10/09/2014 02:17 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2014

A Thank-You Note to My Parents

Cara McDonough

Having children changes you. You might, for instance, have a new understanding for the value of a minivan -- a vehicle that once caused you to recoil in horror -- or find yourself rhapsodizing on the timing and importance of daily naps with the passion you used to reserve for describing a particularly thrilling concert.

And as a parent, you finally appreciate the things your own parents did and said when you were growing up. Things you simply didn't understand at the time; your mother's outright denial in response to pleading requests for a pet hamster or gerbil, or your father's tedious insistence that you chew with your mouth closed.

As a mother of three, I've been thinking about this a lot, often acting the same way my parents did when I was growing up, even uttering the same words.

Since I'm finally mature enough to get it, I thought I'd thank my parents for all the things that made no sense when I was young.

Mom, thank you for making dinner nearly every night after a long day at work, when I'm guessing what you probably wanted to do was sit in a room by yourself for a while and chill out with some M&Ms. Thank you for having us eat together at the table, because I have many happy memories of those meals. Also, thank you for sometimes making us tacos.

Thank you, Dad, for telling me funny stories about my little brother when he was born, indicating that he wasn't that smart, even though it wasn't true. Although I'm pretty sure no parenting books would recommend this technique, I wasn't jealous when he was a baby, and enjoyed the one-on-one time with you. And thank you for helping me play jokes on and generally mess with him when he was a little older, because it was really fun. He turned out just fine.

Thank you for not letting us get a gerbil, hamster, mouse or guinea pig, because I now realize cleaning out their cages is disgusting, and sometimes they smell.

Although I'm not really thankful for that pants-and-shirt combo you bought and allowed me to wear when I was about 12, Mom (you know the one, with the colorful artistic rendering of a cat), I am glad you allowed me to pass through my awkward stage without comment, not suggesting I pluck my eyebrows, even though, Jesus Christ, they were really something. You let me figure out who I wanted to be on my own.

Thank you for making me take piano lessons. Even though I hated it and the thought of playing an instrument still fills me with panic, I have a very basic understanding of music to this day.

Thank you for taking us places you wanted to go as much as we did: vacations to exciting, faraway places and museums of every sort. Thank you for letting us fall asleep at parties. Seeing your parents happy is a true gift, and you showed us that child-centric activities weren't the only way to have fun.

But you absolutely let us be kids, engaging in unstructured play for hours on end, and I'm thankful for that. When we were old enough we ran free and wild through the nearby park and rode bikes around the neighborhood from one friend's house to another, finding our way through physical and social challenges that made us stronger.

Thank you for not getting madder than you did that time you came home and found us riding the foldable mattress/chair down the basement stairs at top speed with our buddies, because someone could have ended up in the hospital and I'm sure you were extremely pissed.

Thank you for dedicating yourselves to meaningful jobs and ensuring our visiting you at the office was frequent and welcome, so that we got to see you in action. Thank you for making balancing work and family seem easy and attainable, because I'm sure it was difficult.

Thank you, Mom, for teaching us to always write thank you notes and have good manners in general, which I will work on relentlessly with my children until it's automatic.

Dad, thank you for letting me ride the carousel at the National Mall over and over and again when we'd go into the city on the weekends. It reminds me to let my own kids have as much fun as they want when we don't have concrete plans. Because why not?

Thank you for teaching me that no matter what and under any circumstances, the most important thing to do first thing in the morning is make the coffee.