Friday, August 30, 2013

Key wars

My parents, who are virtual shut-ins, are obsessed with keys. They have clever key fobs (“THE KEYS TO SUCCESS”) and key-ring mounted tools (mini-flashlights). And they have a lot of keys: two to enter the building, one for the mailbox, one for the elevator, two for the door from the back stairs to the apartment, one for the deep freeze (which houses not frozen peas but old tax returns), one for the safe deposit box, and so on. 

For years, you would have thought I was robbing them when I asked to borrow a basic set of house keys. They were more willing to lend me tens of thousands of dollars to buy my apartment when I was poor and 30 and unlikely to be able to repay them than they were to lend me their keys for half an hour when I was in my 50s and running errands for them. 

After protracted, intense negotiations over the course of a year or so, I finally, at the age of about 60, managed to procure a set of my own. I knew that I had passed some kind of character test when I was shown the hiding place for the deep-freeze key and the safe deposit box. Somehow, after six decades, I had persuaded them that I was trustworthy.

Not so the home aides. Even though these responsible and reliable women live with my parents round the clock, providing the most intimate kinds of care, they remain suspect—and not to be trusted with a set of house keys. 

Interestingly, though I fought long and hard to gain possession of those keys, it is with heavy resignation that I unhook my own keys from the ring in my handbag and hook in theirs as I head out for a week in San Francisco. And the moment I drop theirs to the bottom of my handbag and rehook my own before boarding the plane for Newark is one of ecstatic freedom. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Home life

When I go to San Francisco to visit my parents, I usually discourage my California-dwelling brothers from overlapping with me. I figure when I’m there, they can take a break from eldercare. They’ll need to be there when I can’t. 

The downside is that by the end of a week or two of watching my frail 90-year-old father peer through his thick glasses AND a magnifying glass to load up his pill tray—unwittingly dropping lifesaving medications onto the floor—and my stroked-out 87-year-old mother eschew her walker to wobble to the bathroom, I’m a wreck. It takes months to calm down. And then it’s time to go again.

This past visit, though, my brothers and their partners made a point of visiting while I was in residence—and the result was a stress-free week, though in some ways, my parents were on their worst behavior.

They’ve always fought, but now that they are confined to each other’s company, the claustrophobia has escalated their spats into all-out war. My mother will lob a grenade into my father’s territory and then sit back contentedly to watch the explosion. 

Oddly, as the warfare heats up and my parents become ever less bridled in their verbal assaults on each other, my brothers and I have developed an increasingly abstract vocabulary to communicate with one another. And so it is that one brother will say that something is “controversial” to convey that a certain subject has drawn blood. And all three children are afflicted with a curious wanderlust and errand hunger that drive us to take long walks over San Francisco’s steep hills and deep dales at odd hours. 

We all have learned there is danger in being a white-flag-carrying emissary between warring parties. As the home aides have counseled us, we leave the room when the fighting breaks out. Which means that my parents, who love and look forward to our visits, spend much of the time without us—and alone again together.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The secret lives of trees

Life is so interesting!

My hair cutter told me that the reason baldness tends to start at the top of your head is that that’s where the blood supply is lowest. So massaging the top of your head (hello, Tingler!) and standing on your head (hello, yoga!) are the best ways to promote thicker, faster-growing hair.

And at the veterinarian’s today—$200 to find out my cat had dirty ears, not mites—I met a woman who has 49 cats and three pigeons. It would cost her $10,200 to get them all checked for mites.