Help books, talk shows and countless studies help parents maneuver through the tween years. They are primarily focused on girls and boys between the ages of, “What do these growing body parts do?” and “Let’s do these growing body parts.”
What about real tweens?
Those of us in our mid-40s, straddled between two unruly generations — one that won’t listen and another that can’t hear — we’re the ones who really need help.
Especially now as we approach that truly unsettling phase that cannot be avoided, no matter how much we drink…when our parents, and their peers, start dying.
Relatives are getting sick and this brings up anxiety, questions, and about a million different issues.
Unless I get hit with Ebola, or brain trauma after watching Charlie Crist vs. Rick Scott debates, the generation before me will likely go first.
What does this mean?
It means that someone should convince my mother to clean her dresser because going through that underwear drawer is not on my Bucket List.
And that’s the least of it. What happens as they start to slip away? Who’s going to pay all the bills and wipe everyone’s arse? Who’s going to decide when to sell the house? Do I even have the ability to hold their hands and stay silent? Who’s going to help my dad walk around the neighborhood and keep everyone in line?
These concerns keep me up at night.
My mom, she has other concerns.
A mutual friend, in her early 80s, recently announced that she’d acquired a handful of pills that would quickly end her life. She keeps this concoction in a safe place for when she loses the ability to poop or form a coherent thought. That’s when she’ll wash them down with her favorite whiskey and settle in for some eternal sleepy time.
My mom said, “That’s a great plan.”
I’m always on the lookout for something that might indicate early onset dementia. Hearing my ultra-Catholic mom say that was a start.
I furrowed my brow.
“No you don’t, mom. You don’t think that’s a great idea.”
She immediately motioned, with her hands, to stop with all the furrowing because wrinkles on ladies are “ugly.”
That’s right. I can tell her tone from a simple hand motion.
I continued, but with limited facial expressions.
“You believe in a natural death, and she’s talking about an assist. Those pills… ”
“I know what I’m saying, Catherine. Those pills are a great idea. I wouldn’t take them myself, of course. I’d give them to you to administer.”
She sipped her wine.
I leaned in thinking I was the one with early onset dementia.
“I have to give them to you?”
“You’re not as sentimental as your brother and sisters.” She reached for more wine. “They’d fall apart.”
She can flatter me all she wants, I know what she’s thinking. It’s like I can read that old lady’s mind. “You left the church years ago, what difference does it make if you kill your mother? Enjoy hell.”
It’s not that the thought of losing my parents doesn’t upset me. It does. Every time I walk through their garage, I think about it and cry a little. I look around at eight luggage sets, 350 different kinds of tools that seemed like a great idea after one too many This Old House episodes and a dozen too many beers, the Deep Purple and Pink Floyd record collections, old SCUBA gear that hasn’t fit them since Carter was in office…and I usually say out loud, “This will all be mine one day.”
That’s right. Mine to clean, mine to sort, mine to decide which to dump and which to sell, mine to list on eBay, and mine to donate all the money to some Catholic charity because neither of my parents would think to fund my future therapy sessions.
And my siblings’ lectures eight months later about how I did everything wrong and how mom seriously should have put them in charge? All that will be mine, too.
Inside the house is no picnic either. My sister recently asked me to fetch her yearbook, which is under one of the beds in mom’s house.
I told her I don’t look under the beds in mom’s house because I don’t need a) Christmas wrapping paper from 1975 or b) nightmares.
Another concern? I’ll be the one to take care of these people as they become more and more impossible.
When older relatives get even older, their annoying qualities don’t disappear. Remember all those reasons you moved away? How they bring every discussion back to themselves and their pinched nerves. How they make faces when you suggest there is life after veal. How they watch Law & Order around the clock, with the volume set at JETLINER, and can’t tell you a thing about the plot.
These quirks don’t go away when they get sick. Relatives don’t get handed a diagnosis and turn into a collection of saints who actually let you finish a sentence. You don’t just wake up one day and all of a sudden find audible digestion adorable.
You still get annoyed. And feel guilty on top of it.
But when that happens to me, I think about that garage. Sitting through Law & Order without complaining. Doing all this for free. And how my kids will have to one day listen to my stories and wipe my arse.
How about that? The guilt is gone.
Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.