April 16, 2012: Card Sharp

Today, I got called to the principal’s office. Sort of.

Twelve months ago, I enrolled my parents in a twice-weekly adult day care program. It’s the best of these types of programs in town—none of the old folks enrolled here is allowed to just sit around; they have either to be in a class, a discussion group, or in the main room taking part in a group activity. I had to perform acts of god to get my parents enrolled, then sat on a waiting list for a thousand days, but it was worth it—this place is great. (And rare. When I was shopping for an adult day care, most of the facilities I visited were grey and depressing: old people asleep in front of jigsaw puzzles, or sitting in wheelchairs in front of an ancient TV; the “staff” over in the corner, gossiping and counting the minutes until their next smoke break.)

Last week I received a form in the mail, requesting my presence at a conference with the day care staff to discuss my parents’ continued participation at the facility. I was nervous. Had my father rolled his eyes once too often? Had my mother cheated at shuffle board?

I arrived late. One of the nice hillbillies that live across the street from my parents positioned himself between me and my car as I was trying to leave for my appointment; he wanted to know how I felt about the new family of Mexicans who’d moved in down the block. I assured him that I didn’t know them, and that I generally liked Mexicans very much and that one of my nephews was one, in fact, which was the wrong thing to say, because then Hank or Chuck or Merv or whatever his name was tried to backpedal and assure me that he, too, liked “brown people of all types” even when they “had tamale fries and blasted mariachi music all damn night.”

So I got to the day care at ten after the hour to discover that the assessment of my parents had already begun, in a teeny room into which five people had wedged themselves onto folding chairs. Flustered by my own tardiness and angry at the memory of the bigoted neighbor, I began defending my parents before I’d even sat down.

“I’m still thrilled you let Mom and Dad come here,” I began. “They really do like this place, and aside from doctor appointments and once or twice a year when one of my siblings takes them to a family function—only the ones where there’s going to be a crowd, because my sister doesn’t like to play caregiver to a half-empty house—it’s the only time they get to go anywhere. My dad likes his ceramics class, and Mom loves the tai chi, and those singalongs you do—boy! Dad’s still talking about the bazooki player you had in February! Why, just this morning, while Mom and I were playing Gin Rummy—”

Terry, the nurse, held up her hand to make me stop talking. “Your mother plays Gin Rummy?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Every morning. She usually wins, too. Why?”

All five of them exchanged glances—I saw concern; shock; disbelief. Oh, no. I thought. Is this place run by some Christian group that forbids gambling? Now that I think of it, no one is ever playing Bingo when I’ve dropped in. God! Did I just get my parents evicted from this program on a pinochle charge?

It turns out that the meeting was a state-mandated assessment that all caregivers must attend every 12 months—a sort of parent-teacher conference where the parent is the child of someone who’s pushing 100 and the teacher is an RN wearing garish scrubs printed with dozens of little Homer Simpsons. And the staff was surprised to hear that my mother likes Gin Rummy because she never joins in at the card table with the other old ladies.

“I’ll have to challenge her to a hand of Gin,” said Ann, the nice woman who runs the place.

“Be careful,” I warned her. “Mom’ll beat your pants off.”


Thing I Hate Today: Racial profiling.


One Response

  1. those pesky brown people… how dare they celebrate life (e.g. enjoy food and music), right down the street from ‘regular’ people!!

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