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My Imperfect Parents Became Great Grandparents and It Hurts

Photograph by Twenty20

I don’t have tons of warm memories from childhood.

My parents became parents when they were 22 and 26. Back then, my dad was still busy drinking and smoking and seeking a good time outside of the home. My mom was far from her family and without a support system of her own. They produced four children, three in fairly rapid succession, and then struggled to stay afloat financially.

I remember being punished when I was loud. I remember walking alone through the woods, quiet. I don’t recall that time with a warm glow around it.

When my parents were 50 and 54, they moved in with my sister and her brand-new baby, and the four of them made a new little family. My niece never attended daycare—they were with her around the clock.

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By the time I had a child of my own, they were 60 and 64, and well-seasoned in the skill of grandparenting.

I knew things would be different with my own child. I had followed my mom’s footsteps and moved to my husband’s hometown. No one in my family even came to the hospital to meet my newborn son. Sure, it’s four-and-a-half hours by car, but that seems a pretty doable distance for a big event. Weeks later, my mom and sister made the trek, but my dad didn’t climb into the car with them. He didn’t feel well and is constantly battling depression, so he decided to stay back.

I had my first baby, and my dad decided to stay back.

My hurt over that will be one of those that follows me around for the rest of my life. Never mind that he didn’t feel great, and never mind the struggles he was facing. He didn’t jump in the car and come to meet the human I grew. Boom. Grudges pile up, on top of past grudges. A heart breaks.

But as I watch them now, doting over him, their eyes sparkling and laughing at his mere existence, I see remnants of the love they must have had—must have—for me.

Life provides us a laundry list of disappointments with our parents. Now at 38, you'd think I'd be better at dealing with them, but I’m not. Every single time they hurt me, it's fresh. Every single time, it's a shock. It isn’t true by any means, but we innately believe they aren’t going to hurt us. And, well, since they’re human, they do.

I feel jealous, sometimes. Of the relationship my niece has been able to have with them. My dad has played softball with her a million times—he has really been a best friend to her. My mother has lent her the gentlest soul. The three of them are so close you can feel it.

Much of their communication with my son is via FaceTime, but they also know each other deeply. They've watched him eat a hundred meals, the computer balancing on the table in front of his high chair. “Let me see The Ollie Show! It’s the best thing on television!” my father yells the moment the phone call is connected. Oliver’s face lights up when he hears the phone ring, knowing they're on the other end. Mamaw and Papaw. The ones that delight in his every move.

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But as I watch them now, doting over him, their eyes sparkling and laughing at his mere existence, I see remnants of the love they must have had—must have—for me. Just because they struggled doesn’t mean they didn’t love me. Just because we didn’t end up closer doesn’t mean we aren’t deeply connected.

And in this realization, I find forgiveness for my own future jutting out ahead of me. I’m going to mess up so much during this ride called parenthood. I’m going to let my son down a thousand times.

But I’m going to make it. We’re going to make it.

And if I'm blessed enough to be a grandparent someday, it's possible my son will resent the uncomplicated adoration I have for his child. I hope to do my best to show him that no matter how it seems, it is merely a fragment of my unending love for him. He is my child, my body, my heart and my soul.

He is the great love of my life.

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