It all started with a text from my brother:
Millie fell and broke her wrist.
Then a day later, another text:
She's going to need surgery.
Millie is his 85-year-old mother-in-law. She lives here in Hawaii, like me and our mother. He, his wife, and all of Millie's immediate family live on the mainland. Thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean separate them and us.
The crisis was that the surgeon, quite justifiably, would not do the wrist surgery, if Millie, who normally lives alone, did not have someone to care for her afterwards. Lots of phone calls were made. Many scenarios were suggested. In the end, we all decided that, having known each other for decades, the best thing to do was to have Millie recuperate at my mother's apartment.
However, my mother is 87. I suggested that we could do this together, grateful that as a teacher, I had a summer vacation that would allow me to spend as much time there as needed. And that's how the octogenarians became roomies.
One morning when I arrived, Millie was fresh out of the shower. "I can't wash my hair with this darn splint on, " she declared. "Isn't there a beauty salon somewhere around here where I can just have someone wash my hair for me?"
"Let's see," I said, whipping out my phone, and typing BEAUTY SALON into Yelp! Several little red markers popped up on the map near my mother's apartment.
"We are planning to grocery shop this afternoon. Is there one near the store?" my mother chimed in. That narrowed my choices.
"Yes. There's one across the street from the store called Salon Mei. Do you know it?"
"No. But if I have the address I can find it," came my mother's confident reply. I looked at the grey building outlines tucked between the streets on the map on my phone. I knew this area. It's a maze of angled streets, parking lots, and high-rise buildings. I had my doubts.
"Well, first let me call and see if they can help us out," I proposed. A pleasant young woman's voice confirmed that they could see Millie at 3:30. Millie found the price of a shampoo well worth the investment and the appointment was made.
Fulfilling another part of the "we'll do this together" bargain, I fixed lunch. We ate and they spent time talking about the grandchildren they share, remembering good times and rough times, catching up on details that one knew but the other didn't.
Then because neither one of them likes to be late, they decided it would be good to get going. I helped Millie put on her socks and tie her shoes. We laughed about how her broken wrist had put her in the position of one of my kindergartners. My mother pulled her wheeled shopping cart out of the closet. I looked up the salon on Yelp! one more time and I showed my mom the map, orienting her to the grocery store and its parking lot. I gave her the salon address and reminded her that it was going to be in a high-rise building on the second floor—Suite 222. She would not see it at street level as she drove by. She would need to find the building, park, and then find the salon. She looked at me like I was treating her like one of my kindergartners.
With that the two of them headed out of the apartment, shuffling towards the elevator together. All I could see were their backs and I yelled after them, "Have fun, you two, and call me if you get lost."
Moments later, I locked my mom's apartment door behind me and walked to the elevator, ready to head home. Suddenly, I had this sense of being the parent who decides to follow the school bus, just to make sure that her child gets off at the right stop. By the time I got to my car, I had made my decision. Rather than driving home, I turned in the opposite direction and went in search of my mother and Millie.
It's only a five-minute drive to the part of town where the grocery store and the salon are located. I tried to imagine the route that my mother would take. I drove around the block of the grocery store and its parking lot. Across the street was the high-rise building, but there were multiple ways to enter its parking garage and the address was not visible. I drove around the next block and from the front side I found 1600 plainly in view. Looking up, I saw a neon sign with cursive letters barely visible in the window announcing "Salon Mei." My mother's car was nowhere in sight and my concern deepened. So the bus analogy was not working. I was going to have to reveal my over-protective impulse.
I pulled into the parking lot and parked. I knew I couldn't call my mom's cell phone. She never has it turned on. It's a flip phone that she carries in case SHE has an emergency, so she can call out, but not so that others can reach her. Millie, on the other hand, uses her cell phone regularly. Sheepishly, I reached for my phone, prepared to confess. I scrolled down the contacts list. Seriously? I didn't have Millie's number? How could that be after several days of helping to care for her? But now I couldn't turn back.
I got out of the car and walked toward the salon. I had to confirm if they had made it or not. If not, I knew I had given the young woman Millie's cell phone number and I would call her from there. I crossed the parking lot and entered the building. Through the lobby I found the elevator and pressed the button for the second floor. When I exited the elevator, I realized that I had to go through another set of doors to the building's annex. This was getting more complicated by the minute.
I strode anxiously along the hallway, reading the door signs, looking for Salon Mei, Suite 222. Finally a large red metal door, embossed with a raised floral design announced that I had reached my destination. I pushed in on it, straining against its weight. As I stepped over the threshold, there was my mother sitting on a white wicker bench casually flipping through a magazine. Millie was in a chair with a lovely white teacup filled with green tea balanced on a table beside her. They both looked up in surprise as I gasped, "Oh good, you found the place!"
"Yeeesss," my mother answered, as she looked at me questioningly.
"I saw the look on your face as we left," said Millie. "You weren't sure we could do it."
"It's true," I confessed. I just really wanted to make sure that Millie got her hair washed. I was worried that they would get lost and it would seem like too much trouble and they'd give up. My mother had been known to do this in the past.
"Well, we did have to call after we had driven around the block once. But they told us where to park and how to find the salon," my mom informed me. Thank goodness for Millie and her cell phone.
With that I moved toward the door. "Okay. You two look like you are all set. So I'll be on my way." As I walked back to my car I was smiling. I guess caring for them wasn't a bad thing. And I learned that when you put the two of them together, they could get the job done. Isn't that what roomies are for?
I teach kindergarten at an independent school in Hawaii. The joy of young, curious learners delights me. I'm passionate about my practice, always striving to meet the needs of the children and their families.