Remotely Controlling, Again

More from the Elder Care Follies:

My mother’s phone was on the fritz the other day.  She’d been fast-talked by Time Warner Cable into bundling her t.v. cable and phone into one digital package a couple of years ago. 

We went through a huge hassle when her old phone carrier, Verizon, got in a snit about her switching and cut off her phone service two weeks early.  It was like Congress and the budget “crisis”:  neither side wanted to give an inch.

When her phone wouldn’t dial out for local numbers this week, I had them send a guy out to see what the problem was.  I wasn’t there when he arrived, so when he asked my mother where she kept her digital modem, she didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. 

Even saying “the little black box” didn’t ring a bell.  The poor guy was crawling around on the floor looking in corners in every room until he accidentally came across it on a little table in her sun porch.

All this reminded me of a post I created early in the life of this blog.  Here it is:

  My 89 year-old mother and technology are like oil and water.  Not only do they not mix, they aren’t even on a first name basis.  I thought this phenomenon was unique to her until I found this cartoon by Roz Chast in The New Yorker magazine.  It shows I’m not alone in having a mother who thinks the t.v. remote is a lethal weapon.


I should have recognized the roots of this behavior years earlier during the weekend of my daughter’s wedding.  We had to stay with my parents because it was an eight hour drive from our house to where the nuptials were to take place. 

I asked my mother if I could use her iron to take some of the wrinkles out of my truly lovely (ack!) mother-of-the-bride dress.  Out comes this antique that belongs in the Smithsonian, forget about anywhere near my delicate dress.  I instantly remembered that this was the same iron I had last used my senior year in high school—in 1965.  The year was now 1995.

My mother snatched it out of my hands and proceeded to set the dial to the lowest possible setting, which was either “cold” or “off.”

“You have to be really careful with it,” she said, as she made feather light passes over my dress, barely even touching the material. 

“It gets kind of hot and you can burn the fabric real easily,” she continued, keeping the iron a good two inches above it as she mimed the act of ironing.

“What in the sam hill are you keeping it for then?” I asked, as I took the still-wrinkled dress off the ironing board. 

The next day we went out and bought her a modern iron with automatic shut-off…..just in case.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when we moved her to Texas to be near us after my Dad passed away that she would bring along an antique television.  This one was so old, it didn’t even come with a remote.  You had to change the channels by getting up, walking over to it, and turning the dial.  And, no shocker here, the dial no longer worked correctly.

“No!  Don’t touch the dial!” my Mother would shriek when I made an attempt to see what else might be on the four, maybe five, channels she got on the thing. 

“You have to leave it on channel 3 or maybe sometimes 13, if you’re lucky.  The picture starts to flip if you try to change it,” was her learned observation.

Needless to say, we went out and got her a new t.v.—one with a remote.

That was almost ten years ago, and now that t.v. was heading for the last round-up.   But my Mother didn’t want to accept that.  Maybe it was her Depression Era upbringing that made her want to hang onto everything until it was absolutely deader than roadkill.

Then one day she calls me and says that the t.v. has been acting up, with a black screen with some horizontal lines running across it.  She thinks it’s the cable, but I know deep down in my soul that it’s the t.v.—and I’m in for it.

When I get to her house, she’s standing in front of the t.v.  staring at the offending black-horizontal-liney things on the screen.  I pick up the remote and press the “channel up” button to see if it does this on every channel. 

You’d think I’d suggested euthanasia.  For her.

“No!!!  Don’t do that!  Now you’ve made it worse!” 

Before I can even begin to form a reply, the cable technician is at the door.  She’s a pleasant young woman with a very capable air about her.  We explain the problem and remove ourselves to the adjoining room to allow her to work in peace.  However, we weren’t out of earshot, that’s for sure.

My Mother and I begin to have a hissing argument about whether the t.v. was already a goner when I arrived, or whether I had administered the coup de grace by trying to change the channel.

But since my Mother is getting pretty hard of hearing (read: almost deaf as a post) the hissing becomes loud stage whispers spoken through clenched teeth, which I’m quite confident the cable technician heard very clearly.

Just when I’m thinking euthanasia isn’t so bad an idea, the technician calls us back into the living room.

“Well, I’ve checked everything out and I’m afraid it’s the television,” she states to my still disbelieving mother.

The technician goes on to explain things further, but my Mother has already tuned her out. 

Then the cable gal does something that completely takes me by surprise. 

She stands back a bit and gives the t.v. a resounding “whack” on its side panel with her fist. 

Voila!  The old unit jumps back to life, with a picture on the screen where only moments before there was blackness and liney things.

I had to laugh out loud (much to my Mother’s consternation.) 

“Wow!  Sometimes the old ways are the best,” I hooted.  “This was the way we used to do it back in the 50’s when something didn’t work.  Just give it a smack!”

The fix was only temporary and my Mother’s set was back to its old tricks by the end of the day.  We went out and got her a new flat screen LCD television with a remote (which she’s still terrified of) and her problem was solved.

Until she started to have some other difficulties that, to me, were clearly cable-related.

This time I kept my distance and let the professionals deal with it. 

You can’t whack a flat screen television. 

Can you?

23 thoughts on “Remotely Controlling, Again

  1. I can hardly stop laughing. My mother must be guiding your mother to help her deal with daughters. 😀

    After about 10 years of these types of scenarios, in the early 90s, mother explained that she loved seeing her family frequently, but only for short periods of time. Peace descended. It was the truth and a win-win for all.


    • How refreshingly honest of your mother! It took us many excruciating years to come to the same conclusion with mine. She feels that every moment should be filled with conversation, and when that runs out she segues into criticism. I figure I’m good for about a half an hour at a time with her and then I get the hell out before everything implodes.


  2. Hysterical! My mom is 77 years old and has had a hate-hate relationship with her remote for years now. Any kind of technology is a mystery to her actually. I think she may be the only person on the planet who still doesn’t know the internet exists or what it is for (sometimes I wonder that too)


    • Your mother isn’t alone in not understanding what the internet is. My mother is right there with her. I think her knowledge of computer technology ended in the early 60’s with Univac. She’s always telling me to “punch up” something on my computer when she wants information, like I’ve got this huge machine in a back room with whirring reel to reel tapes.


      • That reminds me, I just saw an “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode where his mother-in-law asks Ray about the DVD player gift he just opened, “is that to watch porn on?” And Debra says, “Yes, Marie. I bought Ray a porn machine for Christmas.”


  3. What a wonderful and hilarious post! Oh, my mom is very much like yours. She won’t touch the computer – I think she fears it might steal her soul. You can tell which buttons on the appliances have been unused, too. They’re the ones you can still read. I’ve never tried to force her to become one with the technology, though. She’s managed this far to avoid using every switch and every knob on these annoying devices and I’m not going to worry about it! Thanks for such a treat on my Sunday morning!


    • Thank you, Snoring Dog! My mother can’t figure out the thermostat for her heating and cooling, so forget a computer. My 92 year-old mother-in-law, however, has one but she only does email on it. She’s too afraid to go on the internet. My husband told her that she’s already on the internet when she does email, but she thinks she’ll break the computer or something else awful will happen.

      I used to watch “Absolutely Fabulous” on BBC America and loved the episode where Edina’s elderly mother got stuck on a porn site and couldn’t get out for four days. 🙂


  4. Loved this! If someone comes up with a pill for the Technologically Challenged, I’m gonna be first in line. . . but I’ll get an extra for your mother.

    I must also admit that I’m a bit envious of that iron of hers from “back in the day” when irons were hot enough to really press denim or upholstery fabric. My grandmother had one of those and every slip she had bore at least one iron plate imprint on it.


    • I honestly can’t remember the last time I ironed. Always having to iron 17 long-sleeved shirts at a crack for my ex-husband (pre-permanent press days at that) has forever marked me. The closest I come to ironing is spraying Downy wrinkle releaser on clothes. Hmm…wonder how that would work on the face…


      • Spoke too soon. I bought a couple of short-sleeved blouses that are 50/50 cotton and rayon and thought I could get away without having to iron them. I could, but they’re that much nicer after being ironed. Ah, well…


    • My blog header is just a part of a larger ATC that has the French words “Electricine eclairage” on it. That just means electric lighting.

      The full ATC can be seen in my ATC Gallery by clicking on the tab at the top of the page. This one has the caption “If electricity comes from electrons, does morality come from morons?”


  5. I kinda’ side with your mother. Technology is evil and is going to eat us alive! Yep, your mother and I would get along fine. (Damn remotes have too many buttons!)


    • Thank you, Lenore Diane! I have to admit that whenever we have to go from daylight savings time to standard (or vice versa) I always have to get out the directions for my watch. “Now, what was that again? Press “mode” and then “set” twice…or was that hold “set” for two seconds and then press “mode”…or…oh, hell…where are those directions?!”


  6. That is too funny! I love it. Especially the line from the first part: “until he accidentally came across it on a little table in her sun porch.”

    What a great visual, and sweet telling of the story.


    • Thanks, HKHM! My mother must walk past that table with the modem on it at least five times a day (or more). Now she says “Well, it’s not really all that little…” in her defense. Yes, but it’s still a black box with blinking lights!


  7. Oh my, this is funny and brings back oodles of memories. My mom, bless her soul, tried not to be a Luddite, but let’s face it. The speed at which technology flows is daunting. In a few more years, I may be the little ol’ lady who’s afraid to answer her phone…or probably can’t find the dang thing cuz it’s so tiny it slipped under the sofa armiture and is lost forever.


    • I think I’m already headed in that direction, Linda. My cell phone is just a phone–I don’t even have texting capability on it. My daughter’s phone, on the other hand, does everything but vacuum the house. Now that would be a phone I could get behind!

      Thanks for stopping by! Y’all come back.


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