The thing about parents is that they have a tendency to go off without telling you where they’re going.
I put my eighty-something parents on the plane to somewhere in Florida yesterday. I admit, I’m not big on Florida geography. I know Rebecca lives there, it’s warm and sunny in February, and it’s where everyone went in the 1960s morality tale, “Where the Boys Are.” If you have a cell phone number, what more do you need to know about a place?
I tucked my parents into their wheelchairs at the U.S. Air gate and the attendants assured me they would escort my p’s all the way to their seats. They wouldn’t even have to get out and take their shoes off for security, which is worth being eighty-something for, if you ask me. I kissed them goodbye and the last thing I said was, “Call me when you get there.”
That was 10 a.m.
At 5 p.m. my younger brother phoned me to ask if they’d actually gotten on the flight. I said they had. He sounded worried. He said, “Do you think they made it okay?” I assured him. I said, “They’re probably still alive because if they were dead, we’d have heard by now.” He understood that logic and, having registered the fact that they were safe, proceeded to get really mad at my parents. “Don’t you think they should have called to let us know?” This is how we Irish deal with concern—we get pissed off. I said, “I’m thinking this is payback for the years they spent parenting six adolescents.”
At what point did our parents turn into our teenagers? They’re much older than Dennis Hopper so I know they’re not being influenced by that retirement ad he’s doing—the one where he’s sitting in the middle of a highway on a red chair and you’re compelled to keep scrutinizing the image to figure out if he’s stoned or not.
At least, that’s what my sister and I did.
I totally suspect my parents are having as much fun as my own teenagers. Like Wally, they’re living in a lovely community, surrounded by people their own age. They never have to turn the thermostat down, so they can heat the whole outdoors if they want to (I know my father has waited his whole life to be able to do this), and they’re served three squares a day. I actually got confused when I went to visit this retirement center about a month after Wally went to college, and ended up asking the housing director what the meal plan was like.
Like the Snapper, my parents have the tendency to socialize constantly and not check in with me concerning their whereabouts. I get text messages from the Snapper when he’s driving home, five minutes before his Cinderella license kicks in, the way I get phone calls from my parents when they need a ride to the airport. I only know where they all are when they’re in transit, unless they get sick.
For instance, today the Snapper is home sick in bed. Ironically with the same flu that grounded my parents last weekend (temporarily). It started last night, right before 24. He knew enough not to interrupt me during my fix, so he let me know, at 8:50 p.m., that he wasn’t feeling well.
I told him to lie down.
According to my mother, we don’t get sick in our family. And frankly, I’ve been up half of the past two nights with menopausal hot flashes that were so fiery I could have easily left the front door open and heated the whole outdoors. So my plan was to actually sleep last night.
The Snapper thoughtfully waited until 10:01 before he began throwing up. He has good aim, so there wasn’t a mess. I made sure he got into bed and solicitously put extra blankets on him, thanking god this had happened early enough in the evening.
At 11 p.m. I went to bed. At 11:15 he threw up again, this time all over his blankets and in such a way that I wondered, briefly, how I had survived single parenting two pre-schoolers.
I cleaned up, put him back to bed, threw in a load of laundry, and went back to bed. He was sick again at 1 a.m. He left the towel on the bathroom floor. At 4 he was up moaning. I turned off my alarm and checked on him. He wasn’t sick—he just wanted to be, the way we all did at 4 a.m. after some party in college (perhaps this is why F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “It is always 4 a.m. in the darkness of the soul.” I believe he drank a lot, too).
At 6 a.m. I woke to the sound of pounding something. I groggily lifted my head from the pillow and listened as the Snapper ran up and down the stairs, they way he used to for wrestling. I called out, “What the hell are you doing?” and he explained that he was running up and down the stairs to try and make himself throw up again. I don’t recall reading about this technique in any of Fitzgerald’s books, but I could check in with my mother whenever I hear from her, because she, too, is a big fan of F.Scott.
I told the Snapper to go back to bed.
My mother called at 8:30 in the morning. I said crossly, “Thanks a hell of a lot for checking in. No one has any idea where you are, I’ve had hot flashes so intense they could heat up the state of Florida, the Snapper’s been up all night throwing up, I have two deadlines today, and I’m so deliriously tired that all I can think about is F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
She said, “The Snapper got sick? We don’t get sick in our family. Are you sending him to school today?”
I said, “Where are you?!”
I could hear her asking my father where in Florida they were.
She said, “Somewhere.”
And I said, “I’m keeping the Snapper home—at least I’ll know where he is.”