I had really hoped that the two-week bout of sickness was the end of it, but actually it was just beginning. Luckily for us – but unluckily for them – my parents had just arrived for a much-anticipated visit when the Ogre came home from work early and collapsed in bed with a 101 fever.
In the moments that it took me to take his temperature and send him to bed with some Advil, I saw all our beautiful plans being sucked into a black hole of viral evil. We were going to go to Marco Island and have dinner on the beach! We were going to go see Into the Woods with the girls! We were going to spend a whole day shopping and getting pedicures, and the next day we were going to take a picnic to the beach and let the kids swim and build sandcastles while we all soaked up the Vitamin D!
Instead, we went to the urgent care and got antibiotic-steroid-cough syrup cocktails. We spent hours watching Netflix on the couch in puddles of feverish misery while my mom did all of our laundry and stocked us up at Costco. My dad took the healthy kids to the park, and the Bean, and Tropical Smoothie, and patiently endured Folly’s endless declarations of puppy love. My parents made the Ogre and I take our cough syrup and go to bed early while they took the night shift with the kids. My dad slept on the couch in between bouts of walking and rocking a coughing, congested, miserable Lincoln, and my mom slept with their door open while a rotation of minions made their snotty ways into and out of their bed. By Sunday everyone seemed to be mostly on the mend, and we sent my parents back to Texas with love, gratitude, and copious exposure to God knows how many different viruses.
I felt horrible about the whole thing, even though viruses are clearly out of my control. It just seems like every time my parents come to visit we get sick, and that’s awful, because we get to see them so rarely that I always want to make the most of every second we have together. I kept apologizing and apologizing until my dad finally said, “Cay, I’m just glad we were here when we could help. We hardly ever get to help y’all, so it’s nice to come at a time when we can.”
This is not the first time that I’ve been struck with the realization that my parents are pretty dang incredible. This is the first time I’ve been struck with the simultaneous realizations that my parents are pretty dang incredible and I’m still their somewhat ungrateful child.
It’s weird to be a grown up with a husband and four kids of my own. It’s not that I think having my own kids means I know more than my parents, but every once in a while I start to think that it kind of puts us on equal footing.Ha. Hilarious, right? As it turns out, I still need my Mom and Dad to take care of me when I’m sick. I still want my Mom and Dad to take care of me when I’m sick. And they still want to, even though I’m thirty and too big to crawl into their laps. (Obviously I still attempt to do this with my mom, because nothing is better than cuddles with the mama, especially when it freaks her out and she tries to shove me off her lap.)
In the past few years, these little moments of realizing that no matter what, I’m still my parents’ child, have really begun to show me how much I owe my parents for my faith in God. For my whole life, they have been incredible parents. So incredible that I scored a whopping zero on the ACE quiz. So incredible that all my leftover angst from childhood trauma can be laid squarely at the foot of culture, other people, or hyperbolic inner monologues. So incredible that it never seemed like a leap, or even a mild stretch, for me to believe in God’s unconditional love — I grew up getting it first-hand.
I grew up bathed in the kind of love that can never be repaid. Not just the physical manifestations like sleepless nights, cleaning up puke, C-section scars, and waiting tables at night to pay for private school tuition and keep my mom home with us — the spiritual and emotional manifestations as well. The tears, the hugs, the words of encouragement, the late-night heart-to-hearts, the blessings whispered as we drifted off to sleep, the prayers whispered in fear when we stayed out too late, and always, always, the forgiveness.
It’s the same kind of love I try to give my kids now, and the kind of love that they can never repay — but I wouldn’t want them to. Love isn’t a barter system, it’s just giving. Total self-giving, not for what you can get back, but because of the goodness of person you love. Even when they’re snotty or feverish or puking on you, or when they’re on drugs or unwed and pregnant or passed out drunk in a panda suit, they’re still good, and still loved. My parents taught me that everyone is worthy of love, and loved unconditionally — not so much because of what they said but because of what they did, and how they loved us. How they still love us.
I imagine that it would be much, much harder for me to believe in an all-good, all-loving God if I hadn’t grown up with a reflection of that love. So thanks, Mom and Dad, for taking care of us when we were sick, and for loving us in all the times in between.