Convincing my elderly (three words in and I’ve already upset them!) parents that they should take the threat of coronavirus seriously has been a genuine struggle.
You may well be having the same problem with your olds. Parents never like to take instructions from their children at the best of times and the distancing instructions we’ve received go against years of training to ensure we don’t neglect them.
This is compounded if they’re wealthy, as they’re particularly unaccustomed to doing what they’re told, having long enjoyed the freedom to do what they like when they like.
We’ve all had to make sacrifices because of this pandemic, I told my mother. I, for example, have had to cancel my skiing holiday.
To be fair, I did so before resorts were forced to close because there’s been a leak at my ski apartment. The living room carpet has a rather large discoloured patch which appears to be growing some mushrooms, but I can’t get it sorted because France is in lockdown.
Until our prime minister’s address to the nation and the significant restrictions imposed, I was somewhat smug, thinking that my second home in Frinton-on-Sea would be a nice place to ride out this crisis. After all, the shops are lovely, there’s a lot to do in the garden, and there are plenty of loo rolls that I have collected over the years ready and waiting for application.
Holiday homes have never been so useful for those working from home. Senior management and retirees alike have flocked from the city to their weekend bolt-holes and summer homes.
Finally, the posh “office cave” has a real use! Normally, the room designated as the study is essentially the storeroom for your toolkit, household spares and gadgets like wireless speakers that you never use. Now it’s where you Zoom or Skype from.
Workers have been looking very carefully at the inside of their bosses’ homes commenting offline on their taste, decor and whether it is worth working that hard to be able to afford such glamorous (or in some cases not-so-glamorous) surroundings. Never before has it been so important to strike the right tone. Too messy and appallingly decorated and you’ve lost respect. Too flash, and you’re no longer one of them.
The weekend before the big “stay put” announcement, my parents were staying in Frinton (their second home is up the road from mine — we like to keep it in the family).
Upon advice from my brothers and me, they have agreed to stay there rather than risk coming back to London.
These days, my father generally does what he’s told. My mother, aka The Wendy, has been somewhat resistant to instruction. She may be an octogenarian, but she’s the picture of health, very social and busy too.
She initially protested that she still wanted to see her family, friends, go to the shops and to teach. I counter-protested that I’d rather not come into any inheritance sooner than I was expecting.
So she will have to grin and bear it in Frinton with a wardrobe full of clothes she hated but didn’t want to throw away (finally, they’ve come in handy).
My parents grew up in the war and lived through rationing. It explains why, when growing up, we ate what we were told, that power cuts in the 1970s were merely an inconvenience and why we had a vegetable patch. It’s also why, initially, they thought this virus wasn’t much to worry about. Except it is.
This is particularly hard to take for a generation that taught us so much about resilience, saving for a rainy day, waste not want not, that life isn’t fair and that sometimes you have to do what you’re told.
The number of taboo subjects to discuss with your parents increases as you age. The birds and the bees are frankly cream cheese compared with the “is it time to stop driving?” conversation, or “do you think you need a hearing aid?” or worse, “have you had any thoughts about care homes?”
No matter how wealthy you are, this virus could get you. These days, many people are tentatively asking their parents “have you written your will?” A tricky question at the best of times, having put off this task for years. The virus has provided the impetus to get it sorted, but ensuring documents are witnessed while in isolation is proving quite tricky.
Staying in touch is also more challenging. Up and down the nation, younger people, despite having had their pensions and savings ravaged by the market falls, are busy providing technical support for their elderly relatives. The mysteries of FaceTime, Zoom, House Party and Skype are slowly becoming clear. But how on earth do you instruct someone who’s so far resisted switching their energy bills to another supplier about how to use an online supermarket delivery service?
The answer is with grace, gratitude and through gritted teeth. Our parents may drive us bonkers, but that is their unique right. They’ve made huge sacrifices over many years to bring us up and create family units that pull together in times of hardship and difficulty.
When we get to the other side of this crisis we’ll rebuild our lives, jobs, pensions and investments. Perhaps we will learn something even more important — the value of a closer relationship with our family and friends. Another upside? I’ve not been able to go out for lunch for weeks, and I’ve lost a stone and a half. I just hope The Wendy recognises me when I next get to see her in person.
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