Oh my God, a TV”.
There was an equalizer in my life, however. My mom. My friends wanted to be at my house, they wanted to eat at my house, they wanted to play at my house because, although she had little in the way of material possessions, my mom made them all feel good about themselves. She would scold us when we needed it, she would be annoyed when we were raucous, but she always let us know that we were not bad only that her level of tolerance had expired.
In recent years, as I have examined again and again the life patterns that present positive attitudes, I internally debate my good fortune. Is it possible that because Italian was not my language and English was not the language of my parents, that they were not able to hurl epithets of hurt and anger and we were not able to hurl epithets of rebellion? Certainly each side ably demonstrated anger, defiance and frustration with and without words. And it was certainly understood. But could it be that hurtful words may not have been as stinging because our internal translations may have muted them.
My mother spoke with her eyes. I believe that is what my little friends saw in her. She was accepting and open and her eyes always told you that she looked at you with interest and excitement. She had charisma. Perhaps it was the quality of her eyes or her smile that drew people to her. Strangers would pass her in stores and say hello. In train stations, people would try to engage her in conversation.
As I write this, I again berate myself for not writing down or recording her sayings. They were always in Italian and philosophical. The translation always provided a proverb of sorts, a lesson on how to treat your parents, how to avoid selfish people, how to ensure yourself a good death, et al. But then again, if I had recorded them improperly, they would not be as rich as my memory of them.