I've just returned from two weeks of tending my mother in a nursing home and my blind father in their own home, a situation that's been ongoing for over seven weeks. My brother and my niece have spent weeks there as well and we're all facing some major changes in my parents' living situation once Mother is released from extended nursing.
I eked through the last visit through my utter absorbtion in Facebook's Farm Town. For any readers who don't know what this is, Farm Town is a relatively new application that allows players to build farms, grow and sell crops, accumulate experience points that build levels of expertise that unloack new privileges like buying rivers and pineapple seeds. The only competitive aspect of it is trying to keep up with the Joneses.
If this seems a silly topic for a post, I've found it has offered me a number of insights into my family's dynamic.
It's a perfect game because it's a pan-gender return to childhood when the words "let's pretend" had more meaning than "you're hired". For women, it's playing with dolls. I was more interested in building homes for my dolls than I was in taking my Barbies on Dream Dates. And after one of the dogs ate my Ken doll, romance was replaced with Friends Midge and Jessica, and the family relations of Cousin Francie and Sisters Skipper and Tutti.
I think Farm Town lets men return to Legos and Playskool. It has aspects of marathon Monopoly games for all of us, only with lots more stuff than houses and hotels.
The other day, my brother took me to task about the time Farm Town absorbs. His wife and daughter have become addicted as well and are staying up in the wee hours to sow corn fields. My brother finds escape in exercise and singing. He doesn't seem to need that element of Let's Pretend. My brother was also a social success in high school; transitioning from Let's Pretend to growing up doesn't seem, from my vantage point, to have been the loss that it was for me.
His reactions to my parents' crisis was to organize and pressure everyone he could collar into Solving the Problem. He had the same emotional meltdowns that I had -- how can you not? -- but then went on to find solutions. Sometimes no one wanted his solutions but they were his real world versions, I guess, of Farm Town's organizational Let's Pretend.
I, on the other hand, worked to make my parents comfortable and gratified in the ghastly moments at hand. I baked. I brought the right comforters and dark chocolate turtles to Mother. I got my father interested in new Learning Company courses and You Tube videos of Oscar Peterson. I chattered like a blue jay so that my mother wouldn't have to suffer the embarrassment of exposing her short term memory loss. I had one fight with my father about the future but it was because I wanted to make some calls to find out whether assisted living waiting lists would allow them fall back if they weren't prepared or able to move when an apartment became available. My father is also going through cycles of Let's Pretend. Lets' pretend everything will get back to almost normal. Let's pretend he can take care of Mother. Let's pretend dark chocolate turtles will solve everything.
I understand Dad's form of Let's Pretend. I was the one who sent those chocolates in the first place, and each fresh peanut butter cookie or slice of pineapple upside down cake had both love and desperate hope baked into them. Maybe this will make Dad happy; maybe that will trigger Mom into remembering what she had for lunch an hour ago. Maybe a lot of it will disgust me so much that I won't have the energy to hate myself for not being the cure my mother or be the wife my father misses.
And so I would freeze the cookies and log into Farm Town where I planted profusions of flowers to the detriment of crop space, where I could hire harvesters based on their need for coins or experience points, where there was no calories and I could make virtual beauty and do some virtual favors in the pretence that life is a growing, rearrangeable, fertile place that needs no more care than some watering and harvesting.