Monday, October 17, 2011

In Which I Ponder My Eccentric Family, and the Nature of Existential Boredom

I'm taking a trip during the last week of October to visit my grandmother.  I've been anxious about the trip for a lot of reasons.  I don't know how much my grandmother's cognition has declined.  I don't know what it will feel like to see such a strong personality reduced to confusion.  Then there's the whole daylight issue; the days are a bit shorter in PA than they are here in Norcal, and she lives in the mountains, so they may feel even shorter than they are.  I'm concerned about my sleep.  On the one hand, it's normalized somewhat; on the other hand, I know that the three hour time change will probably mess it up.  Even so, it's settled in at 2 am to 9 or 10 in the morning.  And Grandma gets up early.

I've been trying to calm myself by reminding myself that my sister will be with me, and we can support each other when we need it.  It will be fun to see my grandmother and my aunts and uncles.  We'll also be able to give compassionate, concrete help to a family member in need.  I'm on medication and I'm bringing a portable sunlamp with me.  My pdoc has given me the OK to travel.  Everything will be fine.

Yesterday I realized that the underlying cause of my anxiety was actually none of these things.  It's the fact that there's no internet at my grandmother's house.  How pathetic am I, right?

I started to laugh at myself, and my anxiety evaporated.  I can survive without the internet.  I've done it before.  So why does it feel like such an existential threat right now?  Well, like so many answers, this one lies in the past.  It also has much to do with the eccentricities of my late grandfather.
As we've prepared for this trip, my sister and I have been reminiscing about the family vacations we took to visit our grandparents as children.  We loved visiting my mothers' parents.  We'd spend a week there.  We would always spend a day in New York City.  We'd take a day and visit a great aunt who lived at the shore, and go swimming in the ocean.  None of my friends back in the Midwest had ever been to NYC or swum in the ocean.  For the rest of the week we'd be spoiled rotten -- we got to have dessert every night, eat things like potato chips and doritos, and drink more soda than we did for the entire rest of the year.

My fathers' parents were a different story.  Don't get me wrong; we loved them dearly, and we enjoyed having them visit us.  But visiting them ... that was another story.

Their house is on a rural highway in the Allegheny mountains.  We couldn't play in the front yard because the cars travelled pretty fast as they crested the hill, and none of the drivers would be expecting a kid to dash out in front of them.  Not that the front yard was all that, but it was a change of scene from the back yard, which consisted of grass until the grass ended in a row of trees, and were weren't allowed to go into the woods because they belonged to someone else.

The nearest town is 15 miles away, but I don't think we ever went there.  I remember driving through it once or twice and finding it pretty, with nice parks and a playground I would dearly have loved to play on. But the better part of most days was spent in grandma and grandpa's house or playing in the backyard.  It got to such a point that we were excited when it was time to watch Grandpa's polka show on TV (I am not making that up).

On the days when we actually went out and did stuff, it wasn't much better.  When I was about twelve, we took a trip to the Zane Grey Museum.  Who the hell is Zane Grey, you're wondering?  Zane Grey was a seminal novelist in the Western genre.  I had never heard of him, and didn't like Westerns anyway.  And yet my grandfather expected us kids to be enthralled, and I think he took it personally when we weren't.

Grandpa told us that some day we would come to appreciate Grey's novels, and we'd be glad that we'd learned about all about him.  To this day I haven't read Zane Grey.  However, my husband and I once watched an episode of MASH during which Col. Potter made a reference to Zane Grey.  My husband had to look him up on the internet.  But not me.  No, I had been to the Zane Grey Museum.

The other day trip we took on that visit was to the Gifford Pinchot House.  This was totally AWESOME because, OMG, I had the HUGEST CRUSH on Gifford Pinchot and I had a poster of him on the wall above my bed and EVERYTHING!  Of course, most people haven't heard of Gifford Pinchot.  Since you're dying to know, he was put in charge of the National Park System when Teddy Roosevelt created it. His house (actually his summer residence) was very large and extravagant.  I remember that it was made of a lot of big stones.  I don't remember much else.

In other words, my grandparents (and particularly my grandfather) were oddly clueless about kids for people who had raised three of them.  We were expected to take a passionate interest in obscure historical figures.  We were expected to sit quietly, or if necessary, play quietly in the yard.  I remember once when I complained of having nothing to read, my grandfather told me I should peruse his copy of Winston Churchill's (five volume!) autobiography.

I have the typical ADDer's tolerance for boredom, which is to say, none whatsoever.  Boredom makes me antsy, anxious, and sometimes depressed.  There's almost an existential angst to it.  Most of my anxiety about this trip was related to fears of existential boredom.  My memories of Grandma's house involve a lot of that.  I was afraid of being bored, having no internet to divert me, and being all alone with my crazy.

I felt a lot better when I recognized this.  Once I knew where it was coming from -- namely, a situation from childhood that doesn't exist anymore -- I could see that this trip would be completely different.  For one thing, I'm old enough to be interested in conversations with other adults.  For another thing, my sister and I find each other to be vastly entertaining (no, nobody else does, but we don't care).  And if we get stir crazy?  Well, we'll have a rental car, and we're old enough to use it.  Maybe we can finally take a trip into town.


  1. It's so much easier to deal with a lack of the internets when you're not at home (or gone for very long). You'll be ok!

  2. Yeah, I know you're right. I always bring my computer when I travel, and then never use it as much as I think I will.


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