Not In Kansas Anymore...

Click your heels, and see if home is where you hang your hat, or somewhere else inside yourself as this simple, postmodern girl takes on L.A.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In the hubub of the holiday season and my Annual Post-Holiday Season Cold, I realize this evening while making cookies ( yeah, I know. They're New Year's cookies. Shut up.) that I'd forgotten about my recent episode in The Aging Parent Follies.

Not to be sarcastic (me?) or flip ( never!), but as my parents get older, they start to do things that make me take on the role of the adult and them, the role of the insolent teenager. By and large, my parents are in excellent health, are active and self-sufficient. (And just in case, my brother checks on them regularly. Well, sort of. He checks their refrigerator regularly for good eats, which by mere proximity allows him to be in their company at least twice a week.). However, as they start aiming down the middle 60s, I've noticed their tendency to slide into denial about the limitatons of their age. Case in point:

My mom, for most of her life, has had perfect eyesight. Unlike my father and I ( who should be qualified as legally blind along with the rest of his side of the family), she can see without any kind of corrective lens. This is still, amazingly, true at 63 for her. Nonetheless, some aging has taken its toll: she needs reading glasses to read and see small print. Did she go to the optometrist? No. She insists, instead, on buying those cheap reading glasses from the drugstore. Of course, none of them is ever *quite* right, so she has a million pairs of them lying around the house, languishing. A couple of Christmases ago, she finally found a pair that suited her-- but had rather unfortunate frames. (When I teased her that she looked like Buddy Holly trying to wrestle garland onto a pine tree, she didn't think it was funny, oddly.). But then she lost those and the search began anew.

Finally, she once again found a pair that suited her needs, and all was well in her world. Well, except for the fact that she kept misplacing them, forgetting where they were, and really, not havng them on hand when she most needed them. I once watched her try to answer the phone, standing there, with the phone in hand, holding it out at arm's length, trying to find the "ON" button, swearing, "Well, goddammit. I can't see. Where are my glasses? I just had them..." Meanwhile, the phone rings insistently, and by the time she finds her glasses, the caller had just given up. ( Don't ask if the machine picked it up. That's a whole other kettle of fish, my friend....).
I looked at her and in my family's time-honored way of expressing loving jest, pointed, laughed, and ridiculed her infirmity.

"You're like Mr. Magoo bumbling around trying to answer the fucking phone! That's ridiculous Mother. Why don't you just get one of those chains and keep the glasses around your neck? That way, when people call, you can actually answer. It will save on the numerous police drive-bys that will surely start occurring, as people start to wonder if you're still alive, since you're NOT ANSWERING THE PHONE."
Of course, her answer was, "I'm not getting one of those things. They're so UGLY. And they make you look like an old lady."
(Never mind that she IS an old lady....but I delicately avoided pointing this out to her.) In response I said, "Okay, then, go to the doctor and get progressive lenses. The top lens can be clear, and the bottom lens will be your reading lens. You can wear them all the time."
No dice. "I don't want to wear glasses all the time. So unattractive."
(Never mind that *I* wear glasses 80% of the time and my dad, before his Lasik 10 years ago, wore glasses their whole marriage. Whatever....)

Every time I call now, my father answers the phone. When I last visited, it was next to his chair ( you know, His Chair). Apparently he decided to take control of the situation, and now screens all calls.

But you see what I'm dealing with here? Okay.

This year's little Aging Parent Folly was actually a pretty decent scare. I called on Christmas, dutiful daughter that I am, and wished my parents a Merry holiday. My dad ( having answering the phone, of course) returned the good cheer, and I asked him what he'd been up to, blah blah blah. THIS is when he informs me that all was well-- except for that fire in the house 2 days before Christmas.

Excuse me?!? FIRE? WTF?

"Well, I was making some stew on the stove," he started. "You know, I was starting a soup." ( For my dad, this can take all day, BTW. The art of stew/soupmaking cannot be rushed.) "Then the power went out, and we waited a bit to see if it'd come back on, you know.....but it didn't, and we were hungry, your mom was getting impatient , and so we decided to go out to eat."

Uh huh. Where is this going, Dad?

"We came home, opened the door, and the house was filled- I mean just FILLED-- with black smoke! I mean, it was terrible. Just terrible. I went downstairs to see what was going on (sidebar: DID NOT call the Fire Department first, I might add! Hello???), and the stove was all hot and the countertop next to the stove, you know, the green formica we had put in? It was all buckled and black and in flames...." (Second sidebar: where was my mom? Not calling the Fire Department, apparently....) "SO I found the fire extinguisher and put that out, and opened the windows and all that, and..."

"Did you call the Fire Department? I mean....." "Well, yah, after the fire was out and everything....", he answered, like calling them DURING the fire was an insane notion, since he was busy, you know, (DOING THEIR JOB and )putting it out himself. "Well, what did they say, Dad?"
"They said everything was all right, and checked the house for any other risk, which there wasn't. But they said that if we'd have been even 10 minutes later, the whole house could have gone up!!"
I was shocked and appalled at the idea of my parents going through such a trauma at this usually festive time of year, and of my childhood home going up in flames. "I'm SO GLAD you're all right," I squeaked out. "I can't imagine what could have happened. Thank GOD. " My dad, in his usual way, sort of minimized it and replied dismissively, "Well, everything's fine, now, no need to worry."

Then it hit me. "What did they say started the fire?"
"Well, it seems I forgot to turn the stove off when we left. The power was out, so I didn't think to."

Yeah, that's the sound of my palm hitting my forehead.

"Uh, you didn't think to turn off the stove BEFORE you left the house? "
"No, the power was out."
"Oh. Well, USUALLY, it's kind of a reflex; I guess I would have done it automatically. "
"Well, I TOLD YOU, the power was out, so I didn't think of it."

RIIIIIGHT. Because you know, the power was out. Not like it MIGHT COME BACK ON while you're gone, which is an obvious notion. Not like it might have been a good idea to --JUST IN CASE-- make sure you turned off the stove.


And now they're having the insurance people over, replacing the countertops, washing all the apholstery, the drapes,....hiring a cleaning company to remove soot from the walls, the carpets, the furniture, on and on and on and on blahblahblahblah.

It's in moments like these I flash back to my adolesence, when I used burn candles (safely! Yes, safely, I might add!) in my room for ambience ( yeah, I thought I was cool. Shut up.). My mom and dad FREAKED out, and constantly nagged me with things like, "Don't fall asleep with those burning. Make sure you're not burning them next to the curtains. You didn't get wax all over your dresser, did you? I REALLY want you to know we're worried about a fire, so DON'T let those things get out of hand." Okay, I understand that's a reasonable concern: teach the silly teenager about fire safety, yes, yes.

I just never thought the roles would be reversed, that's all.

God in heaven. PLEASE keep us all sane and safe while they get older and older....or untill I can think up a legitimate, passable reason to have them institutionalized....