To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

My mother-in-law has no business behind the wheel of a car.

In truth, she’s had no business behind the wheel of a car for going on 18 years.  The last time I was in a car with her, I was pregnant with Punk, and I felt lucky to have survived the experience.  In the span of a 20 minute trip, she ran a stop sign, two stop lights, and ended up going the wrong way down a one-way stretch.  When I made it home alive, I told my husband that on no uncertain terms and under no circumstances were any of our children EVER to get in the car with his parents.  He readily agreed, and nether girl has ever been chauffeured by their grandparents.

Knowing that she’s out there driving around has always bothered me, though.  She’s got dents all up and down both sides of her car that she SWEARS just appeared out of no where one day.  She freely admits to ending up in another STATE when she’s driving home from someplace; she just continues on the highway until she hits a tollbooth that she suspects she shouldn’t have to go through, and only then does she realize that she’s driven a good 15 miles (and a state line) past her exit; the fact that she has to traverse a huge bridge over a major river – not to mention passing several signs that welcome her to this new state in bold letters – doesn’t clue her in to her error a whole lot sooner is, frankly, terrifying to me.

The fact of the matter is that my MIL is a cantankerous, rigid woman who will absolutely NOT hear that she can’t do something.  It was all we could do to get her from a manual transmission to an automatic a bunch of years ago; my FIL had to lie to her and tell her that a manual wasn’t available in the car she wanted in order to get her to switch because she INSISTED that she was PERFECTLY CAPABLE of driving a standard (he, at least, was aware enough to notice that she went from first to fourth gear and burned through clutches at the rate of about three or four a year, not to mention how distracting shifting was; her driving is bad enough without her not being able to make the car go when she wanted it to).

The other day, she was driving my 30 year old nephew (let’s call him Adam) to a restaurant in a part of town she’s been to a dozen times; in fact, she picked the restaurant, so we were pretty confident she could get there.  Adam sent me a frantic text message about 10 minutes after they were expected to arrive, telling me they were hopelessly lost (from his description, they were about 20 minutes away, headed in the complete opposite direction, in a very rural part of the neighborhood).  By the time she’d got turned around and headed back to town, she’d run a red light, bolted into an intersection with a high-speed road, and was very nearly hit.  She refused to pull over, she refused to slow down (Adam said she alternated by going impossibly slow and speeding – 50 in a 30 at one point – and would not relent; she knew what she was doing, by God, and no one could tell her any different).  By the time they’d arrived, Adam was pale and shaking and sweating, but MIL behaved as though nothing had happened.  At one point in the dinner, she actually said (and this is a direct quote), “I’d say I saw parts of town I’ve never seen before, but I didn’t really SEE any of it.”

All I could think was, “Holy shit.”

Bruder Chili drove her home – Adam rode with me – and nothing else was spoken about the incident that night.  When we all reconvened at our house later, we decided that something had to be done; Adam was genuinely terrified, not only for himself, but about the idea that she literally could have killed someone – herself, or someone else (not to mention him) – and was pretty insistent that she not have the opportunity to do that again.  By the time we went to bed, the men had resolved to talk to Mother about it in the morning.

Then the morning came, and they all chickened out.

To be fair, I don’t blame them.  There is literally no way that that conversation could have gone well, and the end result would be that she’d dig her heels in harder, insist that she’s a PERFECTLY CAPABLE driver (do you see a pattern here?) and not spoken to the boys for likely a long time; Mother has a way of expressing disapproval that makes her family quake in their proverbial boots.  *I* would have no problem laying it down for her, but Mr. Chili forbade me from going to the house that morning.  Not that I blame him; it doesn’t matter whether the matter were laid out gently and obliquely or bluntly and straight-out.  Short of selling the car out from underneath her, there is literally no way we can get her to concede to stop driving.

I’ve decided, for my own part, that I’m going to focus on the things I can change.  If I can’t confront her directly – and I can’t – I can at least lay down the edict that NO ONE I love is EVER to get in the car while she’s behind the wheel, and everyone readily agreed (Adam most of all; his eyes went wide and he said, in his lovely British accent, “Right, you don’t even have to forbid me; I’m NEVER doing THAT again!”).  I’m doing some investigation to find out who her doctors are and as soon as I know, I’m going to be making some phone calls; all the articles I’ve read about getting elderly people off the road have suggested that the best way to get that process started is to get in touch with the elders’ doctors and have THEM initiate the process.  I’ll call the State tomorrow to find out what, if any, provisions are in place for elderly drivers, and I’ll likely call her town’s police department and give them her license plate number and ask them to be on the lookout.  I spoke to her pastor today; she’s promised to have a conversation with her in the new year about perhaps scaling back her nighttime driving.  It’s not ideal, but it’s a start.

I don’t want to limit my MIL’s independence; she’s done far better in this first year without her husband than I ever expected, and that’s due in large part to her ability to get herself to the places she wants to be to do the things she wants to do.  I would rather limit her independence, however, than get a phone call from the State Police telling me that she’s been injured or killed in a crash that she caused – or, perhaps worse, that she’s killed someone else.  Her car keys aren’t worth her life, but we can’t be the ones to tell her that.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “To Accept the Things I Cannot Change

  1. Jen

    This is such a hard situation. With my own mother in law, we were somewhat fortunate – she wasn’t able to start the car one day, so my husband went and rescued her and then we took the car to our house to “take care” of it, since it clearly wasn’t working. MIL was far enough into dementia that she didn’t argue, and we made sure we were available to drive her to appointments, etc, and she was in walking distance to stores.

    I hope you find a solution that works for your family. No one likes to lose their independence – and your MIL sounds like a piece of work. Good luck!

  2. Jen, thanks. “Piece of work” is often how I describe her, actually.

    Unfortunately, we’re no where near to the point where she wouldn’t argue if we tried to take the car away; in fact, it feels lately like she looks for things to argue/complain about. I’m trying to find equilibrium about that; I recognize it as a cry for attention, but damn it’s hard to give her the attention she wants when all she does is gripe and pick at us.

    At this point, I’m reasonably satisfied with the knowledge that she won’t be driving any of my people around. The next step is ensuring HER safety (and the safety of those with whom she shares the road), but I can’t only do what I can do, and I recognize that the greater portion of this problem is entirely out of my control.

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