The Pressures of Caring / When Parents and Children Need Help

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“Jim, here it is, 219.”

The short balding man caught up with her and put their suitcases down. “That’s it, all right, Got the key?”

“Right here.” She slipped the plastic card into the slot, pushed the handle down when the green light flashed and stepped into the room.

“Look at this, will you. The clerk said this was one of their better rooms, and he was right.” The woman took off her coat and laid it over a chair, then sat down on the bed and gave it the bounce test. “Bed’s a little firm, but that’s to be expected. They don’t buy springs and mattresses that’ll wear out fast.”

“Where do you want the suitcases, Lois?”“Over there. Put mine on the credenza and yours on the luggage rack, unless you’d rather have yours up higher.”

“Nope, it’s okay.”

“By the way, where’s my cosmetic case? I’ll bet that didn’t get brought in.”

“No, I suppose it didn’t, so guess whose fault that would be? And while we’re fixing blame, where’s my garment bag?”

“Keeping company with my make-up, I suppose. They must both still be in the car.”

“Well, someone will just have to go down and get them then.” He held up a hand in mock protest. “No, don’t bother. I’ll be right back . . . unless I get a better offer, that is.”

His wife smiled. “See you in a few minutes.” When the door closed she took a good look around the room. The varied shades of green produced the same effect Spring always had on her, the notion that anything seemed possible.

Lois inspected the closet and then the bathroom, stopping to gaze in the mirror and study what others saw – a middle-aged woman with brown wavy hair, a bit past her prime. Her body still resembled the figure that used to turn heads but each part now was a few sizes larger. Three children and time had caught up with her. To escape those thoughts she looked around the bathroom again. It was large with a lime-colored toilet, a tub to match and a pulsating showerhead.

Returning to the bedroom, Lois opened the drapes of the single window that spanned the rear wall, hoping to see trees and more green. She wasn’t disappointed. Next she sat in an armchair near the small desk and stared out at the dusky sky for a moment, then closed her eyes.

“So, you get to rest while I do all the work, is that it?” Jim said as he came back into the room. “I don’t remember that being in the marriage contract. I remember ‘for better or worse’ but that’s about it.” He sat the cosmetic carrier down beside his wife’s suitcase, went over to the closet and hung up his garment bag.

“Well, this is the better part, right here,” Lois said, laughing, “and you get the worse.“

“Nothing’s changed then, has it? Thirty-two years of marriage and nothing’s changed.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Melissa just got married. That seems like a big change to me.”

“Yeah, if it stays that way,” he said, recalling their first daughter’s marriage and eventual divorce, Marci and a four year old grandson ended up living with them for two years. He began to pace around the room.

“I know, Jim, but she’s older now and settled, and Scooter’s doing fine, so it all worked out.”

“Just the same, sometimes I think staying single is the way to go. Look at Mark, a good job and a big-city apartment all to himself.”

“My, aren’t we bitter? Maybe you’re sorry you got married. Sounds like pure hell to me.”

“Oh, Lois, you know what I mean. We’ve had our good times, especially early on, but lately it’s been all responsibility and no fun. Just when we think we’ve got our heads above water financially and everything seems under control the next crisis hits, and it’s always somebody else’s problems we have to help solve.”

“I know it’s been hard, Jim, it has. But I’m not sure we had much of a choice. Which one of our children would you rather hadn’t been born? Or maybe kicking them out of the house every time their lives took a wrong turn would be more to your liking.”

“You know I would never do that. They’ll good kids, all of them. It’s just that it ought to be our turn now. We’re not getting any younger, you know. At my age I only have a handful of earning years left, if the job market holds up. The next recession might be just around the corner.”

“Jim, fifty-four isn’t old. Why, these days that’s scarcely middle-aged. There are some women not much younger than I am having babies, for crying out loud, thanks to those fertility drugs.”

“Hey, don’t get any ideas. Three strikes and we’re out. Let the visiting team go to bat for a while.”

“Funny, you never objected to making love when we were younger, even if it did mean producing a new little Nelson every three years or so. And besides, after a lot of headaches and grumpy spells I think I’m finally on the downhill side of menopause, especially now that I’m taking those supplements regularly. They say the best is yet to come. Wasn’t sex without fear of pregnancy supposed to liberate people our age?”

“Yeah, if we ever get back to it. I almost can’t remember the last time we fooled around.”

“I can. It was nice.” Lois got up from the armchair and went over to hug her husband. “Things will work out, you’ll see. We just need a little time and a break from the routine. I think that’s one reason the kids gave us this trip.”

“Oh, really? I thought it was just so we could visit DisneyWorld and send Scooter a set of mouse ears.”

From the twinkle in his eyes she knew he was kidding. “We have other options, Jim. Just think. We have this wonderful room all to ourselves and we can go lots of places in only a half day’s drive, even Weeki Wachi Springs to let you can gawk at the mermaids,”

“I guess you’re right,” Jim said. “I suppose it would be all right to enjoy ourselves, at least a little.”

“Now you’re talking. So let’s make a plan. Did you bring in the tour book and the map?”

“Right there in my suitcase.” As he went to fetch them the phone rang.

“Hello, Jim Nelson here. Oh, hi Mom. Where are you?” As he listened he covered the receiver and whispered, “They’re home.”

“Well, we’re glad you had a good drive back after the wedding. Sure, we got in all right too. The plane landed about five-thirty and by the time we got our luggage and picked up the rental car it was almost six. . . What’s that?. . . No, we checked in about seven. . .Yes, it’s really nice. Marci and Mark did a good job picking out this place. And how’s dad?”

There was silence for the next minute. Then Jim said, “Well, sure, I’ll say hello. Put him on.” He waited again while the phone changed hands. “Hi, Dad. How was traffic? . . . That bad, huh? Mom must have been a nervous wreck.” More waiting. “Yes, I know Mom can get riled up. How’s she doing, feeling all right? Well, that’s good. I was wondering if she got tired, riding all the way from Atlanta to Peachtree City in one stretch.”

He listened some more before interrupting. “But has she been getting enough rest? Her doctors said that’s still really important.” He waited again. “I know, I know she says she’s all right, but I still worry about her. Listen, put Mom on again so I can say good-bye.” Once she was back he brought things to a close. “Mom, take good care of yourself. Be sure to get lots of rest, like the doctor said. Weddings are tiring, you know.” He listened again. “Of course I’ll do the same. We’re settled in for a whole week just to relax . . . Lois says hi and sends her love. Me too. I’ll call you when we get back home. Bye, Mom.”

“That sounded nice.”

“I guess so. I’m just glad they got home safe and sound. Dad’s driving days are numbered and you know what they say about older people. Their reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and when they go somewhere they just aim the car and drive from one point to another without much thought for what might be in their way.”

“Well, it was nice of them to call. Your mom’s doing all right, from the sound of things?”

“I guess, but did you notice how thin and tired she looked at the wedding? I’m just afraid the cancer will come back. Surgery seems to have done the trick, but you never know for sure.”

“Jim, you’ve certainly been there for her when she needed support, and you still are.”

“Right. I just feel so helpless sometimes, not being able to make it all go away. It seems when you get older something’s always going wrong. I wish things were better for them.”

“At least they have your dad’s pension and good medical coverage, and you visit them whenever you can. That’s got to count for something.”

“I guess it could be worse. Still, some days I feel like an old car in a junkyard about to be crushed. First our kids and their troubles push at us from one side, then our folks problems crowd in from the other. Remember that week we spent with your Mom, how it took us three days just to clean the place and twice as long after that to recover?”

“Yes. I couldn’t believe the mess. Mom’s always been such a terrific housekeeper. I think Dad’s condition has taken a toll on them both, and her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. It just isn’t like her to let things get so bad. If it hadn’t been for us . . . “

"That’s my point. Your brother’s too far away, so he can’t be there to take care of all the details. That leaves you and me.”

“Which reminds me, I’d better call Mom right now. She’ll be wondering if we got in all right.” She went to the phone and dialed. It took seven rings to get an answer.

“Hi, Mom, it’s me – Lois.” She tried again, louder this time. “It’s Lois. I’m calling from Orlando . . . That’s right, in Florida. We flew here right after the wedding. Remember we told you we were doing that?” She paused to listen, “So, how was dad today? Did you go over to see him at the home?. . . Good.”

“No, I’m not surprised he didn’t seem to know you at first. The doctor said he’ll get more confused as time goes on . . .What? Of course I know how long you’ve been married. But Mom, he’s got a disease. Parts of his brain just aren’t working well any more.”

She paused for a long time and tears came. Her husband walked to the far side of the room, emptied his pants pockets onto a nightstand and sat down on the bed. He put his wallet, keys and comb next to each other and then shifted their locations time and again as if it were some kind of shell game.

“Mom, sometimes Dad will know you and other times he won’t . . . Yes, I realize it’s hard to see him like that . . . Of course, I wish he would get better too.” She stopped to let her thoughts catch up with her feelings. “Mom, Mom . . . listen to me. He’s not going to get better.” This time tears flooded her cheeks. “He’s only going to get worse. Don’t you understand?”

Jim got up, came around behind her and laid a hand on each shoulder as she continued. “Mom, I’m glad you get to see him, but maybe it would be better if you didn’t go every day. Perhaps one of your friends could give you a ride now and then or take you out for lunch, maybe even go shopping. Doing something nice for yourself might make visiting him a little easier. Listen, Mom, I need to hang up now. Jim says hello. We’ll be back next Saturday and I’ll call you then . . . No, I won’t forget. Good night, Mom.”

Lois hung up, stricken. Jim sat down beside her and took her hand while she laid her head on his shoulder and let the sobs come. Once the outburst ended he handed her a few tissues from a box on the desk. She dabbed at her eyes and said, “So much for quality time alone, huh“

“Who says this isn’t quality time? Heck, we haven’t been this close to each other since we sold the VW Beetle.” Then, in a softer tone he added, “I’m really sorry about your folks, hon. I wish we could fix things for them too, but we just can’t. Visiting, doing a little housework now and then, and helping with the cost of your dad’s care is the best we can do.”

“You’re right. We just have to love our parents and be there for them when we can, even if it doesn’t seem like enough.”

“And as for our kids,” Jim added, “they’re adults now. They need to live their own lives while we live ours. It’s got to be all right to take some time just for us.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m going to go wash my face and put on some new makeup.” When she came back, Jim was ready with an idea.

“Listen, before the next crisis hits I suggest we find a good place to eat, and I don’t mean fast food. How about a steakhouse or some fancy restaurant with candles, table linens and a special menu? Maybe that crush of responsibility I talked about will ease up some if we just go out for a while and have ourselves a good time.”

“Now you’re talking,” Lois said. “Last one to the car pays for dinner.”

[Excerpted from Room 219, a published novella [CreateSpace / Amazon.com / Barnes & Noble.com]

© 2008 Bear Tales

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