An Incomplete History of Parents
I suppose we should start at the beginning.
Well, maybe not the very beginning—there are whole lives, entire worlds, that existed B.C. (before children), and I’m not concerned with those. While in the womb, you receive your mother’s life, not her Life. You get her blood and her prenatal vitamins and her lobster bisque cravings. What you don’t get is her first kiss. You, an embryo, do not hear stories about the first time she got drunk, the first time she had sex, or all the men who came before your father, should they exist. You don’t get the scary stuff, either; maybe those tales of fear and sadness and heartbreak and longing will find you someday, but not in the first nine months. You aren’t privy to her goals, her hopes and her dreams, which may or may not have included you. Those stories are not a part of your being; they’re a part of your mother’s. You do not have access to that sealed information because you are positioned among her stomach, her liver, her kidneys, her intestines, and other organs that we don’t write poetry about. While you may be on her mind, you are not growing within it; you are not in her heart; you are not in her soul.
My mother was 37 when she birthed me. There’s a term for that: geriatric pregnancy. Geriatric. At age 37. Who decides these things? I’ve heard from friends who think they’re nurses that any pregnancy beyond the age of 35 is considered dangerous; that there’s a higher probability for things to go wrong. I’m not saying that they’re wrong, and I’m not saying that there’s nothing wrong with me, but there isn’t.
What I’m saying is that twelve days before she was supposed to, with a toddler at home, and during the worst blizzard New England had seen in decades, my mother bore from between her own two legs a living, breathing human.
And what I’m asking is: is that not enough?
My parents are architects. Their profession is the single thing that I can point to that has shaped me; built my likes and dislikes, trained my eye, caused me to pick up a pen. I know architecture from the outside. I have good taste—I can tell you what’s ugly and what’s pretty. I can list three famous architects, probably more, off the top of my head because I’ve seen their buildings and their drawings are hung, framed, above my mother’s drafting table. But I cannot tell you the theory, the why or the how behind our most-loved structures. I would probably fail physics. I don’t know how architects do it. I don’t know where those visions come from; I imagine it’s the same place that my sentences come from, but as for what makes theirs three-dimensional and mine linear? I can’t say.
I know my parents in a similar way. I know their history, mostly—I know that they’re from Indiana and some other places, that they met in Calculus, that they were married at 25 and have stayed that way—married, not 25—for 32 years now. Or is it 33? Don’t ask Mom, she can never do the math. But I cannot tell you their why, or their how. I don’t know what it is that makes them love each other so much, or at the very least, what’s made them stay married for 32 or 33 years. I can tell you what makes them good parents and what makes them bad ones, but I don’t understand the reasons for their respective successes and failures. I would say that it’s simply because they’re human, but they’re not. They’re parents.
I don’t know how they do it.
The things that comprise us; the things within our beings; the things that make us whole. ex. Dad’s disbelief in fake Christmas trees; Mom’s conviction that a cheese plate constitutes a well-balanced meal; an unwavering faith in anything created by Leon Leonwood Bean; a proclivity for National Parks.
The things that you don’t realize are strange until you go elsewhere, and meet people who were not incubated within the same four walls as you. See: a hesitation toward maple syrup served cold; a disinterest in Disney World as a legitimate vacation; an obsessively organized dishwasher; “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” and “Guy Noir, Private Eye.”
- When you tried to buy curtains for your new apartment, and your roommate insisted that they were unnecessary because you “already had blinds,” and so you, dumbfounded, interrupted your internal debate between sheer and semi-sheer to explain to her, in the middle of Target, the pronounced difference between “curtains” and “blinds”; that one was harsh, and clinical; that the other was homey, and comfortable; that both were necessary. She, ultimately, found one to be “frivolous,” so you put both the sheer and the semi-sheer curtains back on the shelf and moved on to kitchen trashcans, still dumbfounded.
We don’t realize that our bodies are strange until we see others’. All of that hard work to avert your eyes from the naked older women walking confidently through the country club locker room. You, age 10, wondered if you could ever be that naked, and that confident. You would later find that indeed you could, just maybe not at the same time.
You were returning home one evening and, from the street, you saw your roommate, naked, through her bedroom window blinds; you ran upstairs and told her this is why you needed both the curtains and the blinds.
My father has been present for my entire life—more present, in fact, than my mother—so I’m not entirely sure why he hides in my writing. He never shows himself on the page; letters do not draw him in the same way that they draw my mother.
It’s probably because I am her. I am her stubbornness, her steadfastness. I am her affinity for black clothing; her gnawed-on cuticles; her blank notebooks, and her full ones, too. I am the lists she makes and the puzzles she solves; I am her packed and unpacked suitcases, her shoes you could catch a plane in, her deep love of itineraries, and her deeper love of throwing them out the window, entirely.
Words about my mother are the easiest to find, because though we’ve never been close, she’s been inside me for my whole life—it was just a matter of meeting her, around age 19 when the similarities were finally undeniable; were scary. She’s moved my hands across keys; my feet through the world; my heart through humans, and other loves. We traded places, you see, on that December night during the Blizzard of ’96: child in mother; mother into child.
Theresa Doolittle earned her B.A. in Writing and Communication from the University of Pittsburgh. Originally from Boston, Theresa is an avid photographer and intrepid traveler who sinks her teeth into art, architecture, and things that follow. Her words and art have previously appeared in Sidereal Magazine, and Zeniada.