We especially like bulletins from the hometown paper—usually human interest stories of a goat befriending a rooster, or about the local chapter of the Polar Bear swim club—with "Funny!" invariably scribbled on top. Two weeks after September 11, Julie's mother sent the cover story of the Glens Falls, New York, paper, an article on a local man who helped popularize disco. She thought it'd be a comfort to Julie to know that in some part of the world life was beginning to go on. Jancee's father recently passed along a review of Cranford, New Jersey's new sushi restaurant. "Good as NY but no parking fees!" he wrote. And then there are the cartoons: Three of our friends received the same New Yorker cartoon of a dog telling his canine pal that "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." "The Family Circus," "Cathy," and "Baby Blues" all seem to speak to parents. ("Who does this remind you of?" is usually the standard commentary written on the top.)

Buying a New Whatever
Although their appliances are from the Cold War era, our parents somehow know the foam capacity factor of the latest cappuccino maker. Nothing gives Jancee's father more pleasure than her mentioning she's in the market for a new dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner. He races to his stack of Consumer Reports, which he's archived back to the early nineties, highlights the specs—efficiency, cost, user ratings—and mails them off as fast as he can. Fathers have a horror of potentially faulty appliances. "I told my dad I needed a new toaster oven," says Heather, a Boston chef. "I immediately got reviews for several, and written in red pen next to the one that I'd planned to buy was the warning 'This toaster has been known to burn the tops of corn muffins.'"

Hidden among the tips for low-cost moisturizers (Crisco! Olive oil!) and "101 Uses for Grass Clippings" is one unmistakable message, and it's that our parents want us to know they're thinking about us. And they're on the case. Even with the small stuff. For mothers, especially, these notes are about connecting, the equivalent of a daily phone call. It's a way of saying "I, unlike your friends, remember that in 1992 you mentioned that you liked cats, so please enjoy these feline-related clippings." For our fathers, the goal seems to be preparedness. Jancee once asked her dad, "Why the onslaught of clips from the Kiplinger financial newsletter?" He said, "We don't want you to make the same mistakes that we did." Faraway dads can't inspect your tires or make sure your fire alarm is up to code, but even from a distance, they can put some things in order.

When your folks live elsewhere, your day-to-day lives don't overlap. And you know what? Crisco works pretty well, and it's cheaper than Crème de la Mer.

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