I left home for college in 1970, always knowing that I would never move back to Fort Wayne, Ind. I visit often and have kept in touch with most of my high school friends. It is the place where I expected my parents to grow old and die. But one thing I hadn't considered was that my parents would outlive all their friends, and with their four adult children scattered across the country, Fort Wayne grew foreign to them.
Their decision to move to Princeton, N.J., where my husband Doug and I are raising our family, was somewhat quick. As the eldest child, a lot of the family coordinating has fallen to me over the years. Both my brother and I are doctors and the inevitable planning for our parents' health care will be our responsibility. Yet having Mom and Dad in my town means that the day-to-day coordination has already begun. I have scouted out the right cardiologist, gynecologist, ophthalmologist, internist. I have thought about the hospitals. I am on staff at the University of Pennsylvania. Is that where they should go if something horrible happens? Or should I rely on my friends who are cardiologists at Columbia University in New York? What can I handle on my own? And when will I need the help of my own expert network?
And no conversation about such sudden proximity can be truthfully had without the recognition of boundaries. Mom and Dad will be less than 10 minutes away from us. I am thrilled by thoughts of family dinners and shared football games. I can hardly wait to have them see Charlie's school performances and wish Rachel well as she heads off to college. At the same time, our homes have front doors and telephones. They may be the most literal examples of boundaries, but they are metaphors in the larger context. They are meant to be used... both ways.
So, as it has always been in our family, we talk about these things. And by talking, this transition, at this time, may be one of the best gifts ever given to me.