My mother is visiting. I picked her up at the airport yesterday. Difficulties.
My mother has resolutely refused to admit new technology into her life. She doesn’t use a computer. She may still call refrigerators, “iceboxes.” Most importantly, given air travel in the 21st century, no cellphone.
Imagine now that planes are severely delayed coming out of Santa Barbara. Two hours or more. Imagine flight changes. A daughter, due to pick her mother up at San Francisco Airport, checks the Internet and sees the delays. It’s the 21st century, right? But can’t reach her mother to confirm the schedule. No cellphone, right? The daughter plays it safe, assumes her mother is on an earlier plane, and sets off to begin circling the airport, waiting for her mother to emerge.
The mother thought she was being met inside. The daughter was sure the mother would come out. They were both wrong.
Now, the mother had, in fact, called her daughter’s house, her other daughter’s house, and her own house, leaving messages with new schedule information. Answering machines having made the list of sanctioned technology. She used the payphone at the Santa Barbara Airport. None of us were home. We were all out with our cellphone. The mother doesn’t remember any cellphone numbers. Because cellphones, let us imagine, shouldn’t exist.
But, because they do exist, nobody answers landlines at airports anymore. White courtesy phones, gone. (Why were they white?) Nobody, certainly not me, circling the airport for an hour or so, not knowing what flight my mother was on, nor whether she had arrived, can find even one person to talk to. A person who might look for a well-turned out 77-year old woman, standing alone, with her suitcase. A person who might find that woman, take her out to the curb, to wait. For the circling daughter.
I didn’t mind circling. That’s not the issue. I just hated the thought of my cheerful, elegant mother, waiting for an hour with no way to know, was I ever coming to get her?
When I finally got the calls from my sister and my mother’s husband, both of whom came home to landlines at the same time to find my mother’s voice messages, I left my car at the curb, grabbed my bag, ran inside, and raced frantically up and down through 6 baggage claims, hoping that the overly zealous airport security staff would turn a blind eye to my illegal parking. I found my small mother. She was well-dressed, as always. Her new traveling outfit, as she explained to me later. A dark knit tunic and pants. A cropped kimono style cashmere sweater in pistachio. Gold necklace and matching bracelet, modern, clean lines. Swedish gold earrings that look like models of buildings seen from the air. Comfortable shoes. Even Grandes Dames sometimes concede to their feet.
Her feet were fine. No hair out of place. But she was shaken.
I have vowed, silently and out loud, never to be the kind of person who mutters, in a cranky, querulous tone, “The world is going to hell in a hand-basket…” The grumbling woman. How then to avoid her? My mother has great style. Great attitude. She’s more elegant on a bad day than most of us are at our best. Always cheerful. Continued contribution to society.
But she has chosen to avoid a new set of tools while the world’s processes have evolved assuming those tools would be in place. It seemed like a small thing, originally. Why learn to use a computer? She didn’t work in an office. Maybe *Not Grumbling* isn’t quite enough.
Research has shown that learning is difficult as you age because short-term memory declines, along with patience and ability to tolerate frustration. That’s where “hell in a hand-basket” comes from.
The world is going where we cannot. So we insult its voyage.
Aging is no different than living. It’s tough to balance the desire to keep trying, to be brave and fly alone, against the need to learn new, boring, annoying stuff. Tough to know when to push on, in the self-help, be-all-you-can-be mode, and when to make peace, to accept limitations that won’t yield even to optimism or style. Everything I say is true as I know it. I do not know if it matters.