31 December 2009


As I write this, I can look out the window of my parents' back porch and see snow falling in fat fluffy flakes on the evergreens. Not ten feet from me (although with a door in between), there is a bright red cardinal pecking at the seed and suet block my parents have hung up as a bird feeder. He is MASSIVE, and I wish my father were awake to see him.

As you may have guessed, I am at Parentshome. Neither of my parents is awake yet, because who gets up at 8 in the morning when they don't have to, except for people who are trying to reduce their return jet lag by vaguely adhering to British time? So I get up between 7 and 8, and am hoping to until I leave four days from now.

My parents are glad to see me, and I am glad to see them. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that my parents are, well...getting old. My father will be 80 next year, and that's just plain old. He's now very very deaf, and although his brain is very sharp in the present, his memory, simply in terms of remembering things that happened a few months ago, or in terms of remembering that he told you about things that happened a few months ago, is very bad (although now that I write that down, I see it's quite interesting: he certainly does remember some things that happened months ago. Which suggests that he retains the canonical memory structure - I remember those things that interest me - just in a naturally degrading form). He doesn't have Alzheimer's, that's for sure, but the memory and the ears are bad. My mother, meanwhile, has aged by becoming slightly deafer and more like a canonical old lady: she takes forever to do things (where she used to just take half of forever), and she is intensely worried about making people happy, so that even the most ephemeral of whims deserves half an hour to see if she can gratify it. Also, neither of them can drive at night along a route they don't know well. For the first time, they didn't pick me up at the airport.

This is all sobering. They are not at a stage yet where they need to be worried over, really, and they're certainly not at a stage where they need any kind of watching (and they would be livid at that suggestion), but they are at the stage where you need to start worrying about the time when they'll need to be worried over. For a long time I assumed that when they got old they would come live with me in a granny flat arrangement, but they've made it clear they don't want to do that, so I was pleased that when this time I suggested they might want to think about moving from this rather isolated suburb at least closer to the city, they said yes, it was possible. More people, more activities, less driving.

Actually, the driving deserves a little more discussion. I tried to get my driver's license renewed in time for it to arrive while I was here, but, alas, that did not work. This means that I cannot drive! And this means that if I want to go anywhere - which I do: there are Twinkies and peanut butter to buy! - I must be driven by a parent. And so far that parent has been my mother.

Reader, my mother has always been a bad driver. Now, there are many kinds of bad drivers. I myself, although not bad, am certainly a bit too quick, and sometimes more cavalier than I should be. But my mother has always been the worst kind of bad driver: the kind that calls itself "defensive," but really means "timid and hesitant." And now, now she has become a terrible driver. It's not enough to depress the brake - she must depress it firmly and abruptly, so that the car and everyone it lurches forward and then back. It's not enough to wait until there are no cars to make a turn - she must wait until there are no cars, but also a gap long enough that we can make the turn in the leisurely manner she chooses; as a result, there will be massive no-car gaps into which anyone could make a tidy left turn, but my mother will sit there watching the empty space because it "won't be big enough, I know." It' s not enough to drive the speed limit - she now drives a good five to ten miles under the speed limit. All that, and still when we pull into a slot space she misjudges every time and moves the car so far forward that the underside of the front bumper scrapes the divider. I am a terrible slot space parker: it takes me at least two goes to get in (fantastic parallel parker, though. Go figure). But even I, who am thus empathetic, cannot bear sitting there in the car with my mother as we inch into the slot (inch! that's what makes it so galling. There's plenty of time to judge, or to sense), just knowing that in a few moments I'll hear scraaape, "Sorry."

Still, the woman wants to buy me a new winter coat, and to pay for my continuing therapy, so I can't be too condemnatory. Oh, and, y'know, she gave me life.

Oh, well, I've had a problematic relationship with my mother ever since I started to grow up. When I was little, people used to tell me all the time that I looked like her, and relatives would remark on the similarity of our movements. This is great when you're 8, but when you want to be your own person that similarity turns into a kind of threat - "Will I just be my mother? Will people [will my mother] only ever see me as a replication of her?" And that's still floating around underneath, these days: I still retain an instinctive fear - although it only comes out at certain moments - that my mother is trying to control. I feel this not at all with my father, but then in many ways my father and I have much more similar personalities, quiet and gentle (although there's no doubt that it's the personality similarities between me and my mother that cause many of our difficulties) - and, of course, my father is much more passive than my mother, so he's unlikely to try to control me.

Well, I love them both very much, and they me. And, despite whatever complications, you can't say better than that.

And tonight I am off to Philadelphia's New Year's Eve milonga. Perhaps my driver's license will come, so I won't have to take the train.

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