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Introducing the Parents

June, 2001

The meeting of our parents always seemed to be a far-off event. Ed's parents had decided in November to come visit us in Boston the following May. That gave us enough time to coordinate a meeting with Phoebe's parents. After all, what could go wrong? The respective parents liked--no, loved--the significant other that their child had found. And why wouldn't all the parents get along? They had obviously each raised individuals who got along splendidly with each other.

We made verbal assurances to each other that the meeting, in whatever form it would take, would be casual and fun for everyone, and that nothing embarrassing would occur.

However, as the target date inexorably drew closer, we both began to feel more than a bit of apprehension. The differences between our parents began to stand out more and more in our minds, and the potential for disaster grew exponentially with each day. Ironically, we weren't too worried about the religious differences--Ed's parents are non-practicing Catholics who are fairly broad minded about religious matters, and Phoebe's parents, Conservative Jews, had already demonstrated their tolerance in accepting Ed, a non-Jew with no plans to convert, as a partner for their daughter.

Instead, it was the myriad little things that stood out. Ed's parents were both born and raised in northern California; Phoebe's parents were products of the Northeast. Phoebe's parents had both attended private universities in Massachusetts; Ed's parents had stopped formal education after high school. Both sets of parents like the outdoors, but Phoebe's parents love to hike and cross-country ski, while Ed's prefer to fish and hunt. Phoebe's dad loves to talk about current events, whereas Ed's dad likes to talk about cooking. Both mothers are great conversationalists, and initially we thought this would be good. As the day drew closer, however, nightmare scenarios grew in our minds of one mother inadvertently saying something offensive, or, worse yet, touching upon such taboo topics as Christmas and grandchildren.

We sought to neutralize the event as best we could. We created a list of subjects not to be discussed or touched upon, which included most things political or religious. The most important part of the meeting would be the location. Initially, we considered preparing dinner for the parents ourselves. This plan had several drawbacks, including what to prepare and whose (small) apartment would host. Most importantly, we felt it would be awkward for our parents to meet each other while both of us would be preoccupied with meal preparations.

Next we thought of meeting at a local attraction in Boston. But our parents' different sorts of interests worked against us. A game at Fenway wouldn't appeal to Phoebe's parents but would to Ed's; Ed's parents wouldn't be particularly interested in the De Cordova Museum, but Phoebe's would. Finally, we decided on a restaurant. There would be no competing distractions, and in a casual atmosphere at the right sort of restaurant, all parties would be more relaxed.

At the last minute, surprise help arrived in the form of Ed's sister Schelley, who decided to come out to Boston from California for the big event. Finally, we developed a rough plan. Ed's parents would be with Ed at his apartment. They would then travel to Phoebe's apartment, where the introduction would take place. Also, Schelley would be at Phoebe's apartment, surprising Ed's mom Barbara there. We were fortunate in that Schelley is well suited to being the "advance sortie." She is extremely gregarious and pleasant, and was sure to make a great impression on Phoebe's parents. Plus, the surprise of Schelley would give them all something to talk about at first, but, hopefully, wouldn't distract from future conversation. After the initial meeting, we would depart for the restaurant.

Phoebe's father solved the financial matter of the shared dinner: he offered to pay for the meal as a treat to the out-of-town guests. As a counteroffer, Ed's parents offered to pay for breakfast the next day. All of these transactions were conducted through multiple layers--Phoebe's parents to Phoebe, who spoke to Ed, who then spoke to Ed's parents, and then back again. With the plans set, we waited nervously for the day to arrive.

Given the build up and expectations on our part, the actual event was anti-climactic. Our parents met and greeted each other politely. Small talk was made, the dinner was enjoyed, and a few embarrassing baby stories were told about both of us. Nothing controversial was discussed. In the end, we realized that our parents are adults who are used to dealing with people from different backgrounds. They had no desire to be rude or insensitive and so were merely themselves. They knew how important we are to each other, and met the parents of their child's partner with the same sense of open-mindedness and tolerance that we expected.

Our effort to find a neutral way to introduce them, in which none of our differences would be highlighted, was successful, and everything else proceeded smoothly.

Ed Ohalva

Ed Ohalva is a fourth year Ph.D. student in chemistry. Phoebe Lewit is a first-year intern in medicine. They live in Brookline, Mass.

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