Two and one half years ago, my mother passed away after a brief illness. It was devastating for my father and me. I don’t think either of us ever thought we would be forced to get along without her. She was our rock, the go-to person for everyone, related or not. She passed away in NY and was laid to rest at Saratoga National Cemetery. Incidentally, she is directly across the road from Uncle Dick and Aunt Roberta (you remember her from the mini-van story) and two rows behind my college friends’ dad. I like to think there is comfort in having them so close.
This leaves me and dad. Dad and me. It’s foreign sounding and not a statement either of us are quite used to saying. Mom taught me to be independent. Him, not so much. We have been thrust into a relationship neither of us were prepared to begin. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad, but most of the time, he and I were buffered by mom. He has attended every birthday, orchestra, symphonic band, marching band, show choir, graduation, marriage (haha, shut up) and birth of my children, but sat quietly and never overly cheered for me or went out of his way to compliment my performance. Apparently, that was Mom’s job. Now that we are together, we are getting to know one another and it’s not always pretty.
You see, there are a couple of ways to view your parents in this stage of life. You can either have Convenience Parents or Everyday Parents. Convenience Parents are parents you have on holidays and when it’s convenient for you to call or visit. You care, but your life is busy and you make time when you can. After all, they can take care of themselves or someone else already has the honor. Perhaps they get on your nerves as well. Everyday Parents are the parents you care for daily. These are the parents that you are on a first name basis with their physicians, know their medications, speak to at least once a day and manage to fit all this into your own schedule, even when it doesn’t fit. I have an Everyday Parent.
I consider myself in what I affectionately call “The Earl Sandwich”. On one side, I have my beautiful 8-year old autistic son, Earl, who requires special attention. On the other, I have 92-year old Patriarch dad, Earl, who also requires special attention (mostly because he’s stubborn). I also have some lovely condiments in the form of 2 daughters, a husband and 2 doggies. Of course, I am the meat of this sandwich (I prefer to be a lean corned beef). The Earl Sandwich is held together by the meat, even when the meat is expired, tired or hasn’t showered.
This Family Sandwich has landed in Indiana for the winter. I have managed to convince the old piece of bread to visit with us for the winter months. Notice I said “visit” and not “live”. According to him, “live” would be bad. Call me crazy, but my stress level elevates to F4 when he is on the 500 acre farm alone. The Sheriff’s department has been very patient with my “wellness checks” when he doesn’t answer the phone for more than 8 hours and my extended family and closest neighbors have been more than cooperative when asked to swing by just to check in. Let’s face it; Everyday Parents are much like children. As much as we don’t want to admit that our roles have switched, they have.
While sitting in the audience at one of my daughter’s performances, I looked around at the sea other smiling parents. I wondered how many of these seemingly stress-free people were also Elder- Proofing their homes. You know, elevated toilet seats, handle grips in the walk in shower, night lights that make your hallway to the bathroom resemble an airport landing strip, electric blankets on top of regular blankets, a pill basket that is kept on top of the fridge and the thermostat set at a toasty 75 degrees (which is working wonders for my hot flashes). Do these caregivers of Everyday Parents know that their kind walk among them in silence? I wonder. So, I decided to ask.
It turns out that many of my friends are having or have had similar stories and are more than happy to share. More important, their elders need to speak about it as well. Today, one veteran at my dad’s VA meeting told me that his grandkids didn’t like to speak to him because they have to repeat everything twice. Well, he’s just as frustrated as they are. His point of view about aging and increasing dependency on others was quite eye-opening. I wonder if children of Everyday Parents take that into consideration.
I joke around a lot about my dad. Yes, I call him Captain Cataract and kid him about the war by doing my stand up routine in my best Hitler voice, “Zat pesky Earl Morrow. Ve vill catch him if it is ze last zing ve do”. However, this family sandwich keeps in mind that every part of the sandwich has feelings that need to be acknowledged and respected.
So, Happy Holidays to all my readers who have Everyday Parents. I know you’re tired and I know it’s tough, but this isn’t a job for the meek. Be proud of yourselves and think maybe, just maybe, your kids are watching and won’t toss you into an old folks’ home somewhere down by the river.