Friday, July 3, 2009

Don't Panic: How to React When You've Been "Out-Hipped" by Your Parents

Looking at the picture of my mother, stoically standing in front of her brand new 2010 Toyota Prius with a hint of nonchalant indifference, the realization I had arrived at several days earlier was affirmed. I wasn't expecting one act to have brought about my revelation so suddenly; but as I read my father's email sent to my sister Sara and I, in which he announced their decision to purchase a new hybrid automobile, I could no longer ignore the mounting evidence that tipped the equilibrium in our relationship. I was reminded of the proverbial straw and camel as the weight of the situation caused a momentary self-panic. It was official, I had been "out-hipped" by my parents. How could this have happened? Hadn't I see it coming? And, would I now have to work that much harder to regain the proper status in the parent-child dynamic? Had Sara picked-up on the subtle signs of this adaptation and failed to warn me of its intimation? Superseding all of these thoughts, however, was the one question I didn't want to face- what did this situation reveal about me and my own inadequacies?

Smaller indicators to this conclusion had materialized through-out my childhood but were easily dismissed at the time. After reaching an appropriate age to not only become acquainted with, but to also appreciate our parents' surviving vinyl collection, Sara and I knew that our mother and father must have once been pretty cool folks. Two people still holding onto the albums of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Beetles, The Stones, Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkle, Chicago, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, Harry Nilsson, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Dolly Parton, and Jerry Jeff Walker (amongst others) had inevitably had some fun at one point in their lives. We had heard tales about attendance at 4th of July picnic's with Willie Nelson, concerts witnessed at the now extinct Armadillo World Headquarters, as well as adventures and misadventures about and around Austin involving such spots as Barton Springs, Deep Eddie, and Hippie Hollow. But that was in their pasts- their distant pasts. Careers, children, suburbans, PTA meetings, political and social shifts had happened since. The former-life Austin hippies had grown up to be respectable, moderately conservative, middle-class professional parents. Most importantly, in my eyes, they were about as far from hip as I could imagine. And I was comfortable with that arrangement. Sure, they set a good example for me- a great example- but it was one that I would be able to benefit from and one day out-perform. I thought that Sara and I would always prevail as the hip duo in the relationship. We would now set the example for them as to what was socially acceptable and what should be aspired to. When, exactly, had things started to change? When had the shift begun to occur and how had I ignored the implications?

Perhaps the first step on their path towards this new status occurred during the presidential election campaigns of 2000 when my father shocked us by declaring his intent to vote for a non-conventional candidate. Yes, the man who had adamantly defended Bush Sr. and his stance on US and UN involvement during the first Gulf War was now going to vote for Ralph Nader- of the Green Party! Perhaps the growing cracks and flaws in the policies of the Republican party had finally shaken his miss-held belief in the party's miss-stated values and focus. For my farther, his admission was a turning point- almost as if the statement was a vocalization of some new resolution to change. My mother, on the other hand, had somehow managed to remain truer to her political roots by largely tending to vote Democrat if the candidate was acceptable. As such, I do not include this as a defining moment for her; Dad was simply catching up-to-speed. Regardless, this new perspective on political responsibility- that now included more areas and avenues of accountability, such as environmental stewardship and social and cultural awareness- would ultimately materialize in both my parents' lives in very tangible ways. Another step, that was more accurately a large leap in the procession, was their purchase, upon my father's retirement, 0f 160 acres just outside of Comanche, Texas with the intent to farm, ranch, and live off the land- well, at least in some respects. In fact, this move was the true catalyst in what had become the outwardly spiraling movement toward "hip-dom".

Comanche Ridge, as the farm later became Christened, provided the venue through which Mom and Dad could live-out their socially and environmentally conscious pursuits. Although, during the origins of Comanche Ridge, I think it was more of a subconscious movement rather than a waking venture. Days became filled with the activities associated with raising free-roaming Red Angus, establishing organic gardens, dabbling in apiculture, raising chickens for egg production; and as more time was spent upon farm improvements and adventures, the more Mom and Dad became impassioned with these pursuits and found new avenues for their implementation. It was no longer apparent which entity was the driving force in this operation- were my parents domesticating and cultivating the farm to their bidding, or was the farm fostering and breeding new ideas and thoughts of environmental sustainability in my folks? Clearly, the answer was that this had become a mutually beneficial symbiosis in which stimulation of one entity upon the other brought about maturity and progression- an earthly and spiritual manifestation of the natural force of succession.

Socially, they began to flourish as well. After successfully establishing a local cycling group, they set about the ambitious task of organizing and hosting a bike ride - The Comanche Cyclone- to benefit the Comanche Hospital Auxiliary. The resultant success of the event in its inaugural year and years to follow was something that caused an enormous feeling of pride in me for my parents. It was warming to watch their approach to the new community they were now a part of and hoping to advance. At times, though, I wondered who these people were, and where they came from; the characters they were becoming appeared in such moments to be larger than life, at least certainly larger than anything I had witnessed in them before. While Mom continued to work part-time in her long-held career as a lactation consultant, she became the soul bread-winner in the relationship. Holding fast to her convictions and the small contributions she made in the fight to eradicate misconceptions and prejudices about breastfeeding, she continued to save another baby from formula feeding, two boobs at at time. With the new-found freedom from work, at least in a professional form, Dad began to master various form of media. What began with an unhealthy obsession with CNN and Book TV, brought about by the acquisition of satellite television as few other options for media connections exist in rural communities, crept slowly into web-surfing and blogging. Although we didn't have cable television or even an answering machine growing up, Dad had become so immersed in political blogging that it began to inhibit his farming obligations. Mom had to step-in, putting her foot down and curtailing his on-line activities as other domestic responsibilities were being neglected. I was beside myself when I discovered that the man had carved out a niche for himself, and not to mention a considerable following, on the Huffington Post blog site. For chrissakes, he had become an actual 0n-line character, offering up all sorts of commentary and often engaging others on the site.

Naively, I thought this final act had been revolutionary enough in itself. Then, the email hit. They were purchasing a Prius. For those individuals that live in urban hubs, this is nothing out of the ordinary- plenty of people drive hybrids these days; for Comanche, Texas, however, it's down-right unthinkable. Comanche just isn't Prius country. To be exact, it's pick-up's, tail gates, hay bales, dairy farms, simple thoughts, simple lives, and hard work, I'm not quite certain how the transition from an urban metropolis of concrete jungle mixed with the perfect ration of manicured suburbia to rural existence had so seamlessly rendered my parents hip, but it had. This troubled me- deeply. I had to look at myself and ask myself some hard questions. If they could be so personally aware and render such effective measures of change, hope, and perseverance in their own lives while living in Podunk Ville, what was my excuse for remaining so less overtly involved while residing in Austin, the mecca of everything associate with anything hip? Was I not reacting to social stimuli in the appropriate manner? Could I find new areas for activism that I had been turning a blind eye to? How could I not feel embarrassed about having parents far more hip than myself? I imagined a chorus of everyone around me asking the same question, almost in unison: "Sandra's parents are SO GREAT, where did she go wrong?". Helplessly I scrambled to come up with creative solutions to this quandary, but nothing seemed to offer any relief.

In the space of the week or two that followed my receipt of the picture of Mom silently posing before the new vehicle, I have decidedly become more resigned to the thought that my parents are more hip than myself. Through their actions in these past few years, they have silently and unassumingly set a new bar or standard for Sara and I to strive for. After all, isn't that what parenting is meant to be- an example of proper behaviour for your children? And why should such an endeavor end when one's children become adults or parents themselves? Proudly, I realize that they love us, and this world that Sara and I are a part of, enough to react and adapt to that world so as not to be left behind but to always be able to shine a light on a proper path for us.

What is next for my parents? Of this I'm not certain, but as they are now poised for the future- with a vehicle that best resembles a spaceship rather than a car restricted to travel upon paved roads- I am convinced that the sky might not be the limit. And, after further consideration of the situation, I am more secure and comfortable with the idea that as I age, I will have something to aspire to as well as look forward to. Because if my parents' lives are any indication, it should be a fun and exhilarating ride. So, maybe the old adage should be changed to read that with age comes wisdom and hip-dom.