Being A Parent, Being A Child

I never really understood my parents until I had kids of my own.

Illustration derived from “Mother and Child” by Kitagawa Utamaro

I hold my children sometimes and I wonder. I was once like this. My mother and father must have held me like this, must have felt the same way. And then I grew, and grew and grew. I grew bigger and bigger and further and further away, until I was almost gone. At no point did I understand them, until I became a parent myself.

Now I can see the loop closing and starting again — I can see other lives that will, inshallah, stretch on beyond mine, beyond my time, beyond my understanding. I can see, also, very clearly that I will grow old and die. At the same time I can see all the loops on the tapestry, all the parents holding children that will never understand why or how much they are loved, until they feel it for themselves, in their own childrens eyes, as the wheel takes another turn.

Children As Adults

I think about asking them sometimes, but I don’t even know how to phrase the question. ‘Do you still love me like a baby?’ ‘What do you see when you look at me? Do you still see a child?’

I look at my children and I try to figure out what they’ll look like as adults. All I can picture is them bigger, with the same ridiculous proportions. I can’t see them, I can’t grasp them. But at some point I will be on the other side of the fog. I will see their adult faces, and struggle to remember the child. It will all be memories, photographs. Some day this feeling will be gone.

I miss them already. I want them to understand. I want to always love them as I do at this moment, in their innocence, their incompetence. They are so helpless that it’s easy. Once they can help themselves they become responsible, become accountable — they’ll become their own people. We’ll interact as two individuals, with all the friction that brings.

They won’t remember how we were, they won’t understand, I will be just another thing in a world they must manage alone. They won’t know how connected we are until the loop draws them back again. Until they try to see the adults in their own children’s eyes.

Adults As Children

It is only with the passing of time that I can begin to see my parents as individuals. As a child they were monoliths, defined in relation to me, their edges perfect lines, tapered in my ignorance and imagination. As I grew older their individuality began to poke out — incongruously, jarringly, I somehow picture a pine tree bursting out of a sweater.

Then as I became an adult, I could see their personalites start poking out of me. Their failings and virtues, so deep unconscious within my own actions. As I went through the same stages of life I found myself making the same mistakes, exercising the same grace, treading the same generational grooves.

I look at my daughter and wonder when she’ll start to see me like that. When the break will happen, when the contradictions are too much, when me the person pokes out of me the father, all bones and teeth. Will she still like me? Will she feel alone?

I dread that moment. They will have to set off by themselves, to think they are starting from scratch, doing everything better, before they get caught in the gravity of their genes, of their experiences. Before they make the same mistakes as us, find themselves being loving or cruel in the same engrained ways. Before they even begin to understand.

I hope they’ll realize that we didn’t mean to hurt them, that we were not in control, that we didn’t mean it. I hope they’ll understand that we are patterns, we are memories, that it’s all loops, that it all comes back again. Then maybe they can begin to forgive us, as they become us, as they see themselves fall short in their own children’s eyes.

People As People

I love my parents more now that I am one. I can feel it when I burp my son, I can imagine that my father once held me like this. I can feel it when my daughter holds my finger, that I once held my mother like that.

I just hope that my children will understand me, in time. That once the shock of my gangly humanity wears off they’ll find a way to love me for it, and to love themselves. I hope that they’ll remember this moment as they recreate it: when their parents were young, when they were just born, when we all loved each other so purely and so much.

Written by

A writer living in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He/him. Videos: and podcast:

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