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Roles and Responsibility - The Turning Tables on Parenting


I always knew that I didn’t want to have children. I guess I was intuitive enough to know that I was too selfish, and didn’t feel I had the knack for parenting. I have never been able to tolerate a crying baby or a screaming toddler. The noise is like a red alert saying, “Exit the building immediately.” I feel good knowing that I wasn’t cut out for parenthood, and that I realize it.

I never wanted to share my toys, and I still get annoyed when there are actually children in Toys R Us.  I never felt that I had the patience, the tolerance, and much less the wisdom to be a good parent.  Also, I didn’t want the responsibility that comes with that role.  There are times when I hate to be responsible for myself, much less another individual.

So I guess you can figure out that I have never had children. I’ve never thought of adopting or fostering or even Big Brothering.  I have had the pleasure of babysitting and that fulfilled any parenting I ever wanted to do. I must admit I was a good babysitter. Just ask my younger cousins whom I would watch occasionally for my aunt. They never seemed to mind the duct tape, the ropes, the locked closets or the chloroform. It was all in the technique, and the well placed monetary bribes.

I had a dog for a while, which I did learn can be as much a responsibility as a child. In fact, a child does not need to be walked outside in a torrential downpour, or forced to swallow medication by holding their mouth shut and massaging their neck. So, I guess there are some advantages to taking care of a youngster that don’t come with a canine family member.  

I guess I thought I was safe from taking on the role of being Charles in Charge.  No one ever clued me in on the fact that for many adults a role reversal takes place as our parents’ age, and suddenly we are living in Freaky Friday. All the caregiving responsibility sifts, and you are faced as a son or daughter taking on the responsibility of watching over mom or dad.

The reversal can be gradual, as you find your parent becoming more dependent on you to help them with personal matters, i.e., banking, finances, doctor visits, hair salon appointments, etc.  It is difficult to gradually sift your perspective from viewing your parent as your Super Hero who was your protector, your mentor, and your touchstone, to just becoming an aging adult who needs your protection and guidance.

So there be no question as to the sentiment here, I love my mother very much, and I know that I have become her Super Hero, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell the story with as much honesty as I do love. I just want to “keep it real” and not fantasize the past.

My mom was always the general of the Sparks’ Army. Although we were a small regiment, we marched to the tune of Loretta’s barking bugle. When the mess hall was open we were happy soldiers.  She was a chef extraordinaire, making all types of delicious meals and desserts. When the dining room shut down, Loretta would rule from her command post in La-Z-Boy Central.  There was no higher command than the Beehive General, and there was no question that mom ruled her kingdom.

My mom is from the generation when the female in a marriage most likely became a housewife and raises the family. She never learned to drive, so she was dependent upon others to run errands for her. The errands usually involved needing anything outside the four walls of the house.  The Queen Bee would shake the Beehive and we would buzz off in search of the honey.   

The phrasing of a command can make the difference between how it is received and acted upon. For the most part, my mom never gave a direct order. It was usually a twisted, convoluted favor request, that made you feel like you should be thanking her for being invited into her service.

I would come home from school ready to kick off the Hush Puppies and play with my G.I. Joe and I would hear “Vincey, I am going to let you go around the corner to DeLuca’s to get grated cheese for dinner.” The key part of the phrase is “I am going to let you.” This was her way of bestowing a favor on me that I should be grateful for. “Oh wow!! Thanks for this fantastic opportunity to allow me to venture around the corner to the smelly Italian shop for cheese.”

There were an unlimited number of “I am going to let you” over the course of my childhood into young adulthood.  At first I felt like James Bond being sent on her Majesty’s Secret Service.  After the first few missions, I was over the pleasure of her letting me do anything. “I am going to let you take out the trash cans,” lacks a little prestige.

My mom was always letting you do favors for her or making you an offer. She was Mom Corleone and you better not refuse her. I didn’t want to wake up with any stuffed animal heads in my bed.

No matter how pleasing it was said “I am going to let you run the vacuum cleaner,” is still being asked to clean the house. The mystique had worn off long ago like the STP sticker on my bicycle seat from all the trips to the store.  As both my sister and I got older and escaped to the world outside of Franklin Street, my father became the sole minion to Operation Loretta. He was the kindest, most patient man I have ever known.  My mom would let him run countless errands for her and he did it with a smile and love.

I believe that my mom suffers from a mild case of agoraphobia that has gotten more intense over the years. This certainly made her more reclusive and difficult to get out of the house. It was always a chore to have her just make a doctor’s appointment and see it through to actually showing up.   As my mom’s mobility suffered due to knee problems, my dad took on a greater role as chauffer, shopper, and general caregiver, with Loretta still calling the shots from high atop Mount La-Z-Boy.

My dad died suddenly in June of 2002 due to medical complications from a bowel obstruction. While my family was in shock and grieving from his loss, we also had to think about what was going to happen to Loretta, who was living in an apartment without any form of transportation. She very seldom left the apartment, because my dad at that point was doing all the outside work.

Surprisingly, it all seemed to flow into a routine after an adjustment period. I was soon receiving telephone calls to let me know that mom was “going to let me go to the super market for her, the drug store and maybe to the Chinese restaurant for that special sweet and sour sauce which was her Asian Crack for awhile. My sister was delegated as “Hair Chauffer” to take Loretta to get her signature beehive hairdo done. The only problem was that mom, never having driven, didn’t comprehend the inconvenience of getting up for an early hair appointment, getting dressed and driving to pick her up, when she would meet my sister at the door to tell her she didn’t feel like going that day.   

I often expected to read a headline in the local paper that stated, “Daughter scalps mother’s head in early morning scuffle.”  I was always able to keep my cool a little bit better than my sister, and I guess that was the beginning of my taking on that parent role I never wanted.

Although, my mom did have an old family friend living in the complex who was kind enough to pick-up groceries for her, take her to occasional doctor’s appointments and clean her apartment, I still felt like I needed to monitor her wellbeing constantly.

Mom was always the financial person in her marriage. She held the purse strings, kept the checkbook, paid the bills and managed the budget.  I realized that things were definitely changing with my mom’s household situation when she called to tell me that $300.00 was missing from her bank account and she couldn’t pay some of her bills.

There is an entire underbelly of society that likes to prey on the elderly. There are constantly scams and con artists out there ready to steal money from senior citizens who live on fixed incomes. My mom took the bait on a call offering special medical discounts on drugs and services, and she gave the person on the phone her debit card number.

I had to step in and close my mom’s bank account, and have a new one reestablished.  After getting the issue cleared up, it happened a second time. Then comes the very difficult conversation about how I wanted to safeguard her money, and I felt that the best way to do that is to take over her finances. I struggled with that conversation, and the fact that my mom was losing her edge with money.  It is also difficult to see your parent realize that they are starting to experience limitations in their own daily activities.

You begin to ask questions and do research. I contacted the Department on Aging to inquire about resources and ways to assist my mom that I might not be aware of. I was becoming the caregiver, and I didn’t even realize it at first.

There started to be an issue with my mom’s hands and arms where she complained of pain and numbness. My sister took her to the ER thinking perhaps she was having a heart attack. Her heart was all right, but during the exam my sister realized my mom wasn’t doing her laundry.  Her undergarments were dirty and stained, and my sister felt concerned, embarrassed and began to question our mother’s ability to care for herself.

I guess there can always be a form of denial. We don’t want to see our parent’s age, because that means we are getting older too. I wanted to remain the baby in the family.   I needed to face it though. The only thing I could hold onto was the baby fat. The rest needed to go.

My mom wound up at the doctor’s office for the pain in her hands, and she was given a medication that made her dizzy. She fell in her apartment, and couldn’t get up to reach the phone for help. My sister didn’t find her until the next morning, when she rode over to the apartment due to the fact that my mom wasn’t answering her phone. She was taken to the ER for an examination and the story becomes a roller coaster ride of trying to navigate through health issues, hospitals stays, periods of rehabilitation, falling and breaking the tibia bone in her leg, more rehab, refusing physical therapy, malnutrition, and eventually using up her Medicare therapy days and having to figure out where she is going to live.

Loretta went spiraling down from the comfort and control of her La-Z-Boy chair to the confines on a wheelchair in a matter of months.  I remember sitting in the final patient review meeting with the doctor’s in the rehab facility telling us that they could not recommend that Loretta return to her apartment. She needed long-term care due to the loss of her mobility. That is when the caregiving becomes tough love, and the role I never wanted stares you in the face and says, “Take me on.”

I had to sit down and explain to my mom that she needed to go into a nursing facility. I had to provide comfort, and console her. I needed to reassure her that everything we were doing was with her best interest in mind. I remembered all the times that mom had consoled me when I was sick, or had a bad day at school and needed reassurance. I tried to draw strength from those memories and do my best.

It is certainly not easy navigating the world of medical care for seniors and all the nuances. I certainly owe much gratitude to my partner Gary who helped guide me through much of the process; with information he had gained during his father’s terminal illness.  The cost of long-term care facilities can be very expensive, so it is important to learn about what options are out there to assist when finances are depleted.

My head was swimming and my heart was sick at the thought of putting my mom into a nursing home. Although, intellectually I knew it was the most appropriate step to take, emotionally I felt I was abandoning her to a facility full of strangers that didn’t know the responsibility of the Beehive, and that my mom was “going to let them take care of her.”

My sister and I made the rounds of some of the area nursing homes.  Most of what we saw was not impressive. In fact, it was disheartening to see senior citizens strapped in wheelchairs looking neglected, disheveled, forgotten. I would not let this happen to my mom. There had to be good places where there was a level of compassion, and where the dignity of being an elderly adult is preserved.

We were very lucky to find Shady Lane Nursing Home. I didn’t care if there wasn’t a fancy dining room or a library like some Assisted Living facilities, although a disco would have been nice. I wanted a place that was clean and the staff was attentive and professional. We found that at Shady Lane, and my mom moved in six years ago.

It is very important that as a caregiver, you make your presence known in a nursing home. It is not that they are lax in their care of the resident; it just seems to keep the staff on their toes when they know you are looking out for your parent. I had to become an advocate for my mom’s care, and I needed to make sure that she gets the things she needs.     

Taking on the role of caregiver has given me the chance to see my mom for the adult she is, and not just as my mom. She is a character, and I find myself doing all those parenting things I thought I would never do. I have to tell her to be polite, and watch her tone when she points out rather loudly “Did you see the big butt on that women?”

I have to check to make sure she is putting on clean clothes and to remind her to let me know when laundry needs to be done. I have become her entertainment supplier as I buy her puzzle books to keep her occupied.

Recently, I was buying her toys when she decided that the LED light-up ball I bought for myself in Target was a must have. I bought one for her, and when she found out they were only one dollar she wanted dozens to supply to the nurses as a thank you gift for treating her so well. She has also been through rubber ducks and dancing wind-up robots.  Like she was on Cell Block 3 with a carton of cigarettes, Loretta has learned the art of the bribe for special care and an extra tube of Balmex cream.  

My mom goes through food fads and if she thinks something bothers her digestive system it gets banished from her list of edibles. We have been though Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies, Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies, York Peppermint Patties, Cheetos, Ritz Crackers and gallons of A&W Cream Soda.   

When she realized that dairy products bothered her stomach the cream soda came off the list. I tried to explain that it is just flavoring that gives cream soda its name, but her reply is, “If there isn’t any cream in it how can they call it cream soda?” Have you ever tired to ague with an eighty-nine year old woman? My advise to you is don’t.

A sensitive stomach, irritable bowel or whatever you want to call it seems to be a genetic disposition in Loretta’s family. She has always been looking for some type of medication to help her digestive system. She is an Imodium junkie and has been for years, until a recent medical breakthrough – Hershey’s Kisses.  She has a very limited palate, and won’t eat many things do to stomach issues, but Hershey’s Kisses are a chocolate miracle.

In fact, I don’t think that the chocolatiers at Hershey realize the full potential of their little silver product. According to Loretta, it is the medicinal effects of the Kisses that cause her to go through a Family-Size two-pound bag in less than a week. I hope the candy maker doesn’t discover this unknown fact, because I would hate to have to get a prescription to buy them. I have also heard through the Shady Lane grapevine that Oreo Cookies could also have the same little known curative effect.

Loretta also finds pleasure in the National Enquirer, The Globe, The Star – anything that she considers a scandal paper.  I have tried to convince her that for the most part the stories are not true, but she is still convinced that Condoleezza Rice is going to break-up George Bush’s marriage, because he has “jungle fever.”

If she wants to believe in questionable journalism, it is okay with me. At the age of eighty-nine she can believe in anything she wants to. I hope that I am still as lucid and feisty as her if I reach that age.

Although it can be difficult, trying and sometimes just plain exasperating, I wouldn’t give up the caregiving role I have adopted. I never wanted to take on this part in the drama of my life, but I somehow made it through the audition. Life is cyclical and I now have a chance to give back to the parent who gave me life.   For all the stress, and anxiety it can bring there is also that moment when my mom takes my hand and looks in my eyes and says “I love you with all my heart.”  That is the time when I know I am being a good son and a not so bad an adult. 















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