The stranger on my porch appeared harmless enough when I peered through the peephole — maybe 85 years old, rain streaming from her big purple hat as she leaned on her walker — so I opened the door.
“Daddy,” she said. “I’m home.”
That knocked me back. “Pardon?”
“I’m your new daughter,” she said. “Didn’t you call Rent-A-Relic, order one for Family Day?”
“Wait,” she said, peering through her bifocals at her clipboard. “Do I have the right house? Is this number 1511?”
“Gosh, this is embarrassing,” she said. “Worse than that time I slugged John Diefenbaker.”
“What’s Rent-A-Relic?” I asked.
“It’s like an employment service for old people,” she replied. “Except instead of filling empty jobs, we take the place of children.”
I did a mental head slap. How could I have not seen this coming? It was the logical extension of the brilliant idea I came up with in 2014.
Longtime readers might recall that was when I proposed Ottawa institute a Temporary Foreign Child program.
Patterned after the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker scheme, my plan would allow Canada to make up for its low birth rate by importing young people from other countries.
Once here, they would fill out under-strength sports teams, play the less-desirable instruments in band class and work Saturday morning bottle drives, that sort of thing. (To be honest, this was not a wholly original idea. High schools already relied on foreign students to plump up enrolment; without them, there wouldn’t be enough bums in seats to offer some courses.)
But then COVID came along and the immigration stream got dammed. The flow of youngsters dried up. Now who was supposed to fill the void?
Old folks, that’s who.
Look at the latest census results and you’ll see a paucity of children and a sea of seniors. That’s particularly true in the capital, which even by the standards of the Great White-Haired North skews older.
Victoria’s proportion of over-65s keeps creeping up — 23.2 per cent of the population in 2021, up from 21 five years earlier — while a mere 9.2 per cent are under age 15.
It’s not just Victoria, either. Go to some of the coast’s retirement havens — the towns where the families vanished after the mill closed — and the people doing what used to be considered after-school jobs like stocking shelves, busing tables and pumping gas are more likely to spend their earnings on Polident than pimple cream.
Rent-A-Relic just represented an expansion of that trend, a migration from the labour force to the domestic front.
“How about I mow your lawn?” the octogenarian on my doorstep said. “It would be just like pushing this damn walker, except with spinning blades of death underneath.”
“Shouldn’t you be retired?” I asked.
“Shouldn’t?” she replied. “I shouldn’t have bought a Ford Pinto in 1973. Shouldn’t have smoked menthols for 40 years. Shouldn’t have blown our life savings on Nortel in ’99. That’s why I’m working for Rent-A-Relic now, taking the place of some non-existent teenager.”
“Are you sure you’re up to playing a young person?” I asked,
“Whatever,” she shrugged, giving me an eye-roll.
“OK, that was a good start,” I said. “What should we do next?”
“I need you to drive me to basketball practice,” she said.
“Of course,” I said. “Being a teenager, you don’t have a driver’s licence.”
“No, it’s the night blindness.”
“Anything else you need?”
“Money for drugs.”
I puffed up in indignation: “Look here, young lady, as long as you’re living under my roof…”
“Cholesterol medication,” she interrupted, waving an empty seven-day pill organizer in my face.
I hung my head: “Sorry, I jumped to a conclu….”
“Also, I’ll need $100 for weed,” she continued. “It’s for my joint pain (as it were).”
“Look,” I said, “this isn’t going to work out. Old people and young people don’t have enough in common for you to pull this off.”
“Lack of respect,” she said.
“You treat us both like we’re extras in your movie. Invisible. Inconvenient. You know what kids complain about these days? That their parents pay more attention to their phones than they do to their own children. The parents just say ‘uh-huh’ and keep scrolling while pretending to DAD WILL YOU LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU?”
I glanced up from my device. “Were you saying something?”
“Forget it,” she said, wheeling around. “I’m going to live with Grandma.”
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