Living With My Aging Parents
Our guest author Beth McCain has a way with words and a wonderful sense of humor that just won't quit. When it comes to the trials and tribulations of living with and caring for aging parents, she brings a cheerful perspective that we don't hear often enough.
By Beth McCain
When watching the talk shows discuss the subject of aging parents, it's usually about the hospital bills, the doctor appointments, and juggling personal time now that your parents no longer drive; about parent/child role reversals. The one subject that I never hear addressed is of daily living with aging parents and juggling all the different personalities in the home. Elderly people have very strong, opinionated minds of their own; at least my parents do.
For instance, my husband and I have a particular sense of décor that we prefer. Micro fleece dark green couches, big professor-like chairs, a gorgeous cherry wood dining table, and old Renaissance paintings, all very antique-like in style.
Mom has a different taste entirely, and Dad has none. Mom's stance, Great Depression inspired, of course, is to use and reuse everything. She refuses to throw out towels, no matter how threadbare. She loves washcloths, even after they begin standing up in their own corner of the shower, replete with the funky mildew smell. She will only use Dial soap, none other. They only shower once a week (whether they need to or not) and Dad uses his pocket knife to cut everything from nose hairs, to flower cuttings, and the homemade bread I just baked. I always make sure to slice the loaves of bread before I set them out to eat so that Dad's ptomaine knife doesn't swoop in first, making contact with anything edible.
As I observe my parents interact, I find myself biting my tongue as Mom waits on Dad hand and foot. He sits on his big caboose, watching his Fox News Channel shows, doing his puzzles, reading the paper, and pontificating on all that is wrong in the world (If only they'd do it his way!). She has spoiled him and she knows it. Now that they are retired, Mom tells me she wishes she hadn't done everything for him. She complains to me about his impotence (eeewww!) passing on much more information than I need or would ever want to know. Thankfully, on one hand, when he busts out on a political roll, she tells him to keep his flapping face quiet. But on the other hand, this is usually said in front of our eight year old daughter. Boy, will she need therapy someday... Come to think of it I do, now.
I came home one day and discovered my mom had laid a flower print tablecloth on the dining table, together with contrasting striped orange and brown placemats. At first I thought she was kidding around until I saw the child-like glee in her eyes. She was so proud of her trendy purchase from the J.C. Penny Urban Collection. (Come to find out later, it wasn't the set she had intended to order... She had selected the wrong letter next to the picture in the catalogue because she doesn't believe in prescription eyeglasses and was too embarrassed to call the Penny's call center and return it. "Besides," she said, "I have trouble understanding them on the phone. I guess they must have a lot of Indians and Pakistanis living in Chicago.") I didn't know how I was going to be able to walk into the dining room every day and see my beautiful cherry wood table covered with Ugly Betty's dress.
My parents came to live with us about nine years ago. At the time, all of their grandchildren were young adults, and during their working years they didn't have as much time as would have liked to enjoy the ten grandchildren. After they retired, they were excited to learn that I was expecting a little surprise. We invited them to come and live with us, and so they did. Little Alex arrived, and my parents have been doting on her for eight years.
Mom and Dad owned a florist and nursery for over a quarter of a century, and were disappointed that none of us kids, or any of the grandchildren, cared the least bit about the business. We all had our own dreams and goals, and other than hoping for a little financial success along the way, none of our dreams involved anything green. And then Alex arrived with a big, green thumb, and soon Grandpa became her best bud, and she, his. While gardening, Grandpa would also teach her some choice words we would rather not talk about.
Grandma gives Alex all her empty perfume bottles; well not quite empty, just enough to spray the remainder on her stuffed animals. Alex's room smells like a room that, shall we say, would be best suited for red velvet curtains, purple silk sheets, and pink Sultan pillows. Whenever Alex asks Grandpa if her plants are dead in her room, he waddles in and takes a look. "They're fine," he declares. "They'll pull out of it." So she continues to keep all fifteen dead plants in her window sill, because Grandpa knows best.
My parents both have hearts of gold and would do anything for us; here's a perfect example. My husband and I enjoy taking care of my parents financially so that they can use their money on themselves. One time, as we were discussing an ATM card magnetic strip that wouldn't work, we determined we would have to go to the bank and replace it. Dad is hard of hearing and thought we were having money troubles. He opened his wallet (I'd never seen that many moths fly out of one location!) and as the cracked leather wallet creaked open, he offered us a five dollar bill. What a guy! (In fairness, he thinks a gallon of milk and two loaves of bread can be had for a dollar, and that two bucks is a J.D. Rockefeller-sized tip on a $30 restaurant tab.)
Mom insists on doing all the dishes. She actually becomes angry with me if I even try to wash a dish. Mom had cataract surgery recently, and said she can see just fine, thank you very much, but when she washes and dries the dishes, you can read Braille off the stuck-on food that she accidentally misses. She doesn't know that late at night after they have gone to bed, I wash the dishes again.
My parents have gotten slower, more relaxed, and even bought a brand new car; something which they had never done during their entire fifty-nine years together, even though neither of them drives. My husband and I had to conceal our laughter when they chose a brand new black car...with spinning chrome hubcaps. My Mom insisted on them. She didn't know that they were intended for young guys and car shows. To her, they smacked of high society, and "they're just pretty."
My siblings call from time to time, asking how everything is going. But they don't really want to know the truth. They want to live their lives and talk with Mom and Dad but don't want to hear about the doctor appointments and such. They know that I will take care of Mom and Dad. And I don't mind at all. My parents took care of me all my life, and I'm sure I had some idiosyncrasies and still do but they loved me and supported me for who I was, and I am doing the same. I wouldn't have them live anywhere else.
I remember as a child watching The Lawrence Welk Show with them every week. I can still hear the polka music from their room. Actually, I can still hear it now.
Polka music is blaring from their bedroom. It's way too loud, but unlike our teenage boys who blare their music (I use the term loosely) for reasons of rebellion, in this case it's because Dad can't hear well. I open the door to their greenhouse-hot bedroom and see my daughter jumping along to Begin the Beguine on Grandma and Grandpa's bed as she watches an old Lawrence Welk rerun with them. Dad sits in his rocker, dancing with only his feet as Mom dances right along with just her arms and cute little snapping fingers. "Mommy, look who's on TV," Alex shouts with as much glee as a seventh-grader who's just caught a glimpse of Justin Timberlake. "It's-a Sissy and-a Bobby! They're dancers!"
I grab my Dad by his little, fragile arms and pull him up to me. "May I have this dance?" He smiles and says, "I was hoping you'd ask me that, Baby Girl. My dance card's open!" And we do a little twirl and laugh. And in that moment, nothing else matters. Not the tablecloth, not the crusty dishes, the funny smells, or the funny opinions. Nothing matters; except that I am dancing with the first man in this world who ever loved me, as his loyal and loving wife looks on, and while the little girl who has momentarily stopped jumping on the big bed, and who will carry on his memory, makes a memory of her own. This is what life is like living with my parents.
Beth loves writing about her quirky family. She is an instructor and lecturer in applying the Law of Attraction to everyday life.To get in touch with Beth, please visit: http://www.bethandleemccain.com