I got a text from my mom at 8:00 a.m. one recent Saturday morning. She and my dad had been away on a birthday getaway the whole week and she was ready to see her grandkids. “Why don’t you and your hubby go out to dinner tonight?” the text read. “We’d love to see the kids and give you guys a break.” I was so ecstatic about this last minute change of plans I didn’t even know how to respond. I simply sent back a ton of heart emojis and an enthusiastic “Yes!”

That evening, we dropped our two kids off at their house about three miles away. That’s one of the glorious things about coming back to put down roots in your hometown. We’re never more than a few minutes away from family. When we first started making an adult life here, we felt a little stifled by the small time feel of it all but as time marches on I’ve come to realize that living near loved ones is such a luxury. Still, I try not to take advantage of the convenience too much, so date nights are few and far between.

Fresh from their bed and breakfast adventure, my parents were eager and excited to help out. Thankfully, the kids had just napped and were on their best behaviors so as we pulled away, we didn’t feel too guilty. We left them around 5:00 p.m., went out for fabulous Greek food and a little retail therapy (buying things for the kids, of course) and were back by 7:00. The scene when we returned was a completely different one. My mom was on the living room floor and my daughter climbing up and over her like a monkey. My son was in the kitchen filling up his bucket of Legos, then triumphantly pouring them all over his head and onto the hardwoods. My sweet but tired dad was on the sofa trying to coax him into stopping.

I put down my shopping bags and urged the kids to come to me. Come wrestle on my lap, I begged but they refused. My precious mom just looked at me and said, “I love this. It’s a little crazy but I love it. Thank you.” Here they were knee-deep in toys and chaos, thanking me for the chance to keep my wild ones who were acting more like feral cats than actual human beings at the moment. I was the one who had just had a glorious evening out and I was receiving the appreciation.

When we got home later that night, I thought about how right she was. For all the craziness they bring, I too am so grateful for the chance to be around these little lights. Mom and dad, I understand so much more clearly how one can be both bone tired and filled to the brim with happiness at the same time. I get how frustration and exhaustion can be juxtaposed with sheer adoration and glee. That’s the kind of discernment that can only come from being a parent yourself. Growing up, I only saw the happiness you both exuded. I only saw the smiles as you smoothed my hair back at bedtime and the laughter around the dinner table.

I should have known from your actions how absolutely giving of yourselves you were. Dad, I heard you wake up to go into the post office before the sunrise every morning. You’d be up at church on every day off, setting up chairs or painting the fellowship hall. Mom, you visited the local shut-ins every week and when your own father became an elderly driver who couldn’t get behind the wheel anymore, you took him to every single appointment and treated him to a lunch out every single day. I should have guessed those actions were laying the groundwork for a life that seamlessly melds love and obligation but I was too young to understand.

How was I to know that when us kids were asleep, you might have had a mini meltdown from the stress of balancing it all. You may have cried a little in the shower on a particularly difficult day, or called your own parents with desperate questions when my siblings and I got a little older and started asking the hard stuff. But if you were overwhelmed or burnt out, I never knew it. Even 30 years later, you’re doing a great job of letting love lead.

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