Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ages and Stages

These days I'm worrying about getting old. In some ways, I have always been old! But when you look at the generations above you moving up the escalator just ahead of you, you can't help but think about your own journey. And when you have a rooster with special needs one step down, it seems even scarier.

I remember as a child screaming at my mother that one day she would be old and I would NOT take care of her, since she had not taken care of me. Nice, huh? Well, we didn't always scream -- in fact, we could go weeks without speaking to each other much at all. In my teen years, it got worse; she would ask me questions like, "Have you ever tried pot?" and when I said no she said, "You are not my child. Who are you?" I managed our two-person household as best as I could while she hung out with friends, overslept, picked up guys. I seemed to be about a generation older than my mother, and from a different planet. We did not speak the same language, so it was best not to talk to each other too much.

That started changing in my twenties, and really hit a turning point around the time that my mom fell in love with the first good guy in her life, and I fell out of love with the first bad one in mine. My mom started to grow up and settle down as I learned to loosen up and take some risks. She got married, and I got annulled, but we were finally found our mother-daughter voices. I called when I was in pain, and she answered. I leaned, and she supported. Better late than never, my mom showed up to save the day.

Now that I am 36 and she is 63, a shift: we both call with our joys and our burdens, which are similar in some ways now. We're both married to the right guys, we're both working hard, we're both tired. We talk a little more like peers. I find myself wondering how long this part will last, until we come back around full circle and once again I need to take care of my mother, as she is caring for hers.

My grandma has always been my hero. She was the one I talked to when I was growing up, who understood my love of school, who celebrated my report cards, who proclaimed, "I'm so proud of you, I could bust!" She was a teacher, and she has always been proud that I became a teacher. (My mom, upon hearing I'd decided to teach, asked for the umpteenth time, "Who are you? You are not my child!") There were times I felt like my grandparents and I shared the job of raising my mother. In my most bitter moments, I felt that somehow some crazy, unjust generational goof had happened, and I should have been their daughter instead, and then I would have had the happy childhood that my mother ironically despised and rebelled against.

My grandma stayed young well into her old age. When I left town to start my own life and my own family, she and my grandpa let me off the hook without a word of guilt or reproach, taking over the last remnants of supporting my mother, who has grown up considerably, but will never be June Cleaver or anything. It was only once my grandpa began to unravel, maybe just five years ago or so, that my grandma also found herself really aging quickly at long last, and my mother found herself having to face serious role reversal.

"She just won't LISTEN," my mom will lament. "I cannot get her to take her medicine, or get some exercise, or get a shower when she needs to. I just get so frustrated." I know exactly how she feels, and so I try to commiserate. I can't get the rooster to do any of those things, either. I tell her that he's oppositional, loud, aggressive, messy, stubborn, and exhausting. She says, "That's my grandson you're talking about! He's funny! He cracks me up! He's got personality! You can't get so upset. He's only three." I say, "Grandma is in her eighties. You've got to cut her some slack. When you're old, it's your right to be ornery. Besides, she can't help it. And you'll be there some day, and it will be my turn to be patient."

And after that, if I'm lucky, I will be the old one. And who will my rooster be then? It' an unanswerable question, like so many I have for the crystal ball when I think of the rooster.

I look at my grandma, young for so long, now for the first time ever too old to turn to with my own problems, and I feel sad and wish that I could help her more, as she always helped me. I look at my mom, helping my grandma, and I see how it ages her as well to take on this care taking role. I look at my son and wonder: when I am at the top of the escalator, will he be taking care of me, or will I be worrying who will be left to take care of him?

1 comment:

redheadmomma said...

This is something is such a pandora's box for me. Kind of like, "ooh, better not look at it too long because it's possibly the biggest mess you can imagine, full of pain and grief & resentment". What I read from this really honest post was that your family has prepared you in the utmost way for who you need to be now, and will need to be in time. I'm so glad you wrote this post. It's something not many of us want to look at, and it helps for you to shine a light on it.