Privilege Blog

The World Is Going Where We Cannot, Or, Saturday Morning at 6:29am

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.

44 Responses

  1. Your mother and I could ignore Facebook together. I didn't have a cell phone until 2004. True story.

  2. I know you aren't one of my children but this could have been written by them. I do use a computer (obviously!) but have resisted the cell phone. My family moans! They have started saying it would be wise for my own safety as I often drive wickedly winding roads alone. I think it is for their convenience. I hate how intrusive cell phones are. It IS possible that I'm resistant to the learning curve – and I'm sure I'm not all that well dressed while doing it.


  3. I am sure your mother will have a most delightful stay with you that will more than make up for her wait at the airport. Perhaps she might get a Vertu as a Christmas gift from someone this year…?

  4. As someone that has only had a cell phone since 2006 this made me smile. My parents have no clue how to turn on a computor let alone use one. They have cell phones but struggle with them…meaning rarely have them turned on…ugh. I am glad you found you mom and all was okay!

  5. Now you know what to get your mother for Christmas…a cell phone!
    Having had a cell phone since the beginning of time, and tired of talking on the phone, I now rarely even answer my phone. I respond quickly to text messages.
    Now if I can just get my mother to learn how to text!

  6. Well, I'm glad you were able to find your mom before she boarded another plane to go back home. I get the no cell phone thing though. I held out until my daughter was born and now have one only for emergencies. 99% of the time it's in my purse turned off.

  7. I am so glad you found your mom, and hopefully can now have a lovely visit. Perhaps she would be amenable to one of those uncomplicated for-seniors type of cell phone? To be used only when travelling?

  8. I'll forget about offering you a solution! I am touched by your compassion, patience, and understanding toward your mother. At the same time, you offer (me) a call to make more effort to roll with innovations, for the times, they are a changin' and I don't want to be totally lost. I have no daughter as kind as you and I fear the world is becoming increasingly unforgiving.

    Glad you found your mom!

  9. I forgot to say also that I had a similar experience. Couldn't reach my dad at the airport. He had a cell phone, but didn't want to be bothered carrying it on the plane, so carefully wrapped it and placed it in his checked luggage!

  10. Oh my, your mother sounds very lovely and poised. I am sure that she was somewhat anxious, but you saved the day…you are the "golden girl!" Travel is not without stress, even in the best of times and so I am sure that she would have experienced a delay or two in her time, maybe even the GRAND TOUR had a glitch or two.
    Relax, she is in good hands, technology is a challenge for our parents…my mom's condo buzzer was on the fritz and it was a HUGE deal for her! Fixed now….aha moment.
    Daughters are here for a reason!
    Enjoy this precious time with her!

  11. And then there's my father. He has a cell phone. He refuses to turn it on. What's the point? About once a year he'll turn it on briefly to call someone … but of course, there's no point in ever trying to call him because his phone won't be on.

  12. Your mother sounds like a lovely and elegant woman. I can imagine you taking her to high tea at the Stanford Court Hotel. Enjoy her visit at this special time of year!

    When my 81 year old mother comes to visit now, I always park and go into the airport, instead of circling. As our parents age, they may need a little more assistance and assurance.

  13. We're all agreed. We will program our cell numbers into a cellphone for her. Review how to use it. We will also always park and go into the airport. An independent spirit should be supported, that's my general philosophy. Mom's up with my sister today, spending time with her grandchild. Which, of course, is why she came. Thank you all so much for chiming in here – it's not always easy to talk about, aging. Oh, and Julia, my mother would LOVE your white on white pillow:).

  14. Just one more comment if you please… my 78 year old neighbor comes and goes to and fro via air frequently. I often pick her up. I always park and meet her inside the terminal… she has recently begun to fear going down the escalator… I find her and we take the elevator. Of course, she does not use a cell phone or have one…. must be the age….

  15. Oh LPC, I just love your description of Mother Privilege. So glad that you both found each other safe and sound.

    My mother has had a cell phone since their inception practically, but she stubbornly refused to update it.

    The local cell phone company kept her plan just for her because no one else in the world wanted a plan with only ten minutes of airtime "for emergencies." Thankfully, that old Motorola dinosaur died and now she has a regular cell phone (as in portable and not mounted in the car).

    BTW…I love the phrase "sanctioned technology" and "The world is going where we cannot. So we insult its voyage." Well done.

  16. So difficult for their 'generation' really – my mother-in-law hates Facebook and computers (but uses one to look up the crossword clues however)…. My mother (at 73) has recently acquired her first laptop and is enjoying emailing but my father (78) seems to resent every minute she spends on it and looks upon as a something that takes her away from him! He definitely insults its voyage!

  17. Your observations are so astute! I will soon turn 61. I am instructed AND challenged by this post. I want my children to say of ME as you of your mother, "…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." However, fast as the world goes, it is increasingly difficult to keep up. As soon as I think I've caught up, there is something radically new to replace the old. That's the great thing about real style & elegance. It cannot be replaced. It NEED not be replaced.

  18. I always park and pick up my parents at the airport, even though they do have cell phones. It's worth the $5 for the hour, especially if there is some kind of delay. They're usually frazzled enough.

  19. Oh just like my mother.. We gave her a cell phone as a gift and she always forgets it somewhere and she only decided to buy a computer and learn how to use it when she found out that she can play bridge on line, but refusing to use it for other tools.

  20. LPC, I feel choked reading this…I can see your lovely mother challenging time with her own bravery in the airport.My mother is 69 and wants to visit my sister in Australia(we are Irish) next summer. I am learning to have her strength.
    Your writing is beautiful and evocative as ever- 'The world is going where we cannot. So we insult its voyage'- Wow. Heartache here. Maureen

  21. My parents got a cell phone "just for emergencies". they kept it in the car and never used it. About a year later, we discovered it had been activated with a different phone number than they were told (and was on their statement), so no one could have called them even if they had turned it on.

  22. I remember meeting my mum at the Queen Elizabeth hotel in Montreal in the 1980s, where she'd flown in from PEI. Although she had lived in Montreal as a young woman, the menus en francais were now too difficult for her to navigate and I recall feeling so protective as she gamely ordered un cafe, un tea, et du lait at one point.
    As for technology, my cell phone is relegated to my car, for road/travel emergencies seulement. Truly, I don't want to feel that carrying my cell phone is as essential to my daily life as, say, showering. And with my current life style, that's just fine, fortunately.

  23. I admire your mother for being so patient and showing grace while under pressure. There must be a balance of technology and aging…we finally got my elderly mother a cellphone, now if she can only remember to carry it with her!

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  24. Oh dear. Your poor mom. The world has changed so fast around her without her permission. It sounds as if she handled it with grace, but oh my. How scary to be at the airport and not know if someone is coming to get her and for you, not knowing where your mother is.

    I have to say, though, when my mom finally got on email, she went a little crazy and was spamming me, so be careful what you wish for (said with a smile). She's settled down, though, and now it's nice, because I am not a phone talker, so we communicate by email.

  25. While my MIL, 82, is an early adopter, now on perhaps her 8th computer, my own mother uses hers quite gingerly and primarily only to do her daily puzzles for a cognitive workout. At 78, she's now dealing with Mild Cognitive Impairment — some occasional memory loss and confusion — and thankfully has given up driving, although not without a fuss. One of the problems when she was still driving was that she similarly refuses a cellphone, but would occasionally forget where the car was and she'd be miles from home, and as you point out, pay phones are few and far between these days, especially working ones. But she's had to learn to manage a coded entry door at her new condo, last week took a cab for the first time ever on her own, and seems to be realizing that if she wants to hold on to any independence she may have to embrace some of the technology she has so far disdained. It's so tough to watch the struggle — and to help her to see that there is bravery in adaptation as much as there is the frailty she sees in giving in. My mother and I are only 22 years apart, and by this age I know that 22 years will pass fairly quickly. I'm taking notes, trying to figure out what I might do better. I'll make a whole different sets of mistakes for my daughters to discuss . . .

  26. "The world is going where we cannot. So we insult its voyage." beautifully said …
    I encourage my dad to try to accept the challenge of positive change … you can have a cell phone for all the "good reasons" and not to torture other souls stuck behind you on line with tales of your latest medical procedure/heartbreak/child's potty-training ….

  27. Wow, Lisa, you have obviously struck a chord here. I felt your anxiety as you circled the airport. My mohter finally succumbed to a cell phone strictly for traveling, so at least now I know what boat she'll be on (she refuses to get in the small plane to the island). She travels with my father but it exhausts them both now. No computer, internet, email…..It's hard because there could be so much more interaction if they had the computer. I resisted Facebook until 2009 and felt like I waited for a cell phone, but that was in 1999. Kids laugh at us parents faltering with our technology, but I guess it's a good sign. We may be pulled kicking and screaming, but the times will keep changing and we'll be damned if we're left behind.
    You described your mother beautifully. My mother would have been quite a wreck by then.

  28. I think mater has described very well what you are all teaching me here. "It's so tough to watch the struggle — and to help her to see that there is bravery in adaptation as much as there is the frailty she sees in giving in." As Stephanie says, "have a cell phone for all the good reasons." Maureen@IslandRoar, my mother was a wreck. But a gentle, polite wreck. As Rebecca says, "As soon as I think I've caught up, there is something radically new to replace the old." class-factotum, "The world has changed so fast around her without her permission." And Maureen (anonymous), I suppose we are all "challenging time with (our) own bravery in the airport." Thank you all so much. Had I posted the plans before the event I would have had a much better idea of how to manage this. Clearly the chord struck is because the issue is universal. I am 23 years younger than my mother. My sisters and I say to each other, "This, in one way or another, will be us. Kindness is very important."

  29. I revere your mother's elegance, and elegance will not get you out of some of life's quandries.

    What I did with my mother, who traveled on her own until well into her 90s, was to have a mutually-agreed fallback. In case of arriving at an airport and not finding your ride (and losing contact), go to the chapel in the airport. There is seating, it is calm, and if someone can help, they will. After losing her once, this strategy was a relief.

    To the end of her life, my mother would identify herself on my voice mail by saying, "Jane, this is your mother. Janet Doe."

    Your mother sounds like a woman of great equanimity as well as elegance.

  30. I was imagining your mother patiently sitting there at the airport waiting for you with such poise and elegance. She is a real lady of the old school generation. She won't need a celphone. You wouldn't want her to turn to an impatient and "always on-a-rush" breed like all of us now. I wish I'm like your mother, I wish all of us are like your mother.

  31. What an amazing post Miss LPC, and what a tough situation for everyone involved. We are fortunate, our remaining parents use the technology, or at least carry it in case of emergency, but it was not easy getting there. Not. at. all. It violates a fundamental principle for them, one not easily sanctioned under any circumstances, let alone those imposed or suggested by the children.

    Hopefully she is enjoying her visit, having a splendid time with you and your sister. I'm sending you a hug, the nerves must have been beyond frazzled, raw and exposed.

  32. I'm glad connections were finally made, and sorry the process was so nerve-wracking.

    I am one of those people who gets really anxious if my ride is not at the other end of a journey. Even with cell phones people are sometimes incommunicado, and I'm left in limbo wondering if I should stay and wait or make my own way–both seem equally likely to inconvenience the person doing me the favor. [Of course I have no trouble if I'm getting myself to point B!]

    Waiting makes me feel very dependent, and I can see that feeling intensifying as I age and perhaps *require* more assistance. So maybe the loss of control was unsettling your mother, who sounds as if she's quite used to steering her life?

    Hope it's a smooth visit (and departure!) from here on out.

  33. I only have one thing to add to all of the wonderful comments all those ahead of me have made: I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU LEFT YOUR CAR AT THE ARRIVALS CURB AT SFO AND YOU WEREN'T TICKETED OR TOWED!!!
    I'm there quite often picking up family members and am ALWAYS chased after 30 seconds- how on earth did you do it??? Robin

  34. My dad won't get a cell phone, either. He used to straight up hate them. But now he's always borrowing the cell phones of whomever is around, including strangers. And then, because he doesn't believe people could possibly hear him through such a tiny device, he shouts into them.

  35. My grandmother died in 2005 in her nineties. She kept her rotary dial phone until the phone company had to insist on replacing it because the technology for rotary dial was finally going away.

    I think part of the difference in how early people adapt to new technology comes down to what the person does for a living or other lifestyle issues.

    For instance, my mother is 73 and I am 51. Mom knows far more about computers than I do, because before she retired she was a graphic artist and graphic arts has increasingly relied on computers.

    She also has a cell phone, while I go through periods of having one and not having one.

    Even in my early forties, when I was online and had e-mail, I still found people my age who didn't use e-mail at all. I used to work with a group of interior designers and since their jobs didn't require computer knowledge, many of them were clueless. Yet they were intelligent educated people!

  36. We lost my best friend's dad at the Houston airport a couple of years ago at christmas. He's an old farmer, it was Dec 22 and COLD so he was wearing his usual winter clothes which was a pair of pants, a shirt and belt, another pair of pants, shirt and belt AND a THIRD pair of pants, shirt and belt, coat, 3 pairs of socks and gloves.
    When he arrived at the airport in OKC he set off every alarm in the building just about. The security guards checked him over and then made him sit where they could watch him until his flight. They made sure he got on his plane (small airports are nice that way) and then we waited for him to arrive in Houston.
    We kept watching the boards and it showed his plane was delayed, we checked it again later and it was delayed again, after the third delay we checked at the counter and they said "oh that plane arrived over an hour ago". After searching the airport for an hour (one of us outside the other inside) we finally found him asleep in a chair.
    NOW when he flys down for a visit my friend gets a special pass so she can go to the gate and meet him as he exits the plane. It works wonders. No more heart attacks for us and he feels special with the extra attention.

  37. Stories like this make me VERY glad we work in a technology-oriented industry. I have a huge fear of being a lost, querulous and impatient old person. I actually have a younger sister who has neither a cell phone nor a computer/internet access – most of the time, she could be on the moon for all I know, because if she's not home where she can answer her phone, I can't get in touch with her.

  38. oh, LPC, how stressful! I'm glad you found her and she didn't have to live at the airport for ever.

    I love Duchesse's idea of a Chapel meeting place and am going to pass that along to my parents, although they do use cell phones.

    My father also wrote all our cell numbers in sharpie marker on the back of his cell phone, in case it breaks, the battery dies or he has no reception.

  39. Separated at birth, our mothers.

    So love that she, like mine, carefully chooses an elegant outfit for flying.

    Aah, bless them.

  40. My 97-year old mother kept asking us how to use the TV remote. I found a picture of the remote model online, blew it up on the copier, drew arrows to each button and wrote the function. SHE LOVED IT! After she held the remote in one hand, and the picture in the other, she said, "Is this all I had to do?"

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