On The Ladder of The Generations

I spend most of my time staying with my mother, who is 89 years old. She functions pretty well in her own house, preparing her own meals, dressing without assistance, and doing her laundry. She doesn’t drive or use a computer so I run errands for her both to the store and online. I stay aware of how she is doing and offer help when she seems to be struggling.

Mom's walker. which she is now having to use more.

Mom’s walker. which she is now having to use more.

Almost two weeks ago she injured her back. It was evident that she was having difficulty doing things she normally could do. I asked if I could help with such things as doing laundry or going downstairs when she needed something from the freezer. I tried to set up things to make them easier for her, for example moving food in the refrigerator so she could reach what she most needs. Sometimes I pushed her to take better care of her back, urging her to call her doctor, insisting she ask for help when she needs something she can’t reach easily, and encouraging her to take acetaminophen for the pain. This caused a little tension between us–mom pretty much thinks that things will get better, or not, regardless of what she does. Thankfully, she did go along with what I suggested, and her back is improving.

Mom usually is able to successfully solve problems. She didn’t do quite as well in this situation as she does most of the time. Besides her longstanding tendency to downplay physical limitations, I think age played some role in her not handling things optimally. Perhaps she is becoming more aware that she may lose her independence before many more years and wants to take full care of herself while she can. Doing so might of course lead her to disregard precautions and thereby risk premature loss of independence. I’ll keep an eye on how this goes. For the time being, I’m there to provide assistance but don’t usually have to involve myself in a way that would convey I don’t trust her to manage things.

I not only have an elderly parent; I am an elderly parent. I’m over 65 and have two grown sons. In early June my daughter-in-law helped me get my house ready to sell, and this weekend I will be visiting my son’s family, momentarily putting aside the child role to don the parent role. I wonder how long it will be before my children start to look at me with the watchful concern with which I now look at my mom?

In January, 2014, Judy Oppenheimer wrote an article in Slate about being an aging parent. Oppenheimer is apparently an older boomer, as am I. She notes that at a certain point our children start viewing us differently:

“We’re not dead yet. Most of us aren’t even that out of it. There is a certain facial  expression many of us start seeing in our adult children around the time we hit 65. It involves a faint tilt of the head, accompanied by an intense, pained stare, not unlike that caused by a sudden gastro attack. I’ve named it the ‘uh-oh, she’s starting to lose it’ look. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re either lucky or haven’t been paying enough attention (or are losing it). Nearly anything can bring it on: a mispronounced name, a forgotten date.”

Oppenheimer goes on to describe situations that can engender the look, most notably ignorance regarding contemporary culture and lack of tech savvy.  She seems a bit defensive, as when she points out that our children aren’t as tech-savvy as their children are, either. I haven’t yet noticed Oppenheimer’s look from my children. Maybe that means I really have lost it. I would like to think it means that, for now anyway, they are aware I don’t know everything they know, but they still respect me for what I do know. In any event, I’m thankful that I can look both up the ladder of the generations to my mom and down to my children, able both to support mom and to have assistance from below when I need it.

About Bob Ritzema

I am a fourth-generation American of Dutch ancestry and am trained as a clinical psychologist. In 2012, I retired from Methodist University in North Carolina to return to . Michigan to help family, and, in 2023, I started again with a move to Milwaukee to be near my children. I maintain a part-time therapy practice. I can be reached at bobritzema@hotmail.com.
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