On Monday, my parents left for Florida. Good son that I am, I drove them to the airport myself, ensuring that they arrived on time and departed without a hitch. As I bid them farewell at the terminal, they reminded me, as they do each year, that I had an open invitation to come down and visit anytime I wanted over the next two months. I acknowledged this gratefully, smiled politely and replied with a noncommittal “We’ll see.”
I’ve been down this road before. Last March, as I pondered the frosty reality of not seeing sunlight until mid-May, the prospect of a quick jaunt south sounded like a great idea. This was to be my first time since high school that I would be in Florida with my parents. But after three days of intensive face time with Mom and Dad, the harsh chill and bleakness of a Vermont winter didn’t look so bad.
Despite the sun, Naples, Fla., is a rather un-sexy destination for anyone not old enough to collect social security. But there’s still some bonuses to the visit – free meals, free drinks (to a point) and no dearth of laughs when you father explains to you how high-definition television is just a conspiracy cooked up by cable and satellite companies to scam him our of another $10 every month.
Indeed, the typical embarrassment we all feel when our parents do or say something ridiculous feels a little less red when you realize that prodding the waiter for the early bird special after six is just par for the course down there. Nonetheless, trips like this are fraught with pitfalls that will ruin your whole vacation if you arrived unprepared. Here are a few do’s and don’ts for those of you contemplating visiting your parents in Florida.
1). Don’t mock the elderly. Remember, you’re on their turf down here. (Incidentally, that turf is manufactured by Dr. Scholl, for added lumbar support). The entire state of Florida is like a cross between “Cocoon” and “Night of the Living Dead.” And while you may think they won’t hear you when you say things like that, you’re wrong; those hearing aids go all the way up to 11.
But despite their hawk-like ears, your parents’ short-term memories have a half-life of a bottle of hair gel on “Jersey Shore.” Be prepared to repeat yourself (a lot), and don’t be surprised when your breakfast conversations begin to feel like a bad episode of “Lost” (“Mom, I already heard that story yesterday…when I told it to you!”).
2). Do let them give you the tour. One night, you’ll be coming back from dinner or cocktails when Dad will take an abrupt left turn prefaced by the statement, “You gotta see this!” “This” is typically a new housing development, shopping plaza or some other wasteful blight that has decimated the natural landscape. Don’t fight it. Sometimes Dad forgets that you volunteer for a sustainability group back home, and tours like this make you feel like Iron Eyes Cody. Just look at the pretty buildings, nod approvingly and keep your eye on the clock so you can get back to the condo in time for “The Office.”
3). Don’t drink too much. This one is a paradox. When you’re with your parents for an extended period of time, you want to drink, but getting drunk in front of your parents leads to having a talk, which leads to you drinking more, which leads to another talk, and so on.
A brief word about going out for drinks: In my research, your father’s perception of the severity of your “drinking problem” is in direct correlation the price of the drink. For example, six Budweisers is kosher, but two Glenlivets is cause for alarm. Caution: This also inevitably segues into a conversation about fiscal responsibility, which leads us to…
4). Do let your father tell you about all the mistakes you’ve made. You know it’s coming so just let it happen. This usually occurs during the tour and after your expensive cocktails at the bar (see above). It will start with his assertion that you don’t know the value of a dollar. This always leads to you current employment situation (or, lack thereof), and his revisionist account of how you would be better off if you had listened to him. Don’t try to blame this on the economy because, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t have a job before the recession began (which makes you an early adopter! (Dad won’t get this joke so don’t try it)).
By now, you’ll want to defend yourself, or at least try to pay for those two scotches to see if that will shut him up, but anything you say now is only going to come out as a string of expletives that will get just get you in deeper after he tells you not to swear in front of your mother. Our advice is to just take it; it will be over soon, and by tomorrow morning, he will have forgotten the whole thing (see above), which will ultimately cause him to give you the lecture once or twice more before you make your pre-dawn escape when you’ve finally had enough.
All kidding aside, my parents were great and generous hosts, and I’m glad I finally took them up on their invitation. As I consider a return visit this year, I can only hope to be a bit wiser from my past experiences. If that fails, I can always find a hotel.