Having a blast with the old folks at McDonald's. Ashley at left and Faye at "our" table. I deserved a break today, but, unfortunately this wasn't it!
When I tell most people I've returned home to keep my eye on my elderly parents, they go "Aw, that's so nice," and when they say that I usually wish I could punch them in the nose. Its even worse when they say, "You'll never be sorry." Hell, I was sorry the first day I got here.
Its not nice, actually, and its not fun and when I'm not plotting violence against the people who think it is so noble of me to have returned home to support my elderly, loony, cranky old folks, I'm often to be found wishing I could strangle the old folks themselves.
Take our outings to McDonald's. My mother has some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder and that means we always have to sit at the same table. No one in the family questions this, as having her nervous and upset is worse than picking another table, thus, we have all become table enablers. The table she likes is about a mile from the door to the restaurant. My father's illness makes walking difficult/almost impossible/slow. So I help him from the car, go park the car, return to the restaurant and wait as he struggles across the room with his caregiver, while my mother taps her foot impatiently. Meanwhile, she has ordered exactly the same thing she always orders and FOR EVERYONE. At this point, I'm looking at the ceiling, wondering how much time they would give me for putting strychnine in the McChicken.
Dinner at their house. Now there's a treat. When I arrive, I have to hang up my coat (as if I were nine years old). Then I have to set the table (as if I were nine years old). During dinner my father is excluded from conversation because he is deaf and my mother does not bring pad and paper to the table. If he decides to join the conversation he usually picks up any topic on his mind and just starts to talk. We've all heard all his stories. So the three-way conversation at table goes something like this:
Mother: "The professors for whom I worked at Stanford told me that they really could not get along without me. They had PHDs, you know, but I was able to help them correct their grammar."
Robin: "Oh and I meant to tell you Mom, you made a dentist appointment for yourself for next week, but you haven't taken Dad to the dentist for two years. Don't you think we should take him?"
Mother: "Have you seen those roses over there on the fence? Aren't they marvelous?"
Dad: "We WON that war, I'm telling you, and beat those Japs. And I never even got a scratch. That night Ray Kidd died I heard the shrapnel whiz by my ear, but I came back okay. You were around then, weren't you? Remember when I met your mother? Oh she was beautiful and I told my father, I think I'll marry that girl and he said ... "
Mother: "It wasn't a career for me. You girls and your father were my real career, naturally, but Dr. P and Professor O would tell me, 'Faye, where would we be without you?'"
Robin: "Oh and we're out of diapers, so you need to pick some up next time you're at the drug store."
Mother: "I must remind the gardener to prepare the vegetable garden. It looks like rain to me. Isn't it lovely tonight?"
Dad: "I was on the train that day, on my way to Spokane. And I sent my family a wire and said, why don't you come out there too. I may be going to Japan and I have money in the bank and I may never get a chance to spend it. So they all came out, my father, my mother and my sister Helen. And that's how they met your mother. And my Dad really liked her and said 'Go for it, son.' So I did. And she's been the best wife a man could have."
Mother: "I'm trying to teach Ashley not to put his Kleenex on the table when he's used it."
Robin: "Mom, he has dementia."
Mother: "Oh yes and I must remember to water my ferns tonight. Look at that one. Isn't it marvelous?"
Father: "I have to go to the toilet."
With conversation this scintillating it is a blessing that the meals are, at least, mercifully short. Of course, they're short because my mother has anorexia and serves only very tiny meals. (Most of the day the caregivers and I try to outwit her by sneaking food to my Dad.) Oh yes, meal over. I rise from the table and I must clear it (as if I'm nine years old) and dry the dishes (as if I'm nine years old) before I am allowed to be excused (as if I'm nine years old). I run, screaming to the car at top speed and upon my arrival at my own (thank God) home I reach, immediately, for a) a wine bottle, and b)the phone. I telephone my sister and tell her I've decided to move to Nepal and study Tao and its HER TURN NOW!
Don't get me wrong. I love being with my Dad, in spite of everything. But if he tells me again the story of how he proposed to my mother, I plan to bean him with his walker.
So, the next time someone tells they've returned to their hometown to keep an eye on their elderly parents, please don't tell them how nice they are. Say something that would really connect, like "Wow, I bet that's really hell for you." Now, that will get you a smile.