Sunday, November 25, 2007

R is for Reality

Going home to Wisconsin always puts my head in a weird place. It's as though the further I drive into the state, the further from my real life I feel. The self who lived in that town, in that house, in that green and yellow bedroom, doesn't exist anymore, but the self I am now is someone no one there really knows.

What do you talk about with the people who remember your eighth birthday party but can't name three of your current best friends... the people who know how you earned the trophies and ribbons packed up in a box in your old room but couldn't really explain what you do from 8:00 to 5:00 each work day?

I'm sure my parents view me in a different light than they did ten years ago, five years ago, maybe even last year. I don't really know what they see, though. Are they worried that I'll never get married? Wondering if they'll ever have grandchildren? Just pondering what they did wrong that I ended up one of those bleeding heart liberals they're convinced is ruining the country? Or am I giving them not enough credit?--Do they look at me, assume that I'm happy, and figure that's all that matters? I hope it's the latter. I really don't know for sure.

My parents aren't the same people they were ten, five, or even one year ago, either. Each time I see them, they've picked up some new quirk. They're hoarders now, more than they ever were before. For my dad, it's videotapes and off-brand snack foods. For my mom, it's baskets and fake flowers. I can't explain either of those addictions, but I hope it's not hereditary.

Moreover, with each visit I just notice how much older they're getting. My parents are senior citizens now. They shuffle and hobble under aches and pains they would have shrugged off years ago. Scattered throughout their sadly unkempt house are prescription bottles and medical boxes and blood sugar meters. My mom retreats off to the kitchen to give herself an insulin shot. My dad curses that he's forgotten his pills again. My parents are the elderly couples on TV commercials, talking about the high cost of prescriptions in the US. I used to wonder why old people took so many drugs anyway; now I'm sure my parents could explain it to me.

I watched my mother on Thanksgiving, going through my grandma's bank statements and bills, writing out checks from my grandma's account and sliding them across the table for her to sign. And I realized it's only a matter of time before my sisters and I will need to do those same tasks ourselves. I worry lately that it will be sooner rather than later. I see adult children on TV and in movies, coming home to take care of their aging parents. For some reason I never made the connection that eventually that adult child would be me. I froze my parents in time when they were around 50, back when I first left home and went out on my own. Only recently have I really noticed how much they've continued to age since then.

Thinking about this suddenly made me fast-forward my own life. I'm not a worrier by nature, and I rarely give much thought to where I'll be any further than a few months from the present, but this weekend, I caught myself having a mild panic attack as I wondered what would become of me when I'm my grandma's age. Who's going to take me to the bank and the doctor's office? Who's going to decipher my bills for my no-longer-sharp mind? I have never been all that social with strangers, never felt the urge to befriend anyone more than ten years younger than I. I may have to fight that urge as I get older, might have to hope a nice young someone moves in next door and takes me into her life as though I'm a surrogate aunt.

These aren't the things I want to worry about, aren't the things I need to focus on quite yet, I know. But as I drove into Minnesota yesterday, closer and closer to the landmarks of my daily life, I didn't shake off the out-of-sorts feelings like I usually do. Hence, yesterday's late-night post of suckitude. Believe it or not, the "R" post you're reading now is one step chippier than the one I was writing before I posted that. At the moment, I'm really grateful for NaBloPoMo. I don't want this somber rambling to stay in top position for very long.

I shouldn't claim Thanksgiving weekend was all bad, though. In fact, perhaps now's a good time for a comparison sort of list.

The not-good: A dead iFraud just when I was in the mood for a little Lucy Kaplansky in my car.
The good: A fun no-iFraud-necessary road mix to keep me company while driving, courtesy of a friend with excellent taste in music. Also, finding This American Life (followed by Prairie Home Companion) on a Wisconsin Public Radio station on the way back.

The not-good: No pumpkin pie, stuffing, or proper wine. Instead, stale, freezer-burned apple pie from last year's church fundraiser, day-old KFC, and chilled Lambrusco.
The good: An excellent (and cheap!) meal at a new restaurant in Sheboygan with a high school friend. (Seriously--entree, wine, tax, and tip, all for less than $20. Can't get that in Minneapolis, I'll admit.)

The not-good: Bandaging up a nasty cut that my 96-year-old grandma didn't even notice she had.
The good: Realizing she still has a sense of humor, even if it doesn't come out much anymore. (I am still smiling at the way she said, "This chair puzzles me," and I'm sure my little sister is, too.)

The not-good: Futile conversations with my dad about politics. Biting my tongue as he proclaimed, "Rudy Giuliani is going to be the next president" and "Those damn Democrats are ruining the country." (Um, yeah, because they're the ones who've been in power the past eight years?)
The good: Realizing I'm not the only one from a mixed political family.

The not-good: Twiddling my thumbs in my parents' house most of the day Friday, for lack of anything better to do.
The good: Finally (finally, finally!) finishing that damn Calamity Physics book!! I knew I'd get through it eventually. Even if it did take me the better part of the year.

Let's bow our heads in thanks for that last one in particular. Goodbye and good riddance, I say.


steve said...

I strictly limit my parental holiday visits to 2 days, maximum. Cuts the thumb twiddling waaaay down.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy visiting my parents, but then they only live 45 minutes away, I see them all the time, and I only have to stop in for a few hours before I can head back to the city. I guess it also helps that my parents are crazy liberals like me.

Sorry your holiday was a suck-fest! But at least you finished your book.

Aaron said...

Yeah, that is grim. I try to live in a constant state of denial when it comes to my parents and the future. The last time it really got to me was when my grandmother passed away a few years ago and suddenly I started thinking a lot about my own parents' mortality, and how I don't really know them and how -- oh crap! -- I'm going to die to.

Family and holidays are a potent mix. They've destroyed lesser folks. I hope you're well on the road to recovery. :)

3carnations said...

My dad visited this year. I hadn't seen him in over 5 years. I definitely saw the difference in age from 5 years ago. Especially when we were helping him check in at the airport. It's funny how sometimes time does seem to freeze...and then it doesn't.

lizgwiz said...

When you need Lucy Kaplansky, you NEED Lucy Kaplansky! Damn iFraud!

I have many of the same fears you have. Probably a little more intently, actually...since I'm a few years further down that road than you. I guess we'll have to get all Blanche DuBois in our old age and "depend on the kindness of strangers." ;)

We managed not to touch on politics on Thanksgiving, thankfully. My neocon brother-in-law was in a mellow mood, I guess.

Poppy said...

You're from Wisconsin? I had no idea. I suddenly feel like I don't know you at all.

Next time insist on stuffing.

Jess said...

November will be gone before the alphabet is finished! Oh no! This is a crisis.

Anyway, I think you're handling all the messy stuff pretty well. My Thanksgiving wasn't particularly nice, either. But it makes it easier for it to end and for work to start again, at least.

VermontRockies said...

This is a chronic fear of mine as well. I'm with a man 17 years my senior and I have no plan to ever have children. My parents are divorced and rapidly aging, and my only sibling died last year. My dad was a Navy pilot when I was little so we moved a lot (a LOT), and I don't really have any close friends that go back to way back when.

Holidays always bring it out in me, as does illness and insomnia. There's nothing like the sound of a house at 3AM to get you worrying about who's going to be there for you in 40 or 50 years. And now I have to stop writing about this or the gloom is going to overtake me right here.

But hey! Congratulations on finishing that damned book!

The Other Girl said...

I'm in the same position, but further along, as I've been talking care of my parents (and now just my mom) for about ten years now, and it has occurred to me more than once that I'll have no one to do the same for me. I wish I had something encouraging to say, but there isn't anything really. Just practical advice: save as much money as you can and get good insurance.

L Sass said...

I noticed the same thing with my parents this weekend. They're only in their mid-50s, but my dad has a shorter temper and attention span than he used to. My mom, on the other hand, is more inclined to spend money and less worried about keeping to schedules and stuff, which is a positive.

Since I haven't lived at home full time in about nine years, these changes are much more shocking than I'd imagined. I guess it's more gradual for people who see their parents more frequently.

Also, if Rudy G. becomes president... god help us.

-R- said...

I left a comment, but it has gone missing. In summary, I freak out about my parents' aging too.

Anonymous said...

I'm from a mixed political family, too. And I also worry about my parents getting older, and I also have a love/hate relationship with going home. I want people from high school to see how happy I am, but I dread seeing anyone from high school.

-R- said...

PS I love your search engine activity for the day!

Stefanie said...

Steve--I never spend the whole long weekend there anymore, either. Why would I be bored there when I could be bored in my OWN house?

NPW--I know! Good riddance to Calamity Physics. I give thanks for that, anyway. (Seriously, it wasn't that terrible a book. It actually got pretty good towards the end, but it took WAY TOO LONG to get to that point.)

Aaron--Nothing wrong with living in a constant state of denial, I say.

3Cs--Oh my yes. Seeing my dad in restaurants is an eye-opener as well.

Liz--That's ALL we're going to take from Blanche DuBois, though, right?

Poppy--How did you not know I'm from Wisconsin?? Clearly you have not been doing a good job of memorizing everything I ever say. ;-)

Jess--Believe me, I'm as distraught as you that I won't get through the alphabet by the end of the month. Apparently not distraught enough to post multiple times a day to catch up, though.

VermontStefanie--You sure know how to kick a girl when she's down, don't you? ;-)

TOG--Yeah, long-term care insurance is a bargain if I get it now, isn't it?

L Sass--God help us indeed.

R--I hate when Blogger eats my comments. I assure you, I had nothing to do with it.

Noelle--Ha. I loved that last part. So true, so true. (I did not dread seeing the high school friend I had dinner with, but there are plenty of other people I would.)

Anonymous said...

Prolonged parent visits are tough and raise lots of issues, questions, and concerns. Don't worry, it's not just you, sweetie.

Michelle | Bleeding Espresso said...

I think we all have this thought process at some point. We just can't know what will happen over the next year or thirty, so there's really no need in worrying now.

I think of one family friend, Kitty, a woman who became like a mother to my mother and a grandmother to me. She lost her daughter and husband within the span of a few years back when she was only in her early 40s; then she met my mom about 20 years later and my mom ended up being the one taking care of everything for her before she passed away (a couple months ago)--but that's certainly nothing Kitty could've predicted even when she entered her 60s.

They brought a lot into each others' lives, and I have to believe that the universe works like that in general--giving us what we need when we need it.

Anonymous said...

MAN. Your thanksgiving WAS a total suck-fest. I am sorry. However, BRAVO for finishing Calamity Physics! Woo!

Poppy said...

We've never fought over the color of cheddar cheese, so it never occurred to me to absorb that detail. Hmm.