The Parental "Conversation"

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This seems to be the year for parent-issues. Last weekend we drove to Los Angeles to celebrate a parental 70th anniversary–my in-laws'. Also on the agenda was discussing with them their opportunity to make a decision to move into an independent living apartment before the need to move into assisted living is forced upon them.

No matter that the anniversary party was supposed to be festive, because as soon as their third-born blasted in and discovered lunch wouldn't be for two hours, 90 minutes at best, not a shred of peace remained.

Mom said, "I love it when you come, but I love it more when you leave."

In other words, there was no reason not to tackle the difficult conversation we'd rehearsed. Yes, on the way to their house, Ellen and I bought a super-sized courage-producing beverage to pass back and forth as we role-played possible scenarios while stopped next to a park a few blocks away. Feeling we had several approaches at-the-ready by the time the bottle was empty, we arrived with calm confidence that lasted all the way into the kitchen.

We set up a long table in the living room, with table cloth, plates, plastic ware and paper cups all in silver. It was the loveliest 100% disposable layout I'd ever seen. The deli tray and salads were carried in and the party was joined. Somewhere between my getting but half of the only vegetarian sandwich on the party platter and later sitting on my hotel bed eating pistachios, I suppose "the conversation" took place. It was a blur from the moment we sat down at the table till it was over. Till now, actually.

My older brother-in-law provided soft drinks whose meaning was immediately clear around the table–too soft to support ordinary family dynamics, let alone talk of nursing homes and dying. Ellen retrieved a half jug of wine from the cooler in our car. Salads were passed. Comments were made about roast beef. My younger brother-in-law took his family home as soon as the plates were cleared.

The much-planned-for family photo was not taken. We'd hauled the tripod 500 miles for nothing. In fact, no pictures were taken that included Dad except for the back of his head. The never-still children were blurry. Mom looked angry. Or was she exhausted by our presence? (Of course, there's never a photo record that I make any of these family trips, since I'm usually behind the camera!)

Professional colleagues I lunched with yesterday confessed to the same strains on their parental relationships. We're all having "the conversation." One's mother said, "I want you to move back to New Jersey so you can take care of me." He asked us, "What am I supposed to do, wipe her butt?" Another confessed the only way she'd gotten her mother to put the house on the market was to tell her, "When you're sitting there in diapers, I'm not coming over to change them!"

It's been stressful over the last few months while researching options the parents asked us to help with to figure out ways to engage in dialogue once Mom flip-flopped and said she wasn't leaving her house. She declared that the end of the conversation we're continuing at the risk of her affection and her faith in our affections. We know Mom will leave the house, one way or the other, as will Dad. We'd prefer they walk out together.

Meanwhile, they'll be here in a week, and we've arranged lunch at an independent living complex.

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