Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tsunami-Bound Cruising


When my kids were away at camp last summer we couldn't call them, but there were a few other ways that we knew they were okay. There were about one hundred photos of the campers put up on the camp website each day for parents to search through who were desperate to look for their kids. I'd find them and, unfortunately, I'd usually get more alarmed from the pictures. Daughter, in her second week, was still hanging out with the only girl she knew when she left, and Bar Mitzvahzilla always seemed to be alone and flat up against a wall. There were my cheery letters to them, their desperate letters to me, and there were emails we could send, for a fee.

But when my mother and stepfather disappeared for four weeks onto a cruise ship setting off for South America, there was none of this. No contact at all. A big ship full of elderly passengers carting suitcases full of medications and not a peep.

And why, instead, shouldn't this be just like my kids' camp website? A security photo of my mother and stepfather leaving their room each day, my mother haranguing my stepfather as he locked the door of their room, would have given me plenty of assurance that they, indeed, were well. On the deck there could be live video feeds of shuffle board games, of bingo parties, of beret-wearing World War II vets all jauntily out for a stroll around the deck. Or simpler still, video of them rushing the dining room for the early dinner, day after day after day. Or of the sleepy ship come 8:00 PM.

Three weeks into her cruise, the earthquake hit Chile and tsunamis headed out over the Pacific ocean, and then I had to start worrying even more. Where was the ship exactly? Was it sitting at anchor in the middle of the Pacific, waiting for one of those tsunami waves to hit and crack it in half? Was this about to turn into the Poseiden Adventure, or the Titanic, the passengers clawing their way to air pockets, or making their way to tiny lifeboats?

Unfortunately, the cruise line website provided no help. Its only purpose was to sell cruises. You can click on entertainment, you can click on food, or you can click on accomodations, but, even if your loved ones are right now being plummetted by forty foot waves or sinking off the coast of Panama, the website would never mention this. The website is going to stay upbeat, the tone Pollyanna-ish. Nothing is ever going wrong in the their world! And anyway, didn't you see that the Day 22 shipboard activity on the itinerary is "sinking?"

It turns out you can get a message to your elderly parents on the ship but you have to be creative. You have to send them a gift, like a forty-nine dollar manicure, and as part of the gift there's a little gift card on which  you have one sentence to speak your piece. One of my sisters did just this.  Her card, instead of saying Enjoy or Have Fun, said, "CALL HOME AND TELL US IF YOU'RE OKAY! Love, Sandy."

We got the call, and eventually, we got my mother and my stepfather back. And now? They're not allowed to leave.

Am I right or just neurotic about needing some updates on my parents? Have you ever had a loved one in the middle of a disaster zone? Ever had your kids away at camp? Is there one person in your family who is just more persistent than the others, who will not take no for an answer?


24 comments:

  1. My mom and stepdad lived in San Jose for years. I was always watching earthquakes in CA. The problem was when one hit, you could seldom get through on the phone.

    They now live near Palm Springs so not as many earthquakes but a few small ones. I don't panic as much as I use to. I have come to the conclusion that bad news will always find us whereas good news is sometimes slower.

    Of course, my mom and I chat three or four days a week using IM so I generally know what is going on out west.

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  2. It is horrible that they make it so difficult to communicate! I like the idea of the cruise line doing it like the camp, can you imagine?

    I have a friend whose husband works on a navy sub. Gone for 6 months at a time with minimal contact. I can't even imagine!

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  3. Your way of putting this was very funny, but the underlying message is clear. Where there is love, there is worry. Whether it's you're 3-year old, you're 33-year old, or your 83-year old parents.

    It's not neurotic to worry - especially when it's an extended period of time. And we're now so used to being in constant touch (email,text, cell), that an extended period seems longer.

    As for loved ones inaccessible during disasters? My ex - not yet an ex - was incommunicado in and about the happenings of 9/11. He stayed incommunicado for a considerable amount of time, choosing to call his customers rather than his family. We were separated at the time (I was still fighting to save things), and I was frantic. His choice to call customers rather than us, many hundreds of miles away, told me a great deal.

    My teens still text me their whereabouts when I ask. They're incredibly good about it. They know it's because they're loved. (And one of them usually also has my car!)

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  4. When you have time, it would be lovely if you could stop by my blog. Today you were nominated for the Creative Writer Blogger Award. Congratulations!

    BTW, great post. It makes a person wonder how hard it was for families who were separated by distance when there were no phones, faxes, internet, etc. that we take for granted now.

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  5. This is why they invented cellphones, for people like you and me. We don't need a lengthy conversation, we just want to know that those we love are A OK.

    I love that your dad and stepmom are traveling the world. How wonderful. Must they must check in.

    Sometimes don't you just worry about all the worrying?

    I can't imagine how my mother survived when I traveled around Europe by myself. Amazing.

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  6. Linda, I am selfishly grateful that you were able to channel your anxiety into such a humorous anecdote. This piece epitomizes why I love stopping by Bar Mitzvahzilla: your unique and perfect combination of wit and honesty. I often find myself laughing and then smiling in a heart-warmed sort of way. (Not in a heart-worm sort of way. That would be different, I suspect.)

    Thank you for the smile on this rainy afternoon. I'm glad your mom and step-dad are okay.

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  7. I think it is perfectly understandable, beyond understandable actually, that you wanted updates from your mom. This is a big, bad world we live in and our imaginations can take us in terrible places. A phone call or message here and there is a must. Great post!

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  8. my husband went into northern Iraq a few weeks prior to the kick off of the iraq war in 2003.
    Before anyone else was there, his team and a few other teams were there.
    He was working with the kurds.
    for three weeks, while the world waited, while my mother in law kept calling and asking if tim was home and I am like "no he is working late.." I had to lie to everyone.
    I knew he was in Northern Iraq distracting the Iraqi army for our thrust up from kuwait.
    There is no lonelier feeling in the world.
    If you want the whole story you can read lords of chaos and the whole infiltration of special forces into northern Iraq. It'll make your hair turn grey.
    lol.

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  9. that is a very creative way to get a message to them! haha..hilarious!

    I've had this happen a few times... once, in 2002 when I knew my husband was in Kandahar, Afghanistan and was seeing on CNN that there had been a mortar fire attack where he was... and I didn't hear from him ( when I usually got daily emails) for three days afterwards. The other two times were when Hurricanes Rita and Ike pummeled where we are from and my husband sat up most of the night 1500 miles away watching the people from the Weather Channel report as they came ashore amongst places we knew so well. We felt helpless watching it all happen on television and not being able to contact our families and know if they were ok.

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  10. I would KILL them!!! I gotta say, though, my parents are not much better. They are in Hawaii for 10 days and they will *maybe* call me once. Those darn kids!!

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  11. My mother-in-law tracked my husband and I down at O'Hare airport years ago after speaking to probably dozens of people. Once they located us after a frantic search and realized we were actual adults, not ten year olds, they just shook their heads and said, "Call your mom" as they walked away. She's available for rent if you need any more help with your parents!

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  12. $49 manicure to get a message that Mama's okay? I love it!

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  13. Nicki, I'm with you. There is something about natural disasters that makes you feel especially helpless, especially when all the services stop working. And I wish my mom knew what an IM was! Or that the cell worked on the ship!

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  14. Charlotte, I do think I'm onto something here, with my idea of live video feeds for the cruise line passengers! Now, if I could only get the info to the cruise line... But their website is strangely uncommunicative!

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  15. BLW, unbelievable about the 9/11 stuff. You must have been crazed and then to realize he was communicating with others but not with you? Unreal.

    And with the elderly thing, there's just this awful switch I'm going through (I know I'm very late at this!) but where I'm mothering my mother.

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  16. Robin, thanks so much for the Creative Blogger Award! I am mulling over my lies right now!

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  17. Terry, Not that there was reception on the ship but my mother brought her cell and forgot her charger! So within a day or two it was uncharged. She probably watched it day and night and wondered why we weren't calling her!

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  18. Kristen, you are too good to me. Thank you for your gracious compliment and know that heart warm or heart worm - I appreciate it!

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  19. Aidan, next time I'm sending her with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes, with sheets of paper inside that already say, "Dear Linda" and "Love, Mom." Maybe that will facilitate communication!

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  20. Chris, WOW! I love that. "No, he's working late," six months in a row. I'm surprised she didn't send detectives over to investigate his mysterious disappearance!

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  21. Jennifer, looks like this non-communication stuff happens a lot with the military. I have to say, definitely scarier than a cruise, even with a tsunami.

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  22. TKW, who would dream we'd end up being the boring ones at home waiting for our parents to call and their wild and gallivanting around?

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  23. Lisa, I love that! Of course they got the impression you were ten-year-olds on the loose, wandering the airport form her tone of panic! Hilarious! Next time, she's mine, okay?

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  24. Sarah, that particular sister is an attorney and never takes no for an answer!

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