Seeing My Parents

by Antonio Castillo (Antioch, YSA)

I’m minding the cart again; Mom goes off to grab toiletries while Dad’s perusing the international aisle. I used to sit in the carts while my parents bought groceries, and when I outgrew that, I’d loiter and investigate the lower shelves, never too far from Mom. They used to always ask for what I want.

“Yes, my fretting, frowning child, I could cross the room to you more easily.”

Kids don’t form an opinion of their parents until they meet other kids and their parents. I thought it was normal that Dad would blow up over the littlest things—not knowing how to tie my laces, dropping a spoon—that Mom would only watch, that I was afraid. This is what all parents are like, I thought.

“But, I’ve already learned to walk, so I make you come to me.”

As you grow, everything new quickly becomes normal, and it’s jarring to find out how strange your life really is, if you even reach that realization. Many don’t. At a time when family was all I knew, and I held my parents in unblemished regard, I couldn’t reconcile the happiness of other families with my own experiences.

“Let go, now—there! You see?”

And so I understood. Or misunderstood, whichever. Other families did things very differently. Her dad would take her to play sports; his mom lets him go out with friends. I became jealous and resentful. I thought I deserved more. And who knows, maybe I did. But for the longest time, I refused to grow where I was planted.

“Oh, remember this simple lesson, child, and when in later years you cry out with tight fists and tears —’Oh, help me, God—please,’”

I was twelve and browsing the internet for an essay when I came across a poem. “The Lesson,” by Carol Lynn Pearson. I didn’t write it down (I ended up using a pithy line from Gibran), but the poem has stayed with me since. Reading it was the first time I saw my parents. I realized what they’d done for me, not from a pedestal but as ordinary people trying to raise a child. Parenting didn’t come with a manual, yet despite it all, my particular childhood experiences and struggles turned me into who I was back then, and it continues to inform and guide who I am today.

“Just listen, and you’ll hear a silent voice: ‘I would, child, I would. But it’s you, not I, who needs to try Godhood.’”

Mom’s returning with a handful of soaps, and Dad’s picked up a bag of Cheetos® Cheddar Jalapeño. (My favorite!) As they walk back to me, a last thought escapes: they’ve cared, and continue to care, for me. They’re both smiling, and I smile back at them, seeing in their eyes a familiar look, like they knew where my mind was just now; seeing now that their eyes are my eyes, and that they tried to grow where they were planted.

As published in the March 5 issue of the Parish Bulletin.