Aging Parents

Post-Election Update

On the saga of my new smartphone: I finally gave up on the beyond-provincial cell phone store in the village and bought my new toy in New York. After ditzing around for days with the girls in the office here, who had never heard of this particular phone, even though Telcel clearly says they carry them, I figured it would cost less and be much simpler back in the Ancestral Homeland.  Back there, acquisition of new material objects has been elevated to the highest art. Indeed it was just so much easier to call one of the big electronics stores and say “here’s my credit card number, have an unblocked, international model waiting for me when I fly in” which they most efficiently did. I got it up and running in a trice. It is hugely fun and though there is no way I can justify needing to own so much technology now that I am no longer working, the stoop has been worthy of the conquest: in short, I don’t care!

After I brought it home, we did go in to Guadalajara to a big Client Service Center and had them update my records and put a new Telcel SIM card into it, since apparently the chip that was in my old phone was an antique and the new device requires more current technology. And we just learned that in the “progress in Mexico” department, they are opening a new Client Service Center right here in town, so those treks into Guadalajara to straighten out our bills, deal with our monthly billing plans, etc., (which always involved a trip to a mall and a bunch of unnecessary but amusing shopping!) will cease and we will be able to take care of all those things now five minutes away from our house. This will be a huge convenience to everyone around here, especially the expat community.

On the arts front, Baby Carlos turned out to be decidedly NOT interested in violin lessons. After a huge effort to get him and his mother to the town auditorium where the children’s orchestra was practicing and lessons are given, he met a violin teacher, and saw a couple of kids playing various instruments. But in fact he was far more interested in playing on the stair banisters and running around the corridors. To further the musical analogy, it reminded me of the last act of Wozzeck where the little kid is intently playing on his hobby horse, indifferent to the fact that his mother has just been killed. However, it turns out that in his pre-school there is a brand-new Tae Kwan Do class being offered, and he seems to love that and have aptitude for it, so maybe we’ll see how that progresses. He is of course awfully young – we decided we would try the idea of music lessons again perhaps in a year or two.

My excuse for not writing for awhile: We were in New Orleans for a few days to celebrate my uncle’s 90th birthday. My sister flew in too and it was wonderful to see not only my uncle but my aunt, who is also in terrific shape for her age and all of us young ‘uns (in our fifties and sixties) kept saying over and over that they are our role models for aging, for sure. Active, engaged, still traveling and enjoying their family. It was a great reminder to us that some of my own parents’ awful decline and fall was as a result of choices they both made throughout their lives – painful to acknowledge that but it’s true. Too many pills, refusal to exercise, being unwilling to question and challenge overworked and indifferent doctors who were prescribing this or that medication or treatment or surgery, for decades.

While we were occupied with eating beignets and anything else NOLA could offer us that we could cram down our carbohydrate-starved gullets, back home in Mexico the elections resulted (no big surprise) in the election of the young, fabulously handsome, and telegenic – as they say – Enrique Peña Nieto. There have been all kinds of commentaries on the re-emergence of the PRI in Mexico, ranging from “they’re the same old corrupt bums they always were, they haven’t changed, they will just rob us blind” to a more nuanced “Well, we are ready for a change and hopefully he can do something to move Mexico forward and bring some peace back to our cities and towns”. There probably really was a ton of voter fraud – as Peña’s rival Andres Lopez Obrador alleges – but I also think that people nowadays, in every part of the world, are just so susceptible to the superficial that if someone’s THAT handsome and married to someone THAT gorgeous, they can pretty well count on being elected even if they haven’t a brain in their head. Clearly, Peña is no intellectual, but I’m hoping this turns out to be one of those McLuhanesque “Medium is the Message” kind of situations where what people wanted was – as was the case with Obama in so many ways, someone who LOOKS fresh and young, even if at the end of the day he will be facing the same stalemates in actually getting legislation passed that his U.S. counterparts have. Let’s just hope that the people behind him pulling the strings (NOT Salinas, por favor) do have some brains and are trying to figure out, however complicated it is, what might actually be good for the country and its people.

But here, in Chapala, it’s still PAN country and as I write this there is a monster PAN victory party with an enormous band, going on up at the evento place a block away, with the amplifiers and speakers turned up to “window-rattling”. The fiesta is celebrating the election of our new PAN municipal president. It probably is a good thing; most of the Mexicans I know think the last PRI guy who was president of the municipality stole every peso he could get his hands on and handed out favors like they were cascarones, those eggs filled with confetti that you break on peoples’ heads.

In any event, I suspect it’s going to be a long, noisy night – we may as well get the earplugs out now. It reminds me of a telephone call I made to the local constabulary several years ago to complain – at 2 a.m. and after hours of incessant party racket, about the noise. “HOW long is this going to go on?” I demanded, in exasperation, of the young policewoman who answered the phone. “Well, señora, they have a permiso for a party (permit) until 3 A.M.” “How is it possible, I railed on, abandoning utterly my usual attempts at cultural sensitivity (mostly because I was sleep-deprived and beyond annoyed at that hour), “for the gobierno (the government) to issue a permit for a noisy party that is keeping several neighborhoods around here awake, until 3 a.m.?” She answered me patiently, as if she were speaking to a young child, “Señora, this party is being THROWN by the gobierno, all the important officials are there. It is a fiesta to present the queens for the annual Independence Day parade and celebration in September.” I felt another piece of my American sensibility sort of crack quietly within….and I just surrendered at that point. Since then, I haven’t called the police station in the village very much. For sure, I won’t be calling them tonight!

Cuatro, Count ’em, Cuatro, Gatos

My poor mother continues her slow, inexorable decline. Thankfully, she appears not to be in pain, and her care is fantastic, so all we can do is keep her comfortable and hope that when the end does come, that she does not suffer. I figure, as the dutiful oldest daughter, that it is my job, in addition to helping to manage her care, to honor whatever promises I might have made to her along the way.

Aside from saying to friends and family that I would love to scatter her ashes at Saks Fifth Avenue (or at least a portion thereof), which is just the perfect ending for her, last year, after my father died,  in one of her more conscious moments we talked about the fate of their two beloved cats, Luigi and Tabitha. And in a moment of what was probably terminal weakness, I said quite clearly, “Don’t worry about the kitties, Mom. If anything happens to you, Arnold and I will take them and make sure they stay together with us.” It made sense then and it makes sense now, sentimentality aside, because our local shelters here are full of cats and kittens in desperate need of homes, and anyone who would be willing to adopt two older cats needs to be looking there first, I would submit.

Both my parents’ cats were adopted years ago from two different shelters in Santa Fe. To avoid territory battles, we arranged to bring them to my parents’ house at the exact same hour on the same day. I had read somewhere that doing it that way was a good idea, and at least in our case, it was. The two never fought, bonded immediately, and several years later came down to Mexico with my parents on the plane to Guadalajara when we finally pried them out of their too-big, too-unmanageable, Santa Fe house for what they thought was just the winter, but we knew it was probably for good. I wasn’t on that trip; I stayed behind to make sure their rented house here was ready for them upon their arrival.

But Arnold headed north and helped my sister Wendy to close up their house and bring them all down. He described to me the Peter-and-The Wolf parade through two airports and customs, with him managing the two terrified cats in their airline-approved carriers, plus all their cross border veterinary certificates for entry into Mexico (we called the documents their PussPorts). In addition dealing with my octogenarian parents in wheelchairs, (one with diabetes, incontinence, and emphysema, and the other with dementia) their caregiver also wrangled enough portable oxygen tanks for the plane ride and extra tanks, oxygen, and diabetic-friendly food for any unforeseen delays in the airport (for my mother) and their luggage. The two kitties then enjoyed six months of being with both my parents before my dad passed away, but now that my mother is past the point of being able to even pet them, the moment had come, a week ago, for me to say to José, “We’re in town for awhile, maybe this is the best time for us to bring them over to our house”. This we did, about a week ago. And, as we say in my ethnic group, oy gevalt.

Our own two cats – females who have been the queens of the roost for years – reacted as predicted to the interlopers’ arrival with regular bouts of growling, flattened ears, bared teeth, and bushed-out tails. They continue to escape with much snarling to wherever they can hide out to be out of the way of the two intruders whenever and wherever they happen to come upon them in the house. Since we brought them to our house a week ago, we have developed an elaborate system of feeding them all separately so things don’t get worse; and keeping them all straight proved complicated enough so that I began referring to them as Group 1 – our original two, Rosina and Missoni, and Group 2 – the parental cats, Luigi and Tabitha. We feed Group 1 where we always have, in the lavanderia (laundry area) along with Reina, the dog.  Group 2 gets fed upstairs in the bathroom where they also get locked up at night with their own cat box and water, so as not to invade Group 1’s nocturnal territory, namely our bed.

Someone told us that it takes ten weeks for cats to get used to each other. My recollection was that Rosie took a lot longer than that to get used to Missoni when she arrived, but the good news is that after however long it took, those two are now bosom buddies who sleep curled up together, lick each other and all that good stuff. Now their sisterhood has become a matter of Group 1 school spirit, I think. “We have to stick together, girlfriend, look at what these dreadful humans have visited upon us NOW”.

Meanwhile Luigi and Tabitha (Group 2) are having the time of their lives. I do believe cats are incredibly sensitive creatures, and they knew it when my dad died, and they sensed that my mother was gradually failing and no longer able to even interact with them. José and Sandra did their best to give them attention and affection but Wendy, Arnold and I noticed that they were spending most of their time hiding in a closet at my mother’s house as she lies sleeping more or less permanently in her rented hospital bed. Undoubtedly, both of them were suffering from major kitty depression. So getting them out of there had become a priority. Now, across town at our place, even though they have two other cats hissing at them all the time (and we keep telling them “this too shall pass”), if nothing else, it’s a little livelier for them. We are spending lots of time petting them and interacting with them and they are just loving the attention – purring, nuzzling us, wanting to sleep on our bed with us. This is not allowed yet because it would cause the Third World War but I told Wendy “the second I see all four of them on the bed together – which might be six months from now, god only knows, we can stop closing Group 2 up in the bathroom at night.” Reina is just doing the doggie equivalent of rolling her eyes and saying “good grief, more cats.” But she’s fine and Group 2, at first terrified of her, are already able to be near her without undue concern.

So the games have begun! I am sending my sister periodic status reports : “7 p.m. Report: Luigi stretched out under the table, Tabitha warily perched on one of the dining room chairs,  Missoni grooming herself on top of the bookcase but taking it all in, Rosina watching with flattened ears from a safe vantage point on top of the desk. Broke up major hissfest ten minutes ago but all calm now. Am standing here with squirt bottle at the ready but need to fix dinner & must put squirt bottle down, Pray for Peace”.  My sister is the worst of the multi-cat suckers, however. Ten years ago she agreed to foster a litter of kittens for her local shelter and when it came time to give them up for adoption she couldn’t bear to do it. So she has five huge tabby cats (I think it’s five, there were some other strays involved in her household and I sort of lost count).

Never in my life did I think I would end up with four, count ‘em, four, cats. Much as I love them. One of my friends commented that it’s verging on weird-hoarding-lady stuff to have four cats and a dog. Arnold just sighs and says, as he opens a can of cat food, “Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.”

And so back to spray bottle duty.  Adelante.