This is for sure the latest that I’ve sat down to write without knowing exactly what I was going to say. Do you think I can take a pass? I suppose not. A deadline is a deadline, and I’m not known for missing them.
This morning, I took my mother shopping. My father’s birthday is coming up, and my mother no longer can perform all the steps necessary to buy a present on her own: choose a store, drive to it, make the selections, and get home. Having spent the day with her, I don’t think she could do any of those steps without assistance. She has a debilitating memory problem that I’m not anxious to put a name to. Even with a list in hand today, she wasn’t sure what we were supposed to be buying and for whom.
I thought we would first go to Filene’s Basement, where my father told me to shop, and then we could run over to the hoity-toity mall to shmy around. I haven’t been out with just my mother in a long time, and she hasn’t been out and about doing her thing without my father in a long time; it seemed like she’d enjoy it.
The particular branch of Filene’s basement we went to is in two separate buidlings. We finished in the men’s building, and then I wanted to go across the street to the other store to buy some sunglasses for myself. It was not a small effort to cross the street, deal with the curbs, etc. My mother is not frail in the elderly sense, or she hadn’t been, or maybe I just never thought of her that way. She does have back problems, but I don’t know how much that explains the speed she was traveling at and the work it took to get from one store to the other.
Once inside the second store, my mother opted to sit in a chair and wait for me while I picked out a few pairs of sunglasses to bring over to show her. After I purchased the glasses, I realized there was something else I wanted to buy at the men’s store, so we went back across the street and shopped a little more. By the time we’d finished with this fairly small errand, I could see it had been enough. No hoity-toity mall. I brought her home.
I see my parents a fair amount, but usually they come to my house. Such occasions do not provide any challenge to them: I’m cooking and serving, they are sitting, relaxing, and socializing. Nothing to it. My visits to their house are much less frequent, so seeing them today in their “natural habitat” drove home what I have known intellectually for a while. My father and I openly discuss the difficulties, and the image of him struggling to get groceries up the steps (he does all the food shopping now) was very real, but not quite as real as it was today when I saw how he labored to walk up the steps without any groceries. (I brought them up for him, since I was there.)
I suppose it sounds like the same old story of parents aging. But every story is unique, isn’t it? My parents were so dominating—one might say controlling (and one surely has, many times)—that I essentially have had to redefine who they are as they’ve aged. It brings to mind On Golden Pond, in which Jane Fonda’s character is so nasty to her father, and so stuck on the past. She is oblivious to what the audience can see: her father is an old man, and he no longer has the desire or energy to do what she imagines he is doing to her.
For the most part, I have let go of these types of long-held views of my parents. “Let go of” is probably too weak a word, because I have worked to obliterate the aspects of our relationship that for me were negative. But I’ve also come to realize, well before today, that they no longer have the teeth they had. They don’t tend to try to parent anymore (thank God), even if there is an occasional flareup. They both are and are not their former selves.
They haven’t been perfect parents, nor have I been the perfect daughter. But the counter has been reset, and we move forward now from a new reference point.
As Walter Cronkite used to say, “and that’s the way it is.”
If you’re in New England, enjoy (ergh) the snow, the snow day or half day, and the rest of the weekend. Thanks for reading, and I’m sorry I started writing so late. I am not quite sure what I’ve said, and that’s never good when you’re writing in public.