We've waited a long time for this. 36.5 years to be precise. Hope gave way to denial, frustration and acceptance. Now that the story is unfolding in an unexpected way, we are bewildered.
This is about Neil. He is our Capricorn goat who is just as stubborn as his mama.
I wish he was my second born. Josh would have broken me in with his "whatever" attitude and I could have dealt with Neil better.
In high school, Neil spent hours in front of a screen and didn't start doing homework until Tarun and I were ready for bed. In the morning we woke up in Grumpyville. When college decisions were upon us, we could barely agree with him. Thinking we had the power to influence Neil’s choice, we gave him a weighted-ranked matrix with factors such as research quality, course selections, placement and quality of life. Since Neil responds well to logic we thought we could make him see his way to the college we preferred. Of course, our goat had made up his mind long before we handed him the matrix. Neil rapidly skewed the weights to ensure his preference outranked our choice by an order of magnitude.
As he left home for orientation, he quietly said, “You’ll love the public school tuition!”
His non-communication in college is stuff of legends. He called so infrequently that "how much" replaced hello. I never doubted his motivation. He was not ashamed of his parents; he just knew better.
When he came home 15 pounds heavier at the end of year one of college, I was mortified. Don’t eat junk food, I implored. It's not junk he declared authoritatively. I could have countered with facts but he lived in an alternate universe where my vocal frequency did not reach. He grew up in a relatively organized home, yet declined order in his life. We never understood his spending habits but we think he was leveraging the public-private tuition differential. Thankfully he kept up his grades, research, and employment which left us plenty of time to pray for his life skills to tend to the mean.
Tarun and I continued to be on a need-to-know basis with him through his college, medical school and residency years, except we rarely had a need to know! He informed us after the fact, relegating us to "Oh!" I am glad that he has always taken ownership of his decisions and does not succumb to our pressure. Despite this ringing endorsement, I will admit to meltdowns which made me scream into the pillow.
I resisted helicoptering him because a sign in our family physician's office in the late 80s anchored me to his thinking: When I was 14, I was appalled at my old man’s ignorance. When I was 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned in seven years.
So, I bit my tongue.
Right before residency started, he got a dog and left us aghast.
How on earth was he going to train a puppy while being out of the house for 16 hours a day?! He offered that his friends were leaving their pets with parents in the initial years of residency. “HELL NO!” I responded. A few months later, when we saw a ridiculously untrained dog that had ripped his apartment to shreds, we capitulated and brought the pooch to us. Nine months on we drove cross-country with a semi-mannered dog. Young Neil had ways of winning that we couldn't see until it hit us between the eyes with a two by four.
After he got married and had a baby, I found myself rubbing my palms going "Payback’s gonna be hell kiddo!"
Neil and Humera have identical personalities - two magnanimous-foodie-travelers with highly compatible spending habits. I am pleased to report that Humera's witty and outgoing Gemini dispenses with Neil's inner goat swiftly. No matter how hard I tried to focus on payback, a question quietly lingered in my head when Mina was born: how will this pair deal with parenthood?!
Apparently, Tarun and I are very slow learners. Neil was well into his 30s before we amazed him with how much we had learned since he was 14.
A few years ago, Neil started to call us frequently and it wasn't for money. He calls to check on us and seek our opinion. It's soul-warming to be included in his thought process. He advises us on our health and when we don’t follow-through he gently asks, “What’s wrong?” I never thought he’d worry about what we think. He is concerned about us aging, declaring that they need to move closer to us. My response was swift - absolutely not! Leave us alone for another 15 years before thinking of being closer. We learned from the best, didn't we?
Now that their daughter is a toddler, they are saving for a private education for her, feeding her organic foods and restricting screen time. Neil goes to bed early and wakes up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He is rarely grumpy and a total neat freak, all credit to Humera.
Now that he is more like us, I wonder if he may have been better off with his college attitude. Will being cautious bring him rewards or hold him back? I don't know the answer but I do know that Josh will benefit from how Neil has reset us multiple times. I'll reserve Josh's tales for another time after I've had a few stiff drinks.
For now, it is best to follow Neil and Humera's cues and focus on teaching Mina everything she needs to know. This grandma understands that the window of opportunity to influence her is short and the rewards will not come for decades. Like her Dad, may she have a long runway of unfettered fun before settling into the rigors of life.
As for Neil, I am taking Mina's lead by saying "more-more" for his new avatar.