Parenting the parents

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

I love to study social behavior. Well, not in a strictly academic way, but definitely with an anecdotal group.

My latest social behavior study involves my two sons and their attempts to parent the parents.

In case they read this, let me make something absolutely clear: I am so happy and give thanks every night that they care enough to want Neville and me around as long as possible. I understand that there are those parents out there who hear very little from their children. I could not live with the broken heart that would cause me.

So, thank you.

It began very early for us because our younger son and family are on the front-end of COVID-19 as they live in Seattle. They were weeks ahead in dealing with the pandemic, and they began preparing us early. We had our toilet paper and paper towels before the rush began. With two trips planned for early March, one to Nashville and from there to Seattle, the instructions began in earnest early.

My two sons are very different, but their messaging on this topic was in sync. Prepare to stay home. Cancel your flights. Get some masks. To their father, they always added the caveat: Make mom behave herself.

Evidently my reputation for misbehaving is legendary within the family unit. I honestly think the boys had visions of me finding a cheap price on a cabin, cheap flight to Florida and taking off on a cruising adventure.

OK, perhaps they have a few unconfirmed incidents to back up their fears, but, luckily, I got the message even before those options were officially impossible. Still, I know they both breathed a sigh of relief when cruise ships were shuttered.

All agreed I could go to Nashville for a week the first of March. The Nashville family were already working from home, given the first outbreaks in Tennessee were in their county. My grandson King was home from school with thoughts even then that his preschool wouldn’t resume after spring break.

The instructions I got for the three-hour drive from Knoxville to Trey’s house were to-the-point: Let Dad fill up your car, and tell him not to touch the gas pump. Go to the bathroom before you leave, and don’t stop anywhere until you get to our driveway. No drive-through. No gas stations. No rest areas.

Once safely at their house, I stayed in. My grandson kept me thoroughly entertained, so it was no problem. We did take one ride on the golf cart around the block.

In Seattle, they also put together a plan to monitor our mental health. We have had Facetime phone calls with the grandchildren. We had a Nashville/Knoxville/Seattle family happy hour. We were included in a terrific neighborhood Easter Zoom party, where I got to visit with some of the Seattle friends of theirs I have come to love.

Where I normally am the one initiating the phone calls to the sons (the daughters-in-law are much better about checking in), suddenly I am seeing “Trey” and “Brett” pop up on the caller-id. The conversations always ask how I am doing/feeling, and always a suspicious: “So, did you go anywhere today?”

I have tried to make their parenting-the-parent duties as easy as possible. I can be mildly reckless “for a woman my age” sometimes, but I’m not stupid. I do occasionally feel a great identification with the Facebook sign that read: “I feel like I’m 16. Gas is cheap, and I’m grounded!”

But then the messenger will ding with a “checking on you” text from Cohen, age 14. And later, a video chat with Gardner, age 3, who has finally decided that talking to me is more fun than pushing the button that cuts us off.

And King, age 5 and a master of disguises, has had “Mickey Mouse” call me several times in a voice that sounds a little like Mickey and a lot like King, to tell me that his “ships will be sailing again” and “You’re invited to come and bring your grandsons to sail the HIGH SEA.”

Blessings all around. Even if I’m grounded.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.


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