I never wanted to be like my parents. As a matter a fact, that was one of the main reasons why I left Belarus in 1999. My parents fought a lot. In fact, one year, for my dad’s birthday toast, I said, “I am happy that you didn’t get stabbed by mom.” Of course I was joking (even though my mom always did say she was gonna “cut him alive” every time she was angry).
That was 18 years ago. With time (and some therapy) I learned how to accept my parent’s love story and celebrate who they are: two people doing their best. Two people who fight and yell but are also best friends.
I want to share two stories about my parents and their love.
On my dad’s 70 Birthday last summer, I was at our summer house. It wasn’t a big party, just a small circle of family and friends. I don’t get to go home often for celebrations so this was extra special. I loved every second of it. We had a lot of fun, especially my dad and his friend, Alex. In part because I kept pouring them glasses of that strong real vodka.
The next day my mom spent all morning complaining about dad getting drunk. She couldn’t believe that at seventy, he was still up to the same shenanigans. She complained to me, to my sister, to her girlfriends, and the cat. Eventually Dad caught wind of the not-so-subtle complaining and started to feel guilty.
My mom harvests potatoes. It’s the old-school Belrussian side of her. Potatoes are cheap but she refuses to give up her potato field. Dad, racked with guilt, did the one thing he knew would make her happy: Take care of her potatoes. He did it the manual way, with a shovel and hard labor. He was hungover, 70-years-old, and schlepping towards the potato field on a 90 degree day. It was a peace offering. He knew that taking care of her potatoes meant he was taking care of her. And despite the fighting and complaining, he wanted to make her happy.
The gesture didn’t go unnoticed. Mom was moved and decided he needed help. Unfortunately her idea of helping him was asking ME to harvest potatoes alongside dad. I was like, “No way, I can buy you some if you really need them.” Mom nodded. Five minutes later, she joined my dad in the field. No matter how angry she was, she didn’t want him to suffer alone. I remember seeing them in the field, dripping in sweat, shoveling potatoes. It was one of the defining moments that helped me understand their relationship and how much they truly loved each other. No matter what was said or done, no one had to harvest potatoes alone.
This winter my mom turned 66. I was not there to celebrate her birthday. No one was passing around all of the extra vodka. I was there in spirit with my sister sending me updates via Viber. Thank God for technology because something happened that day that knocked all of the Romashko women off their seats.
My dad isn’t a super romantic guy but that morning, when he went for his walk, he came back with 7 big red roses. My dad hadn’t given my mom flowers in 20 years. Everyone was speechless and mom looked like she was 18 again,. I have not see her that happy in many years. After all these years, he still manages to surprise her.
So yes, my parents fight. A lot. One year my nephew made a toast wishing that they would fight less. My mom responded by saying that they aren’t fighting, they just talk loudly. My sister and I smiled. That was what we grew up with.
I’m not a relationship expert but I am happy for my parents. After 46 years later of “talking loudly” at each other they still respect and care for each other. They still shovel potatoes in 90 degree heat and buy surprise roses. They still kiss and hug and represent a partnership. At the end of the day, they are two people who unconditionally and unfailingly have each other’s backs. In the end, I think that’s what matters the most for them.