Friday, September 4, 2009

When the Child Becomes the Parent

My dad has had some major health issues for most of my life. He had his first heart attack when I was 14, triple bypass when I was 16, stents put in when I was in college, developed Type II diabetes before I got married, and in the last few years they discovered that his hemoglobin levels have dropped inexplicably, so he has to have injections and infusions every 6 months or so to maintain them. And at the first of this year, he had to have surgery on his eye for leaking blood vessels. Because it’s been like this for so long, it kind of becomes part of you, and isn’t something we dwell on except when it’s brought to the forefront by another development or a relapse or hospital visit.

For my mother, though, changes in her life have made it more of a focal point through the years. When Dad first had heart problems, she was busy with work and dealing with two teenage daughters. Then we left for college, so things slowed down a bit, but she was still working. A few years ago, she got laid off. About six months later, Dad started running out of energy. It got to the point where he literally could not get out of the chair one day. Mom thought he was going to die right there in the living room. Initially I thought it was good that she wasn’t working then because it gave her time to really take care of him. But soon he was back to work. And she was left at home with nothing to do all day but think. And worry. She started having problems with her short-term memory.

I feel terribly because I didn’t take it that seriously at the beginning. I was pregnant with our first daughter and busy with work and caring for my own husband and home. After our daughter was born, Mom and Dad were able to watch her for us while I worked – what a blessing! I thought that would help since it would give Mom something else to think about. It did, a little. But because both of my parents are older – almost 70 – neither of them have the greatest memories. Since Mom has this issue, Dad always assumes she’s wrong about things, even though sometimes she’s right, and he’s wrong. (Typical man!) This has badly shaken her confidence. I thought to rebuild it, she needed to do something outside the house – get a part time job, volunteer, join a bridge club – to build her back up. But they only had one car until a couple of weeks ago, so when Dad was working at his part time job, Mom didn’t have any way to go anywhere. And it’s become clear that her memory problems have gotten worse. Not only do I tell her something that she immediately forgets, and I have to repeat several times, but she’s starting to lose her common sense about things.

We are expecting again and just moved into a new home, so she and my sister painted the nursery for us. My parents flipped houses when I was growing up, so painting is something Mom is quite used to, though it’s been awhile since she’s done it. Because the plan was to do the top third of the walls in white and the bottom part in green, I had told my sister that she would probably have to monitor Mom, or she’d forget what went where, but both of us thought it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. So what if she goes over the line and we have to repaint a couple of spots? Mom will feel good about herself for helping. And it did happen a few times - no big deal. What did concern me was one time when my sister left for a few minutes, she came back to find that below the green part of the wall, Mom had painted the baseboard green as well.

The latest incident happened this week. When they got a second vehicle a couple of weeks ago, they decided to move our daughter’s car seat into it since it was a van and easier to get her in and out of than their car. So Wednesday, Dad drove the van to the police station, and Mom followed him with our daughter in the car. After they got done switching the seat, they started back home. Since Mom hasn’t driven in some time, she’s not very good at directions. Dad lost her at a stoplight, and then he couldn’t find her. She wasn’t at home. He called me in a panic asking me to come get our daughter from him so he could go find Mom. I was a little worried, but figured, she’s still got her long-term memory – she knows their address. I thought she’d probably be able to find her way home, but with the recent painting issue, I started to doubt her, too. Dad was beside himself. About ten minutes later, before I could get there to get our daughter, he called back saying she’d gotten home ok. What a relief for all of us.

It’s weird feeling like I need to monitor everything my parents do like I do our toddler. As a man, Dad’s way of reacting to his fear is to get upset with her. She’s starting to get sick of it, so she argues back. With their bickering, I feel like a referee at times – how they must have felt when we were kids and fought. And I worry about their health, as I know they worried about mine – I was only 4lbs 5ozs when I was born. I’ve started going to their doctor appointments when there are issues. I worry when they drive anywhere. Dad’s eyesight isn’t great, even with the surgery he had, and Mom clearly has problems getting lost. I know they always worried about me being on the roads as a teen, or when I would drive back and forth between Kansas City and Colorado for college. I know that the day is coming when one of them will be gone and the other will not be able to live in their house alone. But they also won’t be ready for a nursing home, so I’ve already talked to my husband about the probability that they’ll need to stay with us. We joke about it being like on “The King of Queens”.

We are at that stage in life when we’re starting to transition to another new relationship with our parents. First, they were the guardians, and we were their dependents. As we grew into adults, we became peers. And now we’re beginning that shift to us being responsible for them. It’s challenging, but being a new(ish) mom, I have a deeper understanding of the sacrifices they made for me, and want to take care of them as well as they did me. What better way to thank them for all they have done?

No comments:

Real Time Analytics