It’s supposed to be a gesture of affection. Mostly it has become a way for Carl to wipe away the boogers in his nose or the sweat from his face. He buries his head in the nearest family member and just swipes from side to side. Carl does not believe in tissues or napkins. He didn’t have them in his biological home. He prefers to use his shirt. When I tell him not to wipe his nose on his own shirt, he turns to Papa’s shirt. Clearly my parental guidance is lacking somehow.
My parents have become a major fixture in this family. They are always here for us. When they moved halfway across the country to live in our town, it was like a lifeline being thrown our way. Now our little family is bigger. The best days for me are the ones that are really rough as a parent. On those days I can tell my own mom how hard it is to be a parent. She comes over for coffee, no matter how big of a tantrum one of the kids is having. She’s brave. She loves us, warts and all.
On the phone Carl tells my mother that “this will probably be the last time I ever see you in my life.” It’s such an odd thing for a child to say, but it is so true for him. Of course, my mom has the solution. She comes over with pictures of Nana and Papa in little frames. Now Carl cannot help but to see them in his life. There they are, right next to the remote!
Nana brings us a map of Missouri. She has marked the areas where they will travel. Each town is circled in red pen. Here in Connecticut, we can follow their progress. This concrete reminder will show us all that they are still out there. Carl has a toy VW beetle that we placed on a map of the US to track their move from Missouri to Connecticut. Now they will be bringing the real life VW home.
We call them throughout the week and track them on the map. On the day they finally come back we have therapy. Mary cries in the therapist’s office that she doesn’t think Nana and Papa are ever coming back. Carl explains to her that are because they have to come back for their cat and we have the map etc. etc. Logically she knows they are coming but she feels like she won’t see them again.
After therapy we drive straight to their house. Mary is overflowing with amazement. “They came back!” she exclaims. Carl buries his face in Papa’s sweatshirt. I forget to remind him not to wipe his sweat on Papa. Secretly, a small knot of worry in my stomach unravels. I breathe a sigh of relief. It isn’t just Mary and Carl. I needed my parents, too. I think we are all learning the truth about family. When you love someone, you show up. Family shows up. Family comes back.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.