The Perfect Parent
The drive to New Jersey was silent. I looked up from my phone when my mom turned around in her seat and told my sister and I to get our shoes on. This meant that we were going to be at the church in a minute or so. I reluctantly tugged on the pointy black wizard shoes my mom had bought a fews days before. We pulled into a small parking lot and passed a few cars that I recognized as family. Upon opening the car door, I was greeted with the bright sun, a heavy contrast to the tinted interior I had exited. As the rest of my family joined me I took in the building in front of me. It was different from what I expected, beige stone and brick forming a rectangular building that seemed more fitting as a convention center. As parents stopped to talk to relatives I dropped my head back and squinted up at the cloudless sky. After awkwardly greeting a few elderly people who I didn’t remember, we finally were allowed inside. As soon as I entered, a blast of warm air so thick I could taste it swept over me. My dad led us to the right side and into a middle pew next to my uncle and his family. We sat for a solid twenty minutes before the coffin was carried in and a pastor rose the podium. I quickly lost focus on the practiced words trudging out of the old man’s mouth. His gravely tone filtered through my disinterested ears like a foreign language. I focused on how the wood below my thighs suctioned them down with sweat. As I readjusted my dress for the fourth time, my mom gave me a stern look before turning back to the pastor. I dutifully followed suit and immersed myself in the figurines and the architecture behind the man. My mom startled me back into the present with a warm hand on my shoulder. I looked around as the people started trailing outside. I gingerly stood on stiff legs and slipped out of the stuffy building only to be blinded once more by the sun. I lingered at the entrance and waited for my family to step out. Once the entirety of the group had congregated outside the church, my Nana shakily stated a few words of thanks. I looked behind me at my father and was shocked to see my dad with tears streaming down his face. I had never seen him cry like this, and it terrified me. At that time I couldn’t pinpoint what had made me so uncomfortable about it. Now I realize that he is a vulnerable human, like everyone else. My mom has always appeared as a strong woman. She works the most, earns the most, and doesn’t shy away from handing out her opinion. I knew she could be angry, or upset-but even in those moments her spitfire personality shone through. It takes quite a lot to douse that flame. Though the graveyard stretched outwards for miles, we were all huddled underneath a crooked canopy tent. The feeble sunlight and biting wind had me wishing for the uncomfortable heat of the church. I scuffed my pointy toe into the firm ground and cast my gaze on the people around me. My sister was leaning against our dad, his hands resting on her shoulders. The elderly had perched themselves on spindly plastic chairs right up front, obscuring my view of the coffin. I walked around the edge of the tent towards where my mom was standing behind the gravestone. When she saw me, her hands unclasped from each other and pulled me into a one-armed hug. I gingerly leaned my head on her shoulder and craned my neck to catch a glimpse of her face. She wasn’t crying, but the lines on her face revealed her age. She looked drained and my eyes were drawn to the streaks of gray that interlaced with her auburn curls. It was difficult for me to comprehend that she could experience these things. My parents seemed to be perfect beings. I never considered that they existed for reasons other that taking care of me and my sister. Selfishly I believed their worlds revolved around us. These rare moments exposed me to a new perspective. It sent off signals of caution throughout my brain. I proceeded to act on my best behavior for the next week. I felt like a mouse avoiding a trap I couldn’t see, navigating unknown territory. My mind kept creating different situations about my parents. What were they like as a child? Was I similar? I became so consumed with curiosity that I blurted out what I was thinking during dinner one night. “What were you like as a kid?” My parents looked at me and then each other. They questioned who I had directed it to. “Both of you.” I responded. This prompted several stories of childhood mishaps and my curiosity only grew stronger. I craved the information my parents shared, and once I had taken in all that I could, I spread out my search to the rest of my family. I discovered all sorts of stories and facts that I hadn’t even considered. Looking back at this time, I am grateful I decided to explore my discomfort and step out of my self-centered world. It opened my mind and I started paying more attention to the world around me, especially my parents. I picked up the habit of doing my own laundry, unloading the dishwasher and taking care of our pets. I even started pet sitting and babysitting for my neighbors. While I still don’t pay attention to street signs and how to get around the city, I’m more aware of the people around me and how development is a lifelong process that I’ve only just begun.