There was a time when I hardly spent time with my Ma. I was studying, teaching, volunteering, managing our household (finance, maintenance etc.), and having fun with friends, all at the same time. So, when I was ready to wrap up for the day, I would be tired…and Ma too sleepy.
When my professional life started, time was scarcer. First, I left my home town for work-related training…and then she left the country to live with my sister. There were work deadlines, different time zones….and life was too fast-paced for both of us. She was always on my mind, but not always part of my daily routine. I told myself that I would slow down when she got back. I would imagine the two of us sitting in our living room….having a chitchat every morning, while dunking our Marie biscuits in tea (something we both enjoy), before I left for work.
But then the wedding…and the relocation…..and the new job….and the settling down….and the kids (two of my sister’s and one of mine) happened. And although we did get several lazy mornings (while I was on maternity leave) when we had our chitchat over our morning cuppas, things had changed. There was always the awareness that she had come to visit, and would eventually go back.
As the grey hairs started to become more noticeable on both of us, the realisation dawned. That spending time with her wouldn’t ever be as easy as walking to the next room. It would involve planning, preparation, budgeting, tickets, visas, time off work/school etc. It’s the price I will pay for the rest of my life (and I know many others like me do too), for choosing to call a faraway land my home.
Today, she is more on my mind than she ever was. Every time I check the time, I involuntarily spend a few seconds thinking what she must be up to. Has she gone for a walk? Is she watching TV now? What did she eat for lunch today? Is she spending some time to learn how to use her new smartphone, as she promised me she would? And although she doesn’t know this, I feel like I spend more time with her than any other person I see every day.
I do call her every day (almost). Even it’s for a couple of minutes. Sometimes, I call just to tell her that I can’t have a long chat that day. Just hearing my voice brightens up her day, I know. For what more can we do? We, the children who live far away from our aging parents?
There’s actually a lot we can do. We can write letters, send flowers or birthday cards. We could buy them something they would never buy for themselves – like a smartphone or a flat screen TV (my old TV works just fine, she would tell me). Or perhaps a tiny photo gift – a coffee mug with the photo of the grand-kids, which they would display with pride in their living rooms (and value more than the flat screen TV). We can offer to pay their bills online. We could speak on the phone to their doctors or carpenters or even the maids. What’s the point, you ask? Well, according to my Ma, when I spoke to her doctor at one of her regular visits, she felt so relieved because it was not up to her alone to ask all the questions and get the advice.
We could arrange for someone to take them for a medical test they have been feeling anxious about (sometimes, they feel too conscious to ask for help). We could get them involved in a community project, where they could teach underprivileged kids at home, or take them out for a picnic. We could get their favourite meal delivered at their doorstep (thanks to online orders). We could send them a movie ticket….and one extra, to take a friend along. Or money for a little indulgence (my Ma likes having facials at home J). We could send them a postcard from every holiday we go to. Better still, we could take them on holidays. In short, our parents should be part of our bucket lists (“see the Kanchenjunga with Ma”) as well as our to-do lists (“make a list of Ma’s medicines and stick it on the cupboard where she can see it easily).
So every time I hear someone say “What could we possibly do for them, living so far away?”, I come up with a dozen things in my mind. All we need to do is use our education, imagination and friendships to get things organised (all three of which, we ultimately owe to our parents). Our parents don't need a lot from us (not half as much as we needed from them in our growing-up years). True, I have also heard of parents who can never be satisfied and pressurise their children with their demands all the time – stuff for another post. But for the vast majority, our parents never actually "ask" for anything but our time. For ultimately, it’s not living far away from their children that they fear the most. It’s the thought of being forgotten.