Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - January 26, 2024

"I'm my own grandpa"

For a number of years, I was the advertising adviser for Kansas State University's student newspaper. While ads were a vital source of income, I also saw them as providing an essential service, connecting readers looking for items with advertisers who could provide them.

Whether it is by pulling on people's heartstrings, entertaining them, or just providing desired information, an advertisement's goal is make the recipient remember the provider in a positive way. This is more difficult to do on television and online, where ads often feel inflicted on the viewer because the option of whether to interact with them is often removed.

Still, there are some commercials in those media that pull it off. The current ones from Progressive Insurance strike my fancy. For those unfamiliar with them, fictional self-help expert "Dr. Rick" has been hired by middle-lifers to protect them from "parentamorphosis" ... turning into their parents. The connection with the company's products is delivered in the phrase, "Progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto."

Dr. Rick gives many tips to people trying to "un-become their parents." He cautions people NOT to document every second of their lives, NOT to use margarine containers for leftovers, NOT to keep car mats that fit cars they no longer own, NOT to scrub trash barrels with soap and water, and many others.

I laugh every time I see the commercials because, well, to be frank, they hit so close to home. Have I taken way too many photos? Yep! Have I kept margarine containers for leftover dishes? Yep again! And those are only the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Rick is played by Bill Glass, a veteran improv actor/comedian from Chicago, who described why he thought the ads are effective:

I think people are laughing at themselves. They're laughing at their parents a little bit. I call it "triple regeneration." The kids laugh when the parents are acting like the grandparents, the parents laugh when they're starting to act like their parents, and the grandparents are laughing that their children behind them are starting to turn into them, so I think Iím getting a kick out of the fact that itís so relatable to every sort of chapter of a family.

The universal aspect of these commercials was brought home to me by several recent incidents.

A few weeks ago, I converted some old family films into digital versions and gave copies to my siblings. When sister Gaila showed them to her daughter, Gabriela said, "Oh my God, Iím an exact clone of you!"

A few months ago, daughter Katie mentioned how she and hubby Matt were carefully observing some birds in their back yard and trying to identify them. She said it suddenly struck her that it was something she's seen husband Art and me do on any number of occasions.

This past week, daughter Mariya texted a photo of herself grinning while holding a hair dryer. The cold temperatures had frozen a pipe under the kitchen sink. The hair dryer solution is something Art has done.

As 2023 turned over into 2024, I noticed I was doing something mom always did - going through my new planner noting people's birthdays and upcoming doctor appointments and making lists of things to do. I always wondered why mom didn't just have a "master" list, instead opting for scraps of paper, index cards, and the backs of envelopes. Now, my own planner has several of those that fall out every time I open it.

By middle age, most of us have joined our parents before us in beginning the day with a cup of coffee. But earlier this week I heard myself declaring the hot dogs we had for lunch as one of the best meals we've had recently. It reminded me of other "haute cuisine" lunches when we waxed poetic about a bowl of chicken noodle soup that was "just the best." Art said his dad's favorite in his latter years was a bowl of homemade tomato soup, made to his mother's recipe. Gaila, brother Dave, and I put sugar rather than salt on sliced tomatoes - something our parents did. Dad's favorite bed-time snack was graham crackers and milk, and I find that really hits the spot for me, too.

While this "parentamorphosis" might just be a delayed response to things we learned as youngsters, I have a hunch that at its core it is a desire to be comforted. I have a gray sweater that has seen better days and yet, it's oh-so-comfortable that I just cannot resist wearing it in cool weather. It is well-worn, yet feels just right. It reminds me of the blue sweatshirt Art's mom wore every winter for as long as I knew her. Now that I think of it, Donna always mentioned how much she liked my sweater and how good it looked on me. She died 15 years ago, so that tells you something about my sweater's age. Comfort trumps fashion as we get older!

Art said in the 1970s, he was surprised when he received a pair of slippers for a Christmas gift. It struck him because he hadn't asked for them, never wore slippers, and they were identical to the ones his grandfather wore a decade before.

But recently, he pulled them out of the back of his closet and now he wears them daily.

The other day after slipping them on, he looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Now I'm my own grandpa!"

Top (l-r): Donna in her dark-blue sweatshirt; wearing my gray sweater while Art and I indulge in another comfort source - a sundae. Bottom (l-r): my planner; Mariya and her pipe-thawing hair dryer; the "my own grandpa" slippers.

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