My inheritance

There is an ongoing joke in my family about what my brother and I have inherited from our parents – all the “bad” stuff. I got my Mom’s big, crooked nose and big belly and butt, and my Dad’s thin hair. My brother also got the thin hair – along with thinning hair – and some of the indecisiveness that is prevalent in my family. Although he takes it to whole new levels – but that is another story.

My parents often say that when they die, we will not inherit a house, or cash, or valuable antiques. So we should appreciate the nose and the belly and the hair.

Growing up, I was not grateful for this sort of inheritance – I wanted a graceful, small nose, a slender figure and lush hair. I had a boyfriend who would tell me that I could never be his wife if I ended up looking like my Mom in my old age.

He need not worry about that.

What I worried about as a teenager was becoming like my Mom on the inside – she was strict and no-nonsense and she had a weird talent of knowing exactly what I was thinking and doing at all times. By the time I came home from school, she already knew that I bombed on my history exam. It was all very uncool.

But of course, life has its funny ways, and I find myself becoming more and more like my parents. I cry during commercials, I tell Drew to put his hat and gloves on when it’s cold outside, and I always cook way too much food. I can only imagine what else I will say and do when I have kids that will make me stop in my tracks and realize that I am just like my Mom.

The nose, the butt, and the belly are still in place but I have a friendlier relationship with them these days. Looking at some old family photos recently, I noticed a picture of my great-grandmother as a young woman wearing a fabulous hat, and she had the exact same profile as mine and my Mom’s. My Mom’s soft hug makes me hopeful that one day my curves will provide the same comfort.

I am more aware of other resemblances too and I treasure them more than I used to. I have my Dad’s warm, melancholic eyes, his sarcastic humor, his long fingers – so does my brother. I also inherited my Mom’s go–getter attitude and strength and ability to do 20 things at the same time. I also have her impatience and my Dad’s ability to laugh at the same impatience.

I can just look in the mirror and know exactly where I came from. In the end, that’s a pretty good inheritance.

The stuff of childhood

Finally, all of my parents’ boxes have arrived. They are stacked neatly in their basement, smaller boxes on top of taller ones, with cryptic signage on the outside, like L/R for living room and “mixed” for well… Mixed stuff.

There are also a bunch of boxes that belong to me. Or rather, they belong to the me that used to live in an apartment in Budapest more than a decade ago. As my parents opened the boxes and my stuff surfaced, they handed things to me as if I should know what to do with it all.

I am grateful, that they brought all my childhood belongings, because let’s admit it, the stuff needs to be dealt with at some point in life.

But I am still trying to digest the fact that my parents are here and what that all means in my life, so Barbie dolls and diaries and letters and grandma’s evening purse that I used play dress-up with are a bit too much.

I think my parents feel the same way about their kitchen utensils and towels and bedding and picture frames: this stuff doesn’t belong in a new life, but yet here they are, taking up space, asking to be dealt with. Things that had a place and purpose in their lives just a few short weeks ago, are now out of place, too clumsy and big for cabinets, not to mention for their non-existing furniture. Nothing has a place – or not enough space – and things that once seemed absolutely necessary for normalcy, for a real life, now seem like a waste of space.

I feel their pain. But as much as I want to help them, I can’t. This is their and their stuff’s journey. I realize that I was lucky: I had to rearrange the stuff of my life when I was 18, when it all still fit into two suitcases, when it was still easy to leave the stuff behind. Nothing seems important or sentimental when you are 18.

So I am not sure why, but I am certain that despite the depressing sight of all that cardboard in the basement, everything will find its place. Maybe this is just youthful optimism, but stuff just has a way of doing that – flowing in an out of boxes, finding meaning that wasn’t there before, and finding hidden nooks and crannies and hidden closet space as time goes on. It just does.

Until then, I think I will help my parents by removing my things from their apartment and making space in my life for my childhood stuff again. For all these years, I’ve had the luxury if knowing that they were safely tucked away with my parents, so it’s time to take them back and take responsibility for them.

I am not sure yet, where my things will all fit, but I am certain that they will.

1996 is dead

1996 was an interesting year for me.

I was a sophomore in college. I was unhappy with my major – especially because it involved four times a week statistics classes at 8 a.m. But by the end of that year I decided to make a change and become a writing major, so things were looking up.

I had plenty of friends and while I wasn’t invited to the cool parties with all of the international students – despite being one – I had my own posse of American friends to make up for that.

I had professors whose influence is still with me. I had a cool job the summer before and after my sophomore year at a business paper in Budapest. I might have still been wondering what life was all about — I am still wondering today — but everyone around me was doing the same.

That was also the year when very uncharacteristically for me I began a whirlwind romance/friendship with one of those snotty international students. He was — and I assume is — exciting, and smart, and glamorous. He was the kind of guy who I thought would never be interested in a chubby Jewish girl from Budapest. But he was. Things didn’t work out with him — I now understand why and I am OK with it — but at that time, the 20-year-old me didn’t know any of what was to come.

Anyway, so it was a confusing, exhilarating, exhausting, liberating year. The possibilities for excitement and adventure were endless. To remember the time, the place, the people, I bought a Swatch watch after my finals in the spring. It’s gold-colored, with the numbers 1-9-9-6 scribbled on the face. It was fitting, I thought.

And today I found out that the watch was dead. I took it in to a watch shop just to get a new battery for it when the salesperson delivered the news: Your watch is dead. I stood there for a moment and mourned.

First, I thought I was only mourning a fashion accessory. But as I walked back to my office, I realized that my watch’s death was somewhat well-timed. For the past couple of weeks, Drew and I have been trying to figure out where we are headed with our lives. News jobs loom on the horizon, we are trying to sell our house, we are trying to figure out where to live next, whether to have another child, where Sam should go to school… Big, heavy, grown-up stuff.

A part of me wants to scream and run from the responsibilities and the 30-year mortgage and the fact that I am someone’s mother. Gasp! How did all this happen between 1996 and now? Did anyone ask my permission before loading life on my shoulders?

And now the watch — and 1996 — are dead. “You got 17 good years out of it,” the watch repairmen told me.

He was right.