It’s occurred to me recently that my parents are lunatics.

I’m sure most people have thought this about a relative at some point in their lives. There is always a slightly batty uncle, or a sister prone to mild hysteria. I used to think of my parents as pleasingly eccentric, full of life, lame jokes and adventure, but I’ve recently had the misfortune of prolonged exposure to both of them, over the phone with my father in DC, and with my mother here in Cambodia.

There they are, above, the man in the disturbingly short shorts and the glossy haired woman brandishing the bananas. This was in Rwanda, in the early eighties, after we’d left France and before Sweden, one stop on what seems now like a mad dash to live in as many countries and continents as possible. Back then my parents used to tell me they’d found me in a trash can. (And who could blame them, really? That’s me there, on the right, looking a bit like a gnome, a cancerous cross- eyed male gnome.*)

They are full of this stuff, my parents. Samples from recent conversations:

Mum: “See that chicken over there? The pretty one with the black and white feathers? She looks nice like this, but she’s traumatised. When she was little she was gang raped by the roosters. She was only small but they all had a go. Now she just stares blankly, she doesn’t even remember how to peck sometimes.”

Me: “I saw a snake in the garden today.”
Dad: “Which direction was it going?”
Me: “Huh?”
Dad: “WHICH DIRECTION?!?”
Me:”Errr, left to right?”
Dad: “Oh good. That’s very good luck.”
Me: “Eh? What if it had been going the other way?”
Dad: “Oh in that case, t’es dans la merde“.

These are not, I think, the sorts of conversations one wants to have with one’s parents. Oh for progenitors of reason and grace! With age they are becoming more opinionated, more fanciful, more prone to irrationality and superstition. It is difficult, knowing your parents in this way, noticing the flaws and cracks, the looming signs of age, of things, perhaps, not being so easy one day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about them, recently, trying to see through the parent to a person in their own right. I stare at the picture and wonder what they must have been like, these young adults, this couple with two kids, a german shepherd, and a lot of bananas. In the photo my mother is roughly the same age I am now. Would I have liked her? Would we have been friends? What was it like, this constant flitting around the world, having to pick up new languages, new friends, new lives with every move? They look happy there, for a fleeting moment, but I can’t help thinking of all the small failures and cruel tragedies that had already started eating away at their lives. I think of how lost and frail they must have been at times, these people who shaped my childhood, these gregarious, risk taking, life devouring giants, how small and broken the years have been for them, how lonely.

And then I want to hold them to me, in all their madness and vexations, because they are mine, my family, my lunatics.

*I am a girl. And I did not have cancer. Just a “crusty scalp”. Allegedly.