When I visit my adult children across the country, I'm always trying to figure out the perfect formula.
How much time is too long? Too short? What's the best "where"? And the best "what"?
Google chat rooms are awash with contradictory advice: Never stay with your kids or in-laws. Or do. Never stay more than three days. Never stay more than seven. Always plan activities. Just hang out.
Before last month's trip, I decided to undertake an exhaustive study of the subject, including personal fieldwork in the chat rooms. I emerged convinced that any tension comes up from a single theme on each side: Adult children feel their houses are being watched for dust bunnies, and their parents feel they're being checked for dementia and failing health.
On the parent side, I figured my best bet was to be avidly unconcerned about dust balls -- it's easy; I've mastered it in my own house -- and demonstrably clear that I am top drawer when it comes to health and mental acuity.
Fresh home from a cross-country foray to see my oldest and his wife, I'm happy not only to report a pleasant visit but to share my personal magic bullet in the war against suspected failing health and dementia: Get a bus pass.
I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. Since my kids left home and joined the ranks of responsible, thinking adults, I've jumped through plenty of other hoops to convince them I'm still playing with a full deck. I went back to school, got a graduate degree and learned to change the batteries in my smoke detectors.
But none of this has brought them as much reassurance as when I arrived in Phoenix and announced that I'd gone online and ordered myself a reduced-fare bus pass from the Metro Valley Transit System. It stops about a block from their house.
I fanned out a set of five red-and-white passes for $5, and I let them know they were good for five full days of transportation anywhere for $1 per day, including a writers conference I was attending and a ride back to the airport.
You would have thought I'd purchased a Roku TV, installed it myself and was suddenly accessing 500,000 shows every night after dinner.
"That's amazing!" my daughter-in-law said. "We've lived here 12 years and never taken the bus."
To build on my growing reputation for mental acuity, I went on to mention that I'd downloaded the transit tracker to my phone, would be taking the 81 North, then transferring to the 60 West unless I needed to hop on the light rail, to divert around the Phoenix marathon.
"Are you absolutely sure we can't drop you?" my son asked.
"Of course not!" I said, failing to mention that I'd already downloaded Lyft in case I missed the bus and planned to be dropped clandestinely at the corner.
To further cement my reputation as a savant, I also brought the granddogs ultrasonic squeaker toys, which only they can hear -- a new invention their parents had not yet heard of.
"Where do you find these things?" they wanted to know.
"Well," I said, "I try to keep up."
As for dust bunnies, I did not see any.
If they thought my eyesight was failing, they were too polite to mention it.
Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a northwest Columbus resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Find her at PatSnyderOnline.com.