Commuting with Your Parents
Every evening, as I start my commute home, I call my parents. It’s a nightly call that I blame on LA traffic because I’m uncomfortable admitting the truth–I am really close with my parents. I can’t help it. They’re really good company, so it took me until my late twenties to realize that being best friends with your parents isn’t always a good thing. I’m experiencing a delayed teenage rebellion, but it’s the subtlest of rebellions…sometimes I don’t call them back for two whole hours. We still talk everyday on my drive home.
I call their house land line–the only land line in my phone book. It used to cost me fifty dollars more each month just so I could talk to them on their land line. I don’t think I whined about this, but then I rejoined my parents’ family plan. It was as if I wanted to prove I could hack it out there on my own, that I’m not a complete slacker millenial, and then I went back into the shelter of unlimited data. I like to think things would have been different if my mom would talk on a cell phone, but iPhones feel like a “deck of cards” in your hand, which is apparently upsetting, and all cell phones sound like “you’re talking inside an underwater cave.”
Sometimes my parents pick up the house line at the same time, and all three of us are on the phone. Since I spend my days connecting conference calls, this impromptu one feels miraculous. Usually my mom will be in her studio (the converted garage) covered in paint, and my dad will be on the other side of the house, always on the couch. This is the end of their day too, a signal it’s time for my mom to put the paint brush down and my dad to do something, probably with the dog.
Sometimes my dad plays the piano in the background of our conversation. Mom and I talk over his musical overtures, and he’ll interject if he feels we’re incorrect. We are often in need of contradiction. No one is a better devil’s advocate than my father. I was learning about Hitler and World War II in grade school, and I brought it up with him, maybe because he’s Jewish. I imagine he was walking me to school when I brought up evil incarnate. He shrugged and said that even Hitler had his good points. Or hypothetically, if you told him a good friend of yours stole all of your money, he would say that they must have had their reasons.
Although often a contrarian, my dad is not anti-phone. While my mom’s always mistrusted phones, my dad seems most at home on the phone (or with a dog). If they were going to make an action figure out of my dad, he would come with a phone and baseball hat. He’ll pick up his cell anywhere and anytime which is tremendously comforting. Except sometimes, we’ll have some deep conversation about my career goals, and then the toilet will flush. But I appreciate that he will pick up the phone everywhere, except funerals and weddings.
If I’m talking to my parents separately, they can get competitive about whom I talk to first. It’s best if I talk to my mom first. She asks the most questions (what are you wearing? what did you have for lunch? are you close to home?), so I need my strength to talk to her. She has an uncanny ability to tell the exact moment I stop listening, which is usually as soon as she starts talking about the garden. Listening to her talk about home improvements is actually a driving hazard. I could pass out. I tell her that she’s impairing my driving, this makes her laugh, and then I can change the subject. Usually that subject is me. Both my parents listen to me talk a lot. I narrate most of the day, anything to fill up that drive, and they seem to be genuinely interested. Maybe I’m not good at telling when they’re not listening.
Lately though, they seem to have their own lives, which is puzzling. Sometimes they don’t pick up at 6pm because they’re at dinner parties or have friends over! They’re distracted or busy on the phone. I’ll talk to my mom for fifteen minutes or so, and then she’ll say something like “Well, I don’t have any pants on, so I should go. Do you want to talk to your father?”
Then she’ll shout “The grown child is on the phone,” and he’ll come get the phone, and we’ll say “Yelloooooh!” which is the cool family way of saying hello. Then he’ll tell me he’s eating dinner and should go. So I pretend I’m not disappointed and we hang up. The grown child has no choice but to concentrate on the road ahead of her and listen to NPR.