Standing On A Chair

Telling it like I see it…

Rants from the Chair: On Prying the Car Keys Out of My Mother’s Tightly Clenched Fist

Whenever people tell me that when it came time for their elderly parent(s) to stop driving, and I hear them say the “Ancient Beings” willingly handed over their keys with a smile, I want to lunge at them and strangle their throats.

Because for me, it was a nightmare that went on for more than fifteen years.

It all started back in 1992, when my mother experienced her first stroke.  There were no obvious outward signs, but the doctor claimed her cognitive abilities and her optic nerve were particularly affected, so he temporarily grounded her.  Mind you, at that time my mother was an active, highly productive widow-woman who had barely just turned 70 years old.  We’re talking golf, Bridge, Poker, University of Florida Lady Gator Golf Boosters, socializing at the Country Club, maintaining her big house, volunteering at the hospital, and being a pretty awesome mother and grandmother.

So during that brief time when she couldn’t drive, her whole world crashed down upon her.  I kept her refrigerator full and ran her errands.  Luckily, the doctor cleared her a month later, and she could resume all her normal activities.  We were so relieved, it seemed she’d completely recovered and would be her old self again.

But one day soon thereafter, when she almost killed the both of us, I suddenly realized she was definitely not her old self again.

What happened was, my car was in the shop, and I needed Mom to drive me from the dealership to the rental car agency, probably about a mile.  We were waiting to turn left into the agency, which was on a busy four-lane street.  There was no light, so we waited for a gap in the oncoming traffic going the opposite direction.  Where it all went wrong was that my mother chose to make the turn when there was not a gap, and she did it at a slow crawl while I, sitting shotgun, gaped in terror as I watched the wall of cars barrel toward me like a tsunami.

I’m sure it was the Hand O’ God that saved our lives that day.  And although physically unscathed by the incident, my psyche still rattles around from it on occasion.

So I vowed never to be driven anywhere by her again, and I forbade my almost-sixteen-year-old daughter to ever get into a car with her from that point on.

And then I began my long odyssey through the battle zone, a mine field called “Give Up Your Goddamn Car Keys Mother!”

My mission started out slowly and subtly, with gentle prodding and pleas, but she was just so active and so to stop the argument, I would occasionally retreat into the Land O’ Denial right along with her, and get on about my own concerns, like working and raising a teenager.

But as time went by, she had more mini-strokes, had trouble walking, had poor and worsening eyesight, was falling down quite frequently, and just showed an overall decline that I found scary. 

“But by damn I can still drive Jill!  I’m very careful, I go slowly, and I never make any left turns, so LEAVE ME ALONE!!!”

My concern only continued to grow, and in a weak moment I asked my older brother, who lives very far away, to help me convince our mother to give up her keys. 

“She won’t listen to me,” I told him.  “Maybe you can convince her to stop driving?  The Toyota looks like the  Demolition Derby for God’s sake!  She is not only going to kill herself, she’s going to take out a family of children with her.  I just know it.”

His answer?  “I’m not forcing it.  She wants to kill herself and others, then let her.”

I’m not even going to bother commenting on the magnitude of my brother’s helpful advice and support.

I took her to the DMV and asked them to get in the car with her and check her out.  Turns out they said she did fine.  Well of course she did fine.  Maneuvering around a few wide-set bright orange cones in a parking lot can be accomplished by a monkey!  Why didn’t they take her out in traffic?  Probably because they didn’t have a death wish going on at the time.

I contacted my mother’s ophthalmologist about enlisting his help in getting her off the streets, and although he was extremely sympathetic, he said she was only legally blind in one eye, and that she still had a whopping 30 percent going on in the other! 

“Couldn’t you please, maybe fib a little, Doctor?  I need help here.  Will you please tell her she can’t drive?” 

“That is up to the family to do,” he said. 

“She will not listen to her family,” I said.

“Sorry I can’t help you,” he said.

She reached her mid-eighties, still hanging onto her car by her fingernails, and I was still forever waking up every morning with my first thought being, “Holy Shit this could be the day it all comes down!  SOB!” 

So I moved into full-bore assault mode, begging her every day to not make me force her, with her hating my guts more with each attack, no matter how much I tried to reassure her that I would see to her transportation needs.

She continued to ding, bumble and bump her way around town, skipping out on her crash victims, usually unattended parked cars, with weekly regularity. 

“Why is your car all banged up, Mom?” I inquired frequently.

“Oh those damn people in the hospital parking lot!  They keep banging into me!”

Then there was the time she backed out of her garage and sideswiped the right rear wheel well of my car, before speeding off on an “important” errand and keeping the incident hidden from me until I noticed it a few days later.  She lied about it at first, then sheepishly fessed up.  She caused enough damage to both our cars to warrant a few days in the shop, and of course I had to make her call her insurance company to file a claim.  She preferred not to fix them, since there was “nothing wrong with the engines.” 

I have to tell you, I got really mad at her for doing that.  It was more about the fact that she kept it from me, then lied, than anything else.  Plus, this issue had been casting a dark storm cloud over our relationship for so many years, I think I finally snapped and yelled at her. 

And just when I was about to really be the Big Bad Daughter and snatch those fucking keys from her in a flying leap through the air, she miraculously made the best decision ever.

“I’m going to pay these people at the University $250.00 to evaluate my driving so I can prove you wrong, Jill, and then you can get off my Goddamn back!  I am going to show you!”

At the end of the day, after her test at the University, I came home to find her waiting for me, and as soon as I opened the front door, there she stood, all sad-eyed, head down, arms limp at her sides.

She looked up at me and wailed, “That awful woman instructor said I was a danger to every person who took to the roads at the same time as me!  She even screamed out loud at the light at 43rd and 39th!  She took my driver’s license away from me, Jill!”

I felt so sorry for her, I moved close and put my arms around her.

“Well then, Mom,” I said softly and consolingly.  “I guess you showed me, didn’t you.”

We stood like that for a few minutes, and then I pulled away, held her by the shoulders, looked her in the eye, and said, “Why in Holy Hell did you have to pay a stranger to take away your keys, when for freaking years I’ve been trying to do the same thing for free?

I promised my daughter that when I become an “Ancient Being,” which is not too far off in the distant future, I will not argue with her when she tells me I need to stop driving.

I swear to God.

And now she has that in writing.

With witnesses.

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June 19, 2012 - Posted by | Elderly Parents | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Oh, Jill, you know you are going to fight her all the way, so just tell her to forget she ever read this. I’m not going to warn my son, let him find out the way we did about our Mothers!

    Comment by Linda Wines Stokes | June 19, 2012 | Reply


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