The Move – Lesson 1: Recognize Your Best Skills

I spent last week helping my 90-year old in-laws put their house on the market and move from Florida to Pittsburgh to move into my sister-in-law’s basement apartment. The next few posts will talk about the experience of accompanying them, and I learned on this trip about change and the elderly.

First let me say how much I have admiration for people who care for the elderly, and especially their elderly family members. I don’t know how you do it. I am exhausted after only one week with my in-laws, who I love and admire very much.

I arrived Saturday, late night. Of course they wanted to feed me when I arrived, but that’s nothing new. I refused and went to bed. Sleep in, they said. But of course my Father in Law (FIL) was up at 5 am because that’s what happens when he’s worried. I woke up Sunday morning, sleep deprived, and heard him moving about, heard the distinctive sound of packing tape being used, but didn’t really wake up until I heard the garage door open and close.

Oh god, I thought, he’s packing the car.

The movers were coming on Monday. Then we were leaving for the auto-train on Thursday. I knew they would overpack the car, and wanted to offset that as much as possible by putting things in the moving van.

So what was he putting in the car? Hopefully only his wife’s precious figurines, the food they planned to eat in the car, and the clothes and toiletries they would need until the moving van arrived. And anything my Mother in Law (MIL) would add at the last minute because she couldn’t live without it.

I rose quickly, dressed, and stumbled out to inspect the house. Every room was filled with boxes, all labeled cryptically, “Pittsburgh, basement” or “Pittsburgh, kitchen”. How they had so many boxes labeled kitchen was beyond me because the kitchen still looked full. The food my Sister in Law had pulled out of the cabinets earlier in the summer to go to homeless pantry had all migrated back. Nothing in their bedroom, my FIL’s desk, or their bathroom had been packed or even reviewed.

My FIL beamed at me. “I’ve packed the trunk of the car,” he announced. We moved to the garage and he opened the trunk. It was filled to the brim. It looked like he had picked up handfuls of things randomly and tossed them in. My heart sank.

My MIL called his name from the bedroom. She was awake and needed his help. My help wouldn’t do (I think she is embarrassed for me to see her in a vulnerable position). He trotted off to help her.

After breakfast, we identified the treasures that had to be packed in the backseat of the car. A case of wine. The precious figurines. A few bottles of hard liquor that he never drinks but that he was determined not to leave with the woman that we had hired to help them pack. They both resented her attempts to get them to downsize and ascribed her motives to wanting their stuff. Possible – anything is possible – but it seems unlikely that she was scheming to get half-used bottles of mouthwash. She didn’t strike me as that kind of person.

When we finished the car was full and we hadn’t put in my backpack (small), my MIL’s handbag, my FIL’s duffle of jewelry, passports and other important documents and cash, my MIL’s suitcase. We couldn’t add these things until the movers had left and we were ready to leave. I asked if he could park the car in the neighbor’s driveway while the movers were there the next day. He thought that was a great idea with a variation – he parked it in the neighbor’s garage where it would be safe and the wine would be cooler (?!?). For the rest of the week, we borrowed the neighbor’s car to run errands. She’s 94, she doesn’t drive it and didn’t mind. But she did mind them leaving her, as she told them every time she saw them.

Then my FIL and I began a game that we played until we arrived in Pittsburgh today: he would find something that he felt needed to accompany us and cram it on top of the boxes in the car or between the boxes or the window, or on the back ledge, effectively blocking my view as driver in my mirrors and blind spot. “No, no,” I’d say gently. “I won’t be able to see if you put it there.”

“Oh!” he’d say, illuminated. “I see. Well, move it where you can see.” And then he’d trot of leaving me to find yet another way to cram it in somewhere that it wouldn’t block the driver’s view.

It’s sometimes true that we underappreciate our best skills – the things that we are so good at feel so natural to us that people who don’t have these skills are careless or deliberately provoking us. Luckily I recognized that my FIL was distracted and not really thinking about the packing details, and I took it in stride.

Here endeth the first lesson.

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