I first noticed it with a picture.
Actually, I think that’s a lie. I had noticed it before but in little, ignorable moments. The way they’d hold out menus at restaurants or how reading glasses became a fixture in their lives. The subtle changes in their smiles and the new lines on their faces.
But those were all gradual. Silly, even. We’d poke fun at my mom for not being able to read the words on the TV because that’s what you do when things are hard. When things change. You laugh, pretend it’s no big deal, and move on.
It wasn’t until I saw the picture, though, that everything came together and slapped me across the heart so hard, that I had to halt for a moment before I could move on. I had to stop and feel it because I couldn’t bury it like I had the embarrassing memory of the time I peed my pants on stage during a dance recital.
I moved away from my family about two and a half years ago. I never expected to leave Florida, but that’s nothing noteworthy. Most of our lives aren’t planned out, despite how hard we try. The thing is, I never wanted to move away from my home. More importantly, I never wanted to move away from my family. But my dreams were calling, my destiny was waiting, every cliché in the book was telling me to go, so I left my parents and started a “new” life.
Thanks to technology, we keep in touch. Like, way too in touch. And now, to my great love and great disdain, my parents are the king and queen of contacting me at the worst times. The number of random FaceTimes I get is shocking, and I’m fairly certain they selfie more than any white girl at any festival does. Still, despite how dorky and inconvenient it sometimes is, I kind of love it. Partially because my parents are always sources of comfort and knowledge, but also because I like knowing that home is still waiting for me. That the couch is in the same spot and that the walls are still the same color. That the only thing missing is me, and I can jump back in my old life whenever I want.
It wasn’t until my dad sent a recent selfie, however, that I realized how quickly time is going. How much things don’t stay the same.
It was a normal picture. Well, normal if you consider your dad talking a million selfies “normal.” He was sitting on the couch with his new puppy that he obviously loves more than he ever loved any of his three children. Maybe it was the lighting, or a filter, or just the honesty of our new iPhones, but where there was once dark brown hair, gray strands were taking over. A lot of gray strands.
I stared at the picture in shock. My father by no means has white hair. But the silver that subtly peppered his color for the past few years had spread and moved so that it was impossible to ignore. Add to that the fact that he was wearing reading glasses (something he hadn’t needed since he got Lasik about 10 years ago), and the thought I had been pushing down for years bubbled over.
My parents are getting old.
When I say old, I don’t mean “old.” Calm down, mom. They still stay up later than I do, and they’re far more adventurous than I’ll ever be. And I’ve known my parents are getting older. As I’m deep into 25, they’re reaching their upper 50s and approaching what I once considered old. Actually old.
And that shit? That’s fucking scary.
Most of our days are spent scrolling through each other’s lives and staring at screens. We wake up early and hit the gym or we hit snooze, and lose out on an extra hour of life. We drink coffee, we work, and we drink some more coffee. We eat a burger and we crash in front of the TV, and more often than not, we silence a call or ignore a text because we’re just too busy. We’re too tired to talk to our dads about whether or not we got our taxes in on time or how our work is going. We’re too stressed to make small talk with our moms or pretend that we’re eating right and getting plenty of fresh air. Our parents are always there, wanting to keep us on the phone just a few minutes too long or wanting to plan a visit right in the middle of when things are hectic.
But we shouldn’t be ending those calls. We shouldn’t be avoiding those moments.
I know this sounds like propaganda from some mom whose son never calls her back. Hell, maybe even a few of your parents paid me to guilt the shit out of you (they haven’t, but I’m absolutely open to the idea), but whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. The truth is, the older I get, the older my family gets, the more I’m realizing just how important they all are to me. The more I realize just how valuable our time with them is.
That’s not to say I don’t hide when I get the occasional request to “talk on the Faced Time” or that a text or two doesn’t go unanswered. It’s just that, well, we need to stop that shit. We need to stop being lazy assholes to our parents and give them the love and attention they deserve.
One day my dad is going to go completely silver (and trust me, he’ll rock it). My mom might not be close behind. They’re not going to beg me to go on hikes with them, and they’re not going to stay out until 5 a.m. when we’re on a family trip to Vegas. They’re going to slow down as time continues to speed up.
We don’t know how much time we’ll have with them, how many more phone calls we’ll get, or how many more inconvenient FaceTimes with horrible lighting we’ll have to endure. Things are going to change. Your parents are going to buy new furniture and get a new dog. They’re going to sell your childhood home and one day, they’re going to leave you on this world. It fucking sucks and it’s hard and it’s depressing. But that’s what makes it so great, and that’s what makes them so special. That’s what makes life so special.
Text them first, call them often, and do everything you can to stretch out the time. Now, let’s just hope the next piece of technology manages to teach parents how to actually be on screen instead of just us staring at their knees or up their nostrils for a thirty-minute call, or else it’s going to be a long twenty more years.
And if you’re feeling truly bummed out after that, here’s a little clip from Louis C.K. about sadness that’s sure to either really cheer you up or make you feel a hell of a lot worse. .