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Tales of Parental Caregiving: Cat on a Plane

Roxanne Jones blogs at BoomerHaiku. This post was originally featured there. 

As crazy-making as it can be to care for aging parents sometimes, there also can be moments of snort-stuff-out-your-nose hilarity. Sometimes we only see the humor in retrospect – since we’re so aggravated or mortified at the time it’s happening. Here’s a case in point:

Tales of Parental Caregiving Cat on a PlaneMy then-72-year-old mother is on a plane with her obese Siamese cat, Anthony, who’s stuffed inside a soft-sided carrier under the seat in front of her. They’re on their way from western Pennsylvania to Palm Springs, California, to live near my sister and me.

Never the poster child for good parenting, Mom had become increasingly dysfunctional as she aged. So for the last two decades, my sister and I had traded off stints of Mom duty (“It’s your turn to watch her”) because we lived in different parts of the country. Now that Sis and I were living in close proximity, however, it was inevitable that Mom would be, too.

So my sister and brother-in-law are accompanying Mom on the flight, seated elsewhere on the plane. They’ve spent the past week of what was supposed to be mostly vacation packing Mom’s things and shipping them out to California – no easy task with Mom’s latent hoarding tendencies having come into bloom in recent years. They’re tired, sore and cranky.

During the first leg of the cross-country flight, Mom decides to haul Anthony out of his carrier to hold him on her lap. This, too, is no easy task since the behemoth cat weighs 22 pounds.

“I just knew he was trying to tell me something,” Mom related later, explaining why she took him out of his carrier. “He kept opening his mouth really wide (which she demonstrated), and he was drooling (which she didn’t). I kept asking him, ‘What is it, Anthony? Tell mama what’s wrong.’”

Well, what’s wrong was that Anthony had surreptitiously swallowed a thick, blue rubber band before leaving Mom’s apartment for the airport. His exaggerated mouth-opening action was his attempt to expel the thing – which he finally did, barfing all over himself and my mother, much to the delight of the businessman in the seat next to her, I’m sure.

To further test the gag reflexes of everyone around them, Anthony also pooped himself. You can just imagine the aroma wafting through the plane at that point.

Unfazed, my mother’s initial reaction was, “Well, I was wondering where that rubber band went…” Then she asked the flight attendant for some napkins so she could wipe off as much of Anthony’s emissions as possible – much to the delight of the flight attendant, I’m sure.

When the plane landed in Detroit for a two-hour layover, Mom squeezed Anthony back in his carrier and, with my sister schlepping the cat, headed to the ladies’ room to do a more thorough cleanup. Sis heaved the cat carrier up on the counter next to a sink and hauled Anthony out. Her intention was to set him in the sink and gently run the water while Mom sponged him off.

The faucet, however, was motion-activated. So Sis had to keep waving this 22-pound cat under the faucet to get the water to run. Every time it did, the cat startled and pulled back, shutting the water off. This to-and-fro went on for nearly half an hour, during which time the other restroom patrons gave the two women bathing a gigantic, smelly cat a wide berth.

The next leg of the plane trip – Detroit to Los Angeles – was fairly uneventful (and odorless). Once in LA, my sister and brother-in-law picked up a rental van and awaited the arrival of their daughter, who was arriving from Pittsburgh on another flight, which was delayed. By the time they all got on the road for the two-hour drive to the desert, it was nearly midnight. My sister was just about down to her last sleep-deprived nerve.

The back of the van was piled high with everyone’s luggage, and Anthony was ensconced on top of it all. The plan was to drop Mom at our house, where she and the cat would stay for a few days until her new apartment was ready for move-in.

When the van pulled in our driveway – it was now about 2:30 a.m. – my husband and I went out to help unload Mom’s things, including Anthony. As we lifted the van’s rear door, the cat’s carrier – with him in it – rolled off the luggage pile and landed on the cement driveway with a splat.

Stunned, we all just stood there for a few seconds. Then the carrier moved, signaling that this was not to be Anthony’s coup de grâce. Maybe it was the cat’s corpulence that padded his fall, but he was just fine.

In fact, Anthony still had one more cross-country trip in him. After Hubs and I left the desert the following year and moved to Maine, my mother and sister had a falling out. Mom and the cat skedaddled to Ohio (near one of my mother’s sisters), where Anthony succumbed to diabetes about a year later.

Given Mom’s increasing frailty and encroaching dementia, we eventually moved her from Ohio to Maine, enticing her with the promise of another cat. Two days after she arrived, however, she fell and broke her hip. Her body already in decline from the ravages of advanced COPD, she never recovered. She died nine days later.

While my sister and I sat at Mom’s hospital bedside as she lay dying, we trotted out our memories, recalling happier times. The saga of her California trek with Anthony was now among them, and we laughed until we cried.

One day we parent

parents. Find joy while you can

for they too shall pass.

What about you? Have you stepped into the role of parent to a parent? Have you managed to find the funny amid the frustration? Please share.

Roxanne Jones

Roxanne Jones blogs at Boomer Haiku, a mostly light-hearted, often irreverent look at life as a baby boomer, 17 syllables at a time. When she’s not tapping out haikus, she’s a freelance medical copywriter, enjoys chardonnay and contemplates plastic surgery to get rid of the wattle on her neck.

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