They are 86 and 96 and are beginning to have some physical limitations and pain. But they are still alert and active and living independently.
I can tell that my mom has a lot of pain that she lives with daily. There are limits to what medicine or therapy can do. And their friends are slowly dying around them.
But every time I am with her she takes my arm, looks me in the eye and says "Stephen, do you know how lucky we are. We have led good lives, we have good health, the children are fine and we have all the money we need."
My wife, Nancy, and I feel the same way -- and I am sure it affects how I view policy issues, both as an economist studying broad trends and a Palo Alto resident following community or neighborhood issues.
I try to model my mom's sentiments, but I am sure that I grouse too much and am not as thankful as I should be for what life has given me.
Which brings me back to Palo Alto.
I started out to write a column on how we integrate neighborhood, city and regional priorities in land use related to recent local debate over the 800 High St. housing development, Alma Plaza and the effect of adding more housing on our schools.
But I have found from experience that neighborhood priorities often lead to different answers than priorities suggested by city or regional trends and interests.
I realized early on that one of the reasons I am so passionate about emphasizing the broader city and regional interests isn't technical at all. It is because I feel lucky and grateful to live in Palo Alto and have good health for my family.
When we moved downtown a few years ago Palo Alto was still considering building a new police station right across the street from where we now live. I don't know whether that was a good location or not, but I figured that if we need a new public-safety facility it will have to be near someone's home.
So I wrote a column in the Weekly saying we would not complain if our street turned out to be the best place for the station.
I know I am not the only person who feels that way. Palo Alto is full of people who put the public interest above personal convenience. You need only look at the local discussion of global warming to know that many residents clearly separate the broader public interest from their own personal convenience.
And Palo Alto is full of people who feel that they are lucky to live here.
But in public discussion I see a lot of complaining and finger pointing. I remember that about the 800 High project and discussions about what to do with Edgewood Plaza and more recently about the Alma Plaza proposals.
I read these sentiments in the online discussion of Mandarin immersion classes, where there seems to be a lot of name-calling as well.
Most of these discussions involve public policy decisions where we need to find the overall public interest while some people are going to be inconvenienced or not get what they want. Police stations must go somewhere if they are needed. Housing must go somewhere in the region, whether it is market priced or subsidized. There is only a certain amount of retail activity relative to our population and income. Every city or shopping center or street that gets more means another city, shopping center or street gets less.
And the children who live in these houses must go to school in some neighborhood in some city. Any house or child we chase away by local policy decisions ends up somewhere else.
I think we are lucky to have more money to spend on public programs in Palo Alto than elsewhere. And we are lucky to have a great university, which attracted a research park and shopping center that pay part of the taxes that allow us to spend more on children in school than nearly any other city in California.
I am not writing this column to change any minds. But I would be interested if there are other readers who feel lucky to live in Palo Alto and are willing to accept some personal inconvenience if it makes sense for the entire city or region.