Summer time is our family visits time. For many people, it’s the winter holidays. But because our work peak season falls over Thanksgiving and the new year holidays and because Fred has now started school, we’re unable to do any traveling until the summer.
In a little over a week we will take our annual trip to Japan to visit Max’s family and celebrate my father-in-law’s 85th birthday. In August we’ll head up the east coast to visit my parents and celebrate my dad’s 72nd birthday.
The annual conversations about visiting our parents are always brought up reluctantly. Usually it’s Max who initiates in January or so with, “So, when should we go to Japan? And what about your parents?” As my in-laws are elderly, it is pretty much out of the question to ask them to fly 17 hours to see us. My parents are closer and a little younger and, while my father hates traveling, my mother has made a couple of trips down to see us since we moved here. However, they too are in their 70s and it is better for us to do the traveling.
I hate that the first thing that comes to my mind when planning these trips is the expenses, rather than the anticipation of seeing our families again for the first time in a year. Traveling to Japan typically involves not only plane tickets but also living accommodations (because there is not enough space at my in-laws for the three of us), daily meals out (because my in-laws are too elderly to cook for 5 on a daily basis, especially in a kitchen the size of my bedroom closet), and several hundred dollars worth of presents that we are obliged to bring with us. I know, I shouldn’t be complaining about money so much but we are also in that critical stage of our lives where we need to save for retirement and college.
Not visiting is not really a choice we have, as long as we can swing it financially. We relocated to the U.S. at a time when our in-laws expected us to be close by to care for them in their old age. When Max told his mother about our plans to move, she cried for weeks and called him “cold hearted.” In the end we moved because we felt we needed to raise Fred in the U.S. (and because I simply could no longer live there myself). Do we think of ourselves and our children first, or do we think of our parents? I had forgotten that my parents, too, were in the exact same position decades ago, when they made the decision to leave their parents and home country for the U.S. “What did you do? How did you tell them? ” I had asked my mother. She said, “Your grandfather was very sad…he cried…but he understood. He knew we needed to do what was best for us.” And so, too, my in-laws eventually understood and supported us.
Next year Max and I will celebrate our 10 year anniversary. I’d always wanted to revisit Europe, and I know that this is the one place my mother wants to see, for the first time in her life. I toyed with the idea of taking my mom to Europe with us next year, only to realize that with the mere mention I had already raised her hopes and expectations. I tried to tell her a few times that we hadn’t yet decided if we could actually swing a trip to Europe, and then remembered an essay that a 30 year-old student of mine wrote recently. He talked about how his father was suddenly diagnosed with and died from cancer, and how he had failed to fulfill his promise to his father to take him to this golf course in Japan that he had always wanted to visit. He said he had promised to take him years ago, but year after year found a reason – work, kids – to push it off. I don’t want to do this. My mother has sacrificed so much for me, and I want her to see Europe. I have almost 30 more years to earn money. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 10, maybe even 20 years to spend with my mother.
But if we go to Europe, what do we do about Japan? Making two international trips in one year would be out of the question. But my father-in-law will be 86 next year, and his health is fair. Each year we wonder if it will be his last.
I don’t have the answers right now. We’re in the sandwich generation, worrying about our aging parents while we struggle to build a solid foundation for ourselves and our children. The one thing that really came through as I was thinking about this post, though, is how fortunate we are to even have this dilemma in the first place: all 4 of our parents are alive…Fred knows all his grandparents. My maternal grandparents died before I was born, and I never did see my paternal grandparents again after we moved to the U.S. when I was 3. My parents couldn’t afford international travel when they were younger, so they were unable to fly back even when their parents passed away.
For now, I will count our blessings and find a way to make things work.