Take the Keys but Don’t Take the Car!

Some folks might call it crazy. I call it coping.

empty-fuel-guageFor those of us with parents that are of a certain age, we are thankful that someone had the sense to recommend that your octogenarian (in their 80s) or nonagenarian (in their 90s) parent not drive. It’s a good thing someone said it, because the DMV (at least here in California) doesn’t seem to be smart enough to put an age limit on driving.

Here are some stats:

Although they only account for about 9 percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven – on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

So how do you get these “I’m very careful when I drive” folks off the road?

Take their keys, but don’t take the car.

Here’s my vast and deep survey upon which I base the above statement. With a sample size of exactly four I have developed this great theory, and I’d like to know if anyone else would weigh in. Or if this helped you make the right decision, let me know that, too.

Four cases “prove” my point:

  1. When my mom was 92 (!), she finally gave up driving (she made the decision, thankfully), but didn’t give up her car. That made it okay somehow. (She lived to 104. Maybe giving up one’s car guarantees a longer life.)
  2. When my father-in-law was in his mid eighties, he insisted that he could still drive. Never mind that he hadn’t driven in three years, and that his license had expired two years previously. Because his car was still in the driveway, he was somehow okay that he didn’t drive because the car’s presence told him he “could.”
  3. My girlfriend’s mom (89) hadn’t driven in years, but knew the car was in the garage. It made the idea of not driving tolerable somehow.
  4. Just this month it became clear that my mother-in-law (over 90) could not drive. “I’m keeping the car,” she announced. “I’m making it available for the family to use in a pinch.” A generous gesture: She’s paying the insurance.

These are only four cases. I get that. And  yes… insurance is a cost, but what’s the real price of getting rid of the car? Your mom or dad feels isolated and immobile. Ugh. If they can afford it, what’s the harm? Sometimes, it’s not what’s real but what we want to believe by any means that keeps our psyches on an even keel. Besides, when we all have driverless cars it won’t be an issue at all. In fact we may look back on these times as “quaint.” But until then, it’s something many of us will have to deal with.

The solution for now is clear. Let them keep the car, but take the keys.

Thoughts? Let me know your experiences.

Summer Spiders

j0178905In summer, countless spiders dot my front and back yards. They look like little Christmas ornaments hanging from tiny invisible hooks, and they cast miniature, blurred shadows against the walls behind them when the morning sun hits them just right.

Last week, a particularly plucky spider stood guard at my front porch. She was there every morning as I opened the door to pick up my newspapers. She seemed to taunt me, knowing full well, as spiders do, that we humans hate to pass through a spider web. Reluctantly, I dismantled her miraculous (how in the heck do they DO that?) all-night construction wondering if it was her dream home. Mostly I felt regret knowing it was her source of breakfast, or at least an early lunch.

I was pleased to note that she was able to learn, at an ever so rudimentary level, as the week wore on. Every morning for the first three mornings, I broke her landlines and disturbed her semi-sleep. After I broke the line, she would scamper to the safety of the nearby bush, mumbling an arachnid epithet under her breath. Finally on the fourth day, she heard my front door open and scuttled to the bush before I broke her bracing line.

I told Mrs. Spider she could spin her meal-trap elsewhere, but she was not as sharp as her ancestor Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web. Stubborn yes, smart, no.

A few days ago, I opened the door to reassert my human superiority when I saw she was gone. Had she learned the final lesson—that this was not a good place to build? Or had she gone to that big spider web in the sky?

At first I thought that summer spider season might be over. Nope. We still have webs aplenty everywhere else. Hopefully she’s just found another spot, having learned the mantra of real estate in a relatively painless way. Location. Location. Location.

I miss her.

Artificial Body Parts: My RACE TO DIE

 From the front page of the WSJ today, March 23, 2013, I was jolted into a sense of my own immortality. The title:Science Fiction Comes Alive As Researchers Grow Organs in Lab.” While most people would think this an exciting advancement, it scares the holy crap out of me.

It’s not because of the science fiction of it, Frankenstein notwithstanding, nor because I am afraid of having some test-tube heart or ear or liver. No. My fear is living too gosh darn long. My mom, God bless her, is 101, and wishes (because she is still very bright, sharp, and beats me at dominoes) with her nightly “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” prayer, to die. She’s tired of living.

It’s now a race. Can I make it out of this world by age ninety or so, or do I have to stay trapped in a rebuilt million-dollar body until I’m 110 or even more? What is going to kill us? If I have a one million dollar heart, what about my 50¢ brain? Can they grow more brain cells? If so, then who will pay for all of this? We know the birth rate in this country is declining to an alarming and destructive rate, so that our new workforce is dwindling, and thus fewer young people are paying less into social security. Result: we will not be able to sustain ourselves.  Where does this leave the government? Where does this leave medicine? Where does this leave me?

I would like to trust that someone will save the day. Steve Jobs is gone. Until then, I will race to my death to beat the scientists that would like me to have a new heart after I’m 90.  Or perhaps by that time, we’ll have an app for living without a brain.