The fact that my husband and I were unambiguously depressed to see my mom and dad go back to California after a three-week visit says a lot about them as parents and people. Tiger moms (not to mention Tiger mothers-in-law) are all about applying pressure; my parents are all about relieving it. They come to hang out, not to be entertained. They come to play with the kids and work with the adults, and they fit so perfectly into daily life here that it is wrenching to have them leave.
For my dad, work has no gender, and he likes to make himself useful. He did regular dad stuff like identifying a leak in a car tire that we wouldn’t have noticed until the car rim was dragging on the road. When he smelled a poopy diaper he changed it, and when he spotted a basket of clean laundry he folded it.
Dad loves to think about new and improved ways to get work done. He took a recycled spray bottle and fashioned a diluted soap spray to keep the glass shower door from getting grimy. He studied the dishwasher and worked daily to optimize his loading technique. Whenever we had a particularly crusty pan, Dad would get excited to test out some odd piece of plastic he’d scavenged from the recycling bin to use as a scraper. “We have technology for that,” he would say, laughing.
He was delighted to discover using a broom to clear fresh snow was easier and better than the snow shovel.
This is what my dad does for fun.
My mom spent the entire three weeks cooking. She was up getting breakfast ready every morning when I came down. She always had plans for lunch and dinner. My contribution was limited to dessert and, given the frigid weather, food shopping.
For fun my mom and I hunted down Asian ingredients. My mom takes her ingredients seriously. As soon as she arrived she began to pull out assorted foodstuffs from her luggage: chives and cilantro from her garden; roasted seaweed for sushi; two packs of Chinese New Year sticky rice cakes (my kids wait all year for the stores to stock it again); two packs of egg roll wrappers; assorted vegetables from her fridge that she didn’t have time to use before she left.
On her last visit, Mom was excited to find a special Korean wheat flour that she uses for her steamed buns, which she made again this trip.
This time she was surprised to find Singaporean egg roll wrappers that she liked better for mu shu chicken than her favorite brand at home. She planned to carry two packs back to California, but we didn’t get back to the Asian store before she left (I’ll bring some home for spring break). Mom made mu shu using the wood ear mushrooms that she brought last trip, ingeniously freeze-dried into tiny cubes that rehydrate into enough for a whole dish.
In her bag of tricks she was also excited to bring the kids free piggies from her local bank.
The kids had three weeks of heaven, with four adults at their disposal. Mom cooked everyone’s favorite foods and made an assortment of colorful Play Doh food too. Dad learned all about Nintendo DS games and how to play Wii. He built towers, spun tops, learned about Yugioh cards. He napped on the couch while watching Strawberry Shortcake. Both of them read dozens of books aloud.
On weekend nights they hosted slumber parties.
I am endlessly grateful to my parents for my free and joyous years of childhood, given to me with cheerful sacrifice and great love. They held no expectations for what their children would do or be; only the hope that they live happy lives. Whereas the Tiger parent is greeted with nervous anticipation and departed with relief, my parents bring only the utmost comfort.
My mom always says that childhood is the best part of life, and she believes that parents who deprive their children of a happy one are committing an unforgivable crime. I cannot repay my parents for my own happy childhood but to give them a chance to live it again (minus the hard work of parenthood) with their grandchildren. I do this not out of obligation but out of love.