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My dad used to always make jokes about which of us kids he and mom would come and live with once they get old and infirm.  “I can’t wait until you get to take care of me, Annie.” he’d guffaw over and over never thinking it was less funny that the twelve times he’d said it before.

I’ve been feeling a bit bad lately because I haven’t spoken to my parents in more than six months.  Occasionally, I get the guilt-inducing email from my mother asking if I’m alive, but I haven’t called them and they haven’t called me.  I simply refuse to feel terrible for not calling when if they really wanted to hear my voice, they certainly could make that happen.  I also suspect that there’s another reason that they’re not calling.

Obamacare.

They know exactly where I, the underemployed, uninsured public servant with two masters degrees stands on the healthcare debate, and  I suspect that actually speaking to me, even if we talk about other things, might make things a bit uncomfortable.  I avoid talking politics with them as much as possible because it doesn’t get us anywhere.  My mother used to pick fights with me during the Clinton administration, but has since backed off, possibly because on the eve of W’s re-election she was having a crisis of Republicanism, and we actually had an intelligent, respectful debate.  Prior to that, our political discussions often went something like this.

INT. KITCHEN DAY

ANNIE and MOTHER are sitting at the kitchen table.  Annie, a junior in high school, is eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and working on the crossword puzzle.  Mother is reading the newspaper.

MOTHER

The only reason gay people want to get married is so that they can take advantage of health insurance benefits.

ANNIE

Oh?

MOTHER

Of course it is.  Why else would they be making such a bit deal out of it?  It’s ridiculous.  They could just get better jobs and quit pushing for something so unnecessary and wasting everyone’s time.

ANNIE

Why did you get married?

END OF SCENE

Eventually, she quit picking on me because even as uninformed as I was, logic flew in the face of everything that she held so dear.  That comforted me; it made me believe that my parents were still rational beings.

Then tonight I got a phone call from my brother, which began with, “do you know where our parents were last night?”

Since I don’t know where my parents are most nights, I said no, and pictured some kind of lame church function.

“I got a phone call from  Mom telling me that they had just attended their first Tea Party meeting.”  My brother went on to say that recent conversations with them have revolved around how that poor Sarah Palin was treated by the media, and how awesome Glen Beck is, but even knowing this (and keeping it from me), he truly did not believe that it would come to this.  I skimmed an article recently talking about how latest polls show that Tea Baggers are more educated and erudite than the earliest incarnations of the movement (and I do mean bowel), but I seriously did not believe that my parents would buy into this.

My parents have always been conservative.  They took down a lovely studio portrait of my brother and I and replaced it with one of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, but I still thought there was a germ of reason in their heads.  “You have to fix this,” I told my brother, “You’re their favorite. They’ll listen to you”

“I’ve kind of given up these days.” he told me, “It’s like nothing I say gets in there at all.  They just kind of blink and repeat themselves.”

This is probably not what my father had in mind when he said that I’ll need to take care of him one day, but that’s really the place I’m taking it.  I have no idea what to do about this, or if something can be done, or if maybe this is just the time to  take our estrangement to the next level; but I’m feeling a range of emotions that must be similar to those that Nancy Kerrigan felt when she got clubbed in the knee and just kept screaming “Why?!”

I’m struck dumb.

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I was listening to… something.. the other day, and re-heard the song Mother Mother by Tracy Bonham.  Of all of the 90s song that I’ve heard played nostalgically over the years– this one has always been skipped.  I’ve never really enjoyed this song, seemed a bit obvious to me even when I was a petulant pre-teen, but this time, it had a new poignancy.

As I listened to it, I started feeling all these feelings, and much like the third time I saw the movie Singles, or saw a commercial that mimicked my way of life, I realized “holy shit, this is about me.”  I suddenly wanted to call my mother and make amends for my distance and lack of real communication; apologize for every time I’ve glossed over things, or blown off questions, and promise to re-read all those Republican propaganda emails that she just sent me because she cares!

Naturally, I forgot/couldn’t be bothered to call her, and the feeling passed.

A few days later I was on the phone with little brother and he said “You know, mom and dad have told me that they’re worried about you, and they wish you’d call more often.”

I responded with my standard, “well, they never call me!”

“Jesus Christ, Andria,” he sighed, “Just be the bigger person for once.”

So I made the call, and caught my mother home alone one Sunday afternoon.  Admittedly, I picked that time to call because I thought neither of them would be home, but whatever, I was still the bigger person.

We were actually having a rather lovely conversation about her life, my life, my job prospects.  I explained to her that even though I don’t have full-time employment, I am picking up a lot of extra shifts, I have a work-from-home gig, I’m applying for things, and I’m optimistic etc.

“I’m also teaching a screenwriting workshop at a library this summer,” I told her, “It’s similar to the one I did last summer, but for adults instead of teens.  I think it will be a lot of fun.”

“How did you get hooked up with that?” she asked.

“Someone had heard about my other one, and they just called me.”

“So, how do you know how to do screenwriting? Is that something you learned in your librarian classes?” she asked.

I was simply stunned.  There was a pregnant pause during which I tried to think of how I could possibly answer that question without yelling at her.  Finally, I settled for a terse, “I have a masters degree in screenwriting, mother.”

I always think of my father as the more vacant of my parental pair, because he usually is, but sometimes my mother is simply amazing.

I could blame myself; I’m a secretive person, I don’t really like to talk about myself that much (this blog directly contradicts that statement, but I maintain that it’s true), I’ve given up trying to talk to my parents about what matters to me etc.  The flaw in that logic is: the 2.5 years that I spent working on my Master of Fine Arts in fiction and screenwriting with a certificate in publishing, my mother asked constantly what I was going to school for.  Every family dinner “What are you studying again?”  “Is this something you really need to do?”  I explained and defended, and took in her disapproval as I revisited the salad bar (the salad bar, for god’s sake!); her claiming ignorance on this front is absolutely astonishing, but not completely surprising.

I’m thinking of sending her a CV.

My father called to sort out the logistics of my upcoming visit.  Because I’m flying into Minneapolis and then driving to Fargo, I’m not going to also drive to Bemidji (where they live, about 90 minutes away from Fargo).  From my perspective, I’m mostly going back to Fargo to see my friends.  Considering all of the intense time I’ve spent with my parents (15 days non-stop) over the past year, I think this is perfectly reasonable.  Plus, whenever I do go to their house, we just sit there watching HGTV, which I just don’t enjoy as much as they do.

I thought having them come to Fargo for marathon weekend made much more sense.  I’m running the 1/2, my dad usually runs the full, my mom and brother did the 5k two years ago– fun for the whole family!  Now it seems that my father will not be running the full marathon, but the 1/2, “I’ll be running right next to you, Annie.” he told me.

I don’t want to sound like a total brat, but that is not ok with me.  I’ve never run with another human being (except next to strangers), and I really have no interest in taking that on.  I’m not a chatty runner; I clap on my headphones, get in the zone, and proceed to sweat and huff and turn red in the most unattractive way possible.  I just want to be left alone.

Then my father asked where I run. “On my treadmill,” I told him, “watching TV”

“Oh, you don’t have any friends to run with?”

By the end of the conversation, I not only felt like a horrible daughter, but also like a friendless nerd who runs only to get away from bullies.

I picked running (or had no choice but to pick running, since it seems to be in my DNA), because it’s a solitary activity.  I don’t need to form a team of varied skill, or do any kind of administration, or worry about letting anyone else down– it’s all me.  Now it’s getting all mucked up because I keep choosing to run in from of people.

Part of me thinks I should have kept my jock tendencies a secret like I used to, but, too late for that now.  Plus, for some reason, I’m excited to get this free t-shirt…

It will be fine.  The thought of spending timewith my parents is often much more stressful than the actual act– keep reminding myself that.  Also, free food.

Imposter Syndrome is the fear that you’ve achieved everything you have achieved by accident, luck, or timing rather than merit.  According to a 1978 Georgia State University study, it mostly plagues high-achieving woman, and leaves the most affected sufferers constantly waiting to be caught out.  Some of my high-achieving female friends went to a lecture about this last year at Brown.

While I don’t believe that any of my friends suffers from this as severely as the women mentioned in this study, I feel like everyone who achieves some modicum of success inevitably feels a sense of doubt somewhere along the way: Was I really the best? What made them pick me? Do I really deserve this grade? etc.  Certainly I’ve felt this way over and over the years, but deep down, I feel confident in my abilities, and in my intelligence despite the fact that I’m genuinely stupid when it comes to a lot of things.

Whenever I talk about my parents’ goals for me, it inevitably falls to me talking about my mother and how she wanted me to go to tech school and be a plumber.  Clearly, I’m still annoyed by this, and will probably be forever, or until she admits that that was a really stupid idea. With all of my energies focused toward being annoyed with my mother, I seem to have completely forgotten my father.  He came to mind yesterday.

This semester, I’m doing a Professional Field Experience (fancy phrase that means internship) at the Community College where Sassy Redhead Friend works.  I started last week, and am genuinely enjoying myself (and not just because Sassy Redhead reads this blog).  Because I’ve never attended a Community College, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I didn’t know how different the curriculum or students would be.  Really, the biggest difference I’ve seen so far is that it lacks a lot of the annoying pretension that comes with most academia.  And even though Sassy Redhead pointed out that I will only see the best students in the library because the bad students do not go there, everyone I’ve met seems diligent, hard-working, and capable, perhaps in contrast with any preconceived notions that I had in my head.

I’m enjoying it so much that yesterday I found myself wishing that I had gone to Community College where everyone is friendly and helpful, rather than my cranky University, until I remembered a conversation I had with my father when I was twelve. We were driving home late at night from somewhere.  It was a long drive, one of those where you get onto a circuitous conversation route and end up discussing things never before brought up.  He asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told him psychologist.

“For that, you’ll need to get a PhD.” He told me, “I think you’ll start at a community college because I don’t think you’ll be ready for a 4-year University, then you’ll transfer, after which you’ll go to grad school.”

I just ate it up, and for years that was my plan.  But then I got to thinking about his word choice, “…I don’t think you’ll be ready for a 4-year University…”  What was that based on?

I can excuse my mother trying to force me to go to Vo-Tech because she is one who needs to have a clear-cut goal in mind– there’s no obvious career path for English majors– and I’m sure she wanted to save money.  With my father, he must have sincerely believed, based on something, that I was a little bit behind the curve academically, and would need to start slower.

Granted, I never got excellent grades, but for the amount of work I put into things, I did quite well.  As far as my parents have told me, the biggest complaint that teachers had about me during conferences was that I worked far too quickly so I could sit and read.

I don’t know how to feel about this revelation because on one hand I can just scoff and say that this reinforces my long-held opinion that my parents do not understand me, or I could believe that perhaps I’ve not as smart as I think, and they got it right all along.  My parents can both be a bit obtuse,  but my father is a former educator, so his pronouncement weighs on me a bit.

A while ago, I was talking to my mother about a class that I was supposed to be teaching at the same Community College where I’m doing my PFE.  “You can do that?” she asked, “but you’re still in school.”

“That’s why I have all of these degrees” I reminded her, “it’s not just because I love grad school so much.”

Maybe I am smart, maybe I’m not, and maybe my parents will not be content until I have a full-time job and they can stop writing “Annie is in Grad School” in the Christmas letter.  My mother’s reaction when I told her that I was going back to grad school was, “At first I was really upset, but then I told myself, at least she’s not addicted to crack, or in jail or something.”  Maybe my parents are just not good judges of accomplishment.

My parents and brother are visiting me for a few days, and I’m reminded again how much my parents baffle me.  They’ve already been to Tim Horton’s more than once– standard, they’ve complained about walking to and from sights, then gone for walks just for leisure, and immediately upon arriving at my apartment, my dad poured himself a glass of milk and ate a handful of dry-roasted peanuts– just like I predicted he would.

The odd thing this time, is that they drove out here.  They had a detailed itinerary for the trip out– Lincoln museum in Springfield; visiting friends in Ohio; Gettysburg; Chocolate in Hershey, PA; Baseball Hall of Fame, Ben & Jerry’s factory– and then when they got here– nothing.  No real plans were made except I guess we’re going to Maine on Sunday. I don’t know what we will do once we get there, but I suspect the real reason for the trip is because my father has never been, and this will be his 48th state.  What I said before about him having no interest in Alaska or Hawaii seems to have been right on, but maybe he’ll start planning a trip once Maine is officially checked off.

Today, I am at work, and they are in Providence doing who knows what, probably going to Tim Horton’s and going for walks.  They came to Newport yesterday and I showed them around the library where I work since it’s beautiful and historically significant– they drifted off and read the paper.  I plan on taking them to Waterfire tonight cause it’s kind of pretty, and old people seem to love it, but I suspect they’ll complain about the walk.

This is all reminding me of a conversation I recently had with a co-worker at my other job.  I’ve complained, at length, about the lack of good Mexican food in this part of the country.  Thankfully, there is a Chipotle not too far away, so I can get a decent fix when I need it.  Recently, I arranged for this Chipotle to donate burritos for one of the teen events at the library.  They gave us a ton of food, and were incredibly nice and easy to work with.  Unfortunately, the teens didn’t really like the burritos because they had never had anything like them before, and found them strange and slightly scary.  I was a little bothered by this, but happy because there were lots of leftovers for the staff to take home.

I hauled ass back to the breakroom and sequestered three of them for myself immediately, planning on taking more, once fewer people were watching.  A few of my co-workers were baffled as to this bounty because they had never heard of Chipotle before (the one I got these burritos at was only 10 minutes away), and didn’t seem to understand burritos.  Who cares, more for me.

As I was leaving that night, I walked out to my car with a different co-worker, and asked her if she had gotten a burrito.

“I don’t really like burritos.” She told me. There was a slightly awkward silence, and she followed up with, “I like Del’s.”

This confused me because we had been talking about burritos, and Del’s is a soft-frozen lemonade drink which couldn’t actually be less like a burrito, but good for her.  Then there was silence until we reached our cars.

So I’m not sure what the story has to do with my parents, but I feel like it sums it up somehow.  The thing that most baffles me is that I feel like they’re doing all of this adventuring when my back is turned, then when I make myself available, they crap out.  It’s like imagining that your toys get up in the middle of the night and play without you.  I’m glad I didn’t realy take any time off work because I guess they have more fun without me trying to shepherd then around.  Thankfully, I’ve never been to Maine (and I stressed that bit of information), so I can just give them their head and follow; but I feel like I should bring a guidebook or something just in case.