If Oscar Wilde was right and all women become like their mothers, you can forgive me for feeling a little anxious after my parents' last trip to Los Angeles, where my sister and I live.
Not that they are losing their marbles. Far from it, but they have been known to tell the same story several times a day. And the fact they must have the TV at maximum volume (and it's still not loud enough for them) has done permanent damage to my own ears.
Fearing this might be their last trip here due to their advancing years, we wanted it to be a memorable one. My sister, Julia, used her air miles to fly them over in First Class. Trouble is, having sat in the lap of luxury, they have vowed never to fly any other way again.
The upside of only having a one-bedroom place is that your parents can't stay with you. We put them up in an apartment by the beach. I hoped I had met all Mom's cleanliness needs by having a pair of rubber gloves and a proper dishcloth available, having made the mistake in the past of just supplying a selection of scrubbing sponges for her to choose from.
I got it wrong this time as well. Mom needs three dishcloths: one for the kitchen and one for each toilet, which she wipes down every day with disinfectant... "That's why your father and I don't get diseases."
Watching Mom dance with her youngest grandchild, Marley, brought a tear to my eye, and taking Marley to kindergarten for her first day at school was truly memorable. I have never heard Mom laugh so hard as when Marley and I went through the steps Marley had learned at ballet class. Mum said it was even funnier than the Dawn French sketch with Darcey Bussell. I was not trying to be funny.
My pork chop and apple sauce dinner was another highlight in three weeks of unusually disastrous meals from me. The spicy sausages were a genuine mistake, hot (if you'll pardon the pun) on the heels of the cottage pie made with tinned tomatoes that I didn't realize were laced with chilies (honest). "Your father and I don't like spicy food."
Ironically, Mom found Julia's home-made "guatemala" too bland. She meant guacamole.
I also fondly recall the time Mom said it was a cardinal sin that Julia hadn't warmed Marley's bottle of milk before she gave it to her. I said, "That's hardly a cardinal sin, Mom."
"You're quite right," she said after careful thought, "I meant a mortal sin. I get my cardinal and mortal sins confused sometimes."
It would not be fair to give the impression that my mother is less than stellar in many ways. This is a woman in her 70's who doesn't dye her hair, has had no Botox or facelift (she's never even had a facial), who, if there were only four pieces of cake for her family of five, would say she's watching her weight and will pass on the cake, even if it's her favorite.
Her most-uttered phrase is: "Everything in moderation." I remember watching her thoroughly enjoying a raw carrot once. When I offered to get her another one, she said: "No thank you. I don't want to get addicted."
Deeply suspicious of all medication, Mom rarely takes even an aspirin. Because the midwife had the day off when Mom went into labor with Julia, Dad delivered her at home. On his own. My brother and I slept soundly in our rooms throughout her labor, as Mom didn't make a sound.
This stoicism has come in handy for me in particular. Mom had such terrible morning sickness when she was expecting me that her doctor prescribed a new wonder drug, Thalidomide. She wouldn't take it. She did take a course of antibiotics once when she had pneumonia and is currently receiving Vitamin B12 shots for pernicious anemia.
I walked back into our apartment, having dropped my folks at the airport, and told my husband, Colin, how worrying it is that Mom and Dad have started to repeat themselves. "If they've told me once how disappointed they are about the weather, they've told me a hundred times," I said. Colin replied without looking up from his computer: "Yeah, you told me... about a hundred times."
This is the Oscar Wilde quote (from The Importance of Being Ernest) in full: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.