Oh God, Your Parents Are Coming to Visit You in San Francisco!

Jul 07 at 6am

A few weeks ago my Minnesota parents drove to San Francisco for a visit. That’s correct – they drove. While they puttered past endless fields of boring and battled thunderstorms and weird roadside motels, I was feverishly preparing for their arrival. And by preparing, I mean panicking about what the hell to do with my folks once they showed up at my door. 

Don’t get me wrong, I was stoked to be reunited with the humans who made me. They are wonderful parents who have always dished out unconditional love and support. Being so many miles apart is especially hard since it’s just the three of us. The last traditional face time was in September, and like all of our visits over the past four years, the hangout took place on their turf: the rural homeland full of lakes for kayaking, dirt roads for after-dinner strolls, a lush garden, and loved ones left and right. It’s quite easy to fill a week. But this time, on my turf, I worried about keeping them entertained for four days. 

I was feverishly preparing for their arrival. And by preparing, I mean panicking about what the hell to do with my folks once they showed up at my door. 

But this is San Francisco, you say! So many places to eat and drink and hike and see art and music and buy stuff – none of which interest my mom and pop. Seems unfathomable, but I shit you not. They travel on a budget, prefer “normal” food (the definition is still confusing to me, but it usually rules out anything with a lot of spices and garlic, that is, anything with taste – sorry Dad), no rigorous exercise due to knee issues, no theater or museums, forget shopping, and they pass on the booze. The horror! Drinking is my go-to activity for all tourists. It was time to get creative, thrifty, and sober.

“Amber, don’t worry about us. We’re going to have a great time. We just want to see you and your place, and meet your friends. We just want to see how you live. We want to do the things that you do,” my mom attempted to reassure me over the phone. As sweet as it was, their request proved difficult being that I spend a lot of my free time enjoying non-parental-pleasing activities.

My billowing panic began to mirror Karl the Fog outside my window. Did I really want them to see my West Coast lifestyle? City living isn’t always pretty, especially in comparison to their small town setup. I didn’t want them retreating to the Midwest with visions of street crime, the dangers of biking, overpriced toast, or mildew on bathroom tiles. I realized I couldn’t shelter them. Also, they’re no fools. I had to trust that they trust me – whatever they witnessed out here, I could handle it. I ain’t a baby girl anymore.

Yet, parents always have a way of making us feel like children, forever that wee tot wrapped in a pink blanket. I always revert to kid status when I visit the old crib (dumb pun intended), rummaging through the fridge, playing music too loud, getting in trouble for not putting things back in their proper places. But this trip? My town, my rules, my age.

I didn’t want them retreating to the Midwest with visions of street crime, the dangers of biking, overpriced toast, or mildew on bathroom tiles.

While I’ve technically been an adult for some time now, this parental visit felt like my grownup debut and a chance to prove that I was doing right as a lady on her own. I worried my parents wouldn’t agree, based on comparisons to how they, and many of my Minnesotan-peers, matured via the traditional job-marriage-house-kids deal. I wanted to impress them. I wanted them to love my favorite people, my neighborhood, burritos, the corner store dudes, the succulents in my room. I wanted to make them proud.

And then there they were on a Wednesday morning, weary from multiple 12-hour days in the car, smiles on their familiar faces. 

“Hey, Mom! Look at this weird bone I found at Lake Sonoma. Hey, Dad! Here’s where we collect our compost. Look at my bike! Do you like my room?” Welp, I was a second grader for the first day of their trip, playing show and tell, pointing at everything and hoping for gold stars. 

Sometimes I was oversensitive – pouting because my mom didn’t gush about my (ugly) rug when she exclaimed over my roommate’s (super hip) floor decoration. Other times I was caught off guard by their reactions: barely a blink at the topless woman dancing at Civic Center, and my dad even insisted on getting a proper peek inside a weed store. 

 I worried my parents wouldn’t agree, based on comparisons to how they, and many of my Minnesotan-peers, matured via the traditional job-marriage-house-kids deal.

During the next couple days we mused over the loose itinerary, picking out whatever made sense for the weather and energy levels, and crossing off what didn’t fly because of cost or pesky transportation.

I quickly realized how easy they were to please, and standing in the kitchen talking was enough of an activity. They just wanted a little perspective into what exactly their daughter was doing in California. Fair enough. So we did what came naturally.

We ate simply, yet deliciously. Sandwiches at Mojo, burritos at Papalote, pizza from Little Star, even Secret Breakfast ice cream from Humphry Slocombe. We bought strawberries and a loaf of olive sourdough. My boyfriend made them their first latte art at Small Foods.

We weaved up and around the coast, taking in the scenery from Stinson Beach to the Point Reyes lighthouse.

Dad taught me how to change the oil in my scooter. My man and I taught the folks how to cook up a vegan feast. They bonded with some of my dear friends, saw some sites, and visited shops filled with weird stuff I might put on this year’s Christmas list. 

I wanted them to love my favorite people, my neighborhood, burritos, the corner store dudes, the succulents in my room. I wanted to make them proud.

We hung out on my stoop, where I can be found at some point every day, and the weather gave them the opportunity to wear every item in their suitcase at least once.

I managed to schedule an impromptu performance with my a cappella group,The Jeanettes, at the Ferry Building. They came to the Yours Truly session I produced with Sylvan Esso and starred as on-air guests during my BFF.fm show. 

They were appreciative and interested. They were flexible and patient. I paced between emotions, from elated to bratty: “Dad, just tryyyy the sake. Just a sip. Come onnnn.” Peer pressure doesn’t work on these oldies. 

Before their trip I was pretty set on pushing them out of their comfort zone and while it took me until now to realize it, coming out to San Francisco was 1,973 miles out of that zone. They didn’t need to try Ethiopian food or four different kinds of coffee or attend a daytime dance party for their trip to be a success. They just wanted some quality Amber time – can’t argue with that.

And, there’s always next time.

Photo by Sierra Hartman

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