I am very lucky at my age to still have both my parents who are relatively hale and hearty well into their 70’s. I love them dearly but they do drive me absolutely nuts, bless them.
Before we began our trek to Italy this week, we decided to catch up with my parents who live in Portsmouth. Why they decided to sell up the family home and move three hours away from me and my brother still remains a mystery. He and I remain loyal to out roots and each live within a 40 minute drive from the family home, but unfortunately some one else’s family now lives in it.
Another reason for a visit – as well as children longing to hang out with their grandparents, long may it last – Mum and Dad often take us along to socials in the community area. I love going along as I feel like a girlish young thing as the average age of everyone else is about 80.
So there they live, miles and miles from the nearest family member in a nice modern apartment overlooking the sea. It’s funny, when I think of old age pensioners, the image I have in my head is of my grandparents: white haired, stooped by years of hard labour, living in hot houses stuffed full with old fashioned, heavy, brown furniture and long held traditions such as laying the table for a full breakfast before going to bed.
Well my parents are nothing like their parents’ generation. They keep fit, mum dyes her hair, all their furniture is ‘habitat’ modern.
They are just as old and stuck in their ways as my grandparents were, they just hide it better. This is something of which I was reminded this weekend.
My grandma was famous for loathing fridges, only ever using a pantry for her milk and butter. When she died we found tins and jars dating from before the war. I’m not joking. Thirty year old tins of Spam.
My mother, on the other hand, embraces fridges and freezers and regularly goes through her cupboards. Or so I thought.
Our first night there Dad poured out his usual mouth-puckeringly strong gin and tonics. Two of these are enough to leave you completely plastered. About an hour in I registered I was talking too loudly, waving my hands a bit wildly, with bits of peanut crumbs all over my shirt. Rob was making throat cutting gestures behind my Dad’s head so it was time to move onto something non alcoholic
(The throat cutting gesture is the universal symbol in our marriage for, ‘you’re getting too pissed and you are one sip away from disgracing yourself. Abort! Abort!’)
I knew Mum always keep Diet Cokes on hand for me – she’s great at making sure your every whim is satisfied – so I asked for a can. Two or three sips in I discovered that Diet Coke can, in fact, go off. Who knew? It tasted awful. Assuming it was a dud can and not wanting to embarrass my parents, I tossed the it away and grabbed another.
Again, the same weird, dusty taste. The drink tasted like the syrup and fizzy water had decided to part ways, quite some time ago, creating an odd fizzy froth with a slick of old, caramel coloured coke syrup at the bottom.
Understanding was dawning. I checked the bottom of the can. Yup. It expired in 2004. At least it was made this century.
Catching up was great and the first day was full of conversation and laughter, as it should be. But I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be called upon for tech support. I could see Mum had lined up her phone, her laptop and Dad’s iPad on the sideboard (is that an old person’s thing? Nobody seems to have sideboards any more) ready for me to sort out.
She did wait until after breakfast the following day before pouncing with her IT questions. I don’t mind helping her at all. Not a problem. What I do mind is how she refuses to accept the changes I suggest until we have had a long, intense, and increasingly irritated
argument discussion. Eventually I will convince her and she will agree, for example, that I can change the nickname on her email account so people actually know who she is.
For the first hour she refused to believe that changing the nickname of the account wouldn’t change the actual email address. It escalated so quickly that within about fifteen minutes she was yelling tearfully, ‘I CAN’T contact everyone to tell them my new address, I haven’t got the time! And what if Jackie needs to get in touch urgently?’
With me replying, ‘Mum, it’s fine. I just want to change the account…’
‘DON’T CHANGE THE ACCOUNT!’
Me… Patiently… ‘Mum. Listen. I am not going to change the account, I’m just altering the…’
‘DON’T ALTER ANYTHING!’
Me… through slightly gritted teeth now… ‘Mum. You know Dad was getting cross because when he used the email you shared it would show up on other computers as coming from ‘Fairybluebird48′? That is because you put that as the NICKNAME of your email account.’ Putting up hand to stall my Mum’s interruption, ‘NOT your ACTUAL EMAIL ADDRESS. I am going to change the nickname so that it just says your and Dad’s names… OK?’
Slightly sullen nod. JESUS! This is like trying to get Daughter to put her tights on for school.
She then insists I send five test emails to her phone to prove the email address hasn’t changed despite a sensible ‘Mr and Mrs Warrior’ nickname showing up in people’s inboxes.
After I sorted out the phone, I then spent 20 minutes showing Dad on his iPad where the ‘send’ button was on his email package, and where all the brilliant family photos I had sent him were.
He greeted the cache of photographs with exactly the same joy and delight he had demonstrated the last four times I had shown him.
I found and re-stuck onto his iPad case the step-by-step instructions post-it I had given him detailing how to find the family sharing folder with hundreds of photos of his beloved grandchildren.
All that remained was to go through the lap top with them both trying to free up memory, breaking up the row brewing between them about Mum’s Netflix habit – explaining to an increasingly puzzled Dad what ‘streaming’ meant. Again.
Oh! The bickering! Does anyone else have or had parents who did this? Constant sniping about things like bins, or ‘what have you done with the sofa samples?’ ‘ I don’t know what you’re talking about, I haven’t seen any ruddy samples!’ etc etc. At least they still make each other laugh.
Saturday afternoon involved the usual diatribe from Dad on the topic of: ‘Why Women are Not Qualified to do the TV Commentary on Cricket or Football.’ I’m not quite sure what the logic is, but it’s something to do with women not suffering the highs and lows of these sports in the same way men have done. I think he wouldn’t be happy with any football commentator who didn’t watch England winning the World Cup in 1966, to be honest.
Sunday night marked the ‘Great Allocation of the Pills for the Week’ ritual. My Dad hates taking pills but once he hit 75 four years ago, his GP wouldn’t take no for an answer. Mum LOVES taking pills. In fact she has two of those weekly pill things as she can’t fit them all in one. Mum’s are pink, Dad’s are blue and both have MTWTFFSS marked on each little pop up slot.
My Mum takes so many I’m surprised she doesn’t rattle like a maraca when she walks around. I’m sure some of them much cancel each other out. But whatever they are doing it works as they are making the most of their retirement.
Despite all this, it was great to see them and I know very well how lucky I am to have them in my life and not yet so frail they can’t look after themselves The trouble is that I find when you stay with your parents the dynamic shifts powerfully. Instead of being the ruler of your own home, with complete autonomy and control as an adult, you are catapulted back to the difficult teenage years.
When you are under their roof they are in charge. They are the adults. And it doesn’t matter how old you are, this dynamic will never change. I never understood it until I had children and they got old enough to say things like, ‘are you sure you want that second Krispy Kreme Doughnut, Mummy?’ and it struck me how bloody infuriating it must be to have your children grow up and try to boss you around. I can already imagine Daughter hustling me off to an Old Folks’ Home the second I retire.
So I am going to make the most of this time when my parents are still living happy, healthy lives. My Mum was delighted to whats app me that her ‘Dementia score was 27/27!’ I am assuming that’s good? Both Mum and Dad sidled up to me to say furtively that the other’s memory was ‘not what is once was’, but they both seem pretty able to bring up every single annoying thing the other one has done over the past fifty years.
We are back home now and I have spent the day doing the washing and trying to pack everything despite the children’s best efforts to take everything back out as they ‘want to wear it now! It’s my favourite dress/top/skirt/shorts etc.’
I am slightly hampered in my yelling at them as mother-in-law is here and I need to pretend to be a good parent. I am hoping I can keep this up for the duration of the holiday we are spending together.
Speaking of holidays, I have just checked the weather forecast for the upcoming week. Here, where I live, it’s blazing sunshine for the next seven days.
This is what is happening in the part of Italy we decided to visit.