“I guess I should warn you that I have a black eye,” came the admission on the other end of the phone. “Since now you’re going to hear about it anyway.”
Sounds like an admission from my teenaged daughter who was trying to cover up a nasty incident?
Hardly. My teen is far more forthcoming and easier to deal with.
The person on the other end of the phone was my mother.
Apparently, my brother and his family had decided at the last minute to drive a couple hours to spend Mother’s Day with her. This was the only reason she was now fessing up to her shiner.
“I didn’t think I was going to have to see anyone,” she said, meaning her three adult children.
With my brother’s impending visit, she finally spilled the whole story. How she had been cooking dinner and set off the fire alarms in her apartment.
“I can easily disable the one in the hallway,” she shared proudly, “but the one in the bedroom is more challenging.
Add “disabling fire alarms” to the list of skills you never need your elderly mother to be good at.
“So I climbed up on my on my bed and reached up,” she continued, “Only I lost my balance and came crashing down between the bed and the dresser.”
“What did you think on the way down?” knowing the direction my mother wanted this conversation to go.
“Oh, #L^%$!” said my mother, who has always taken pride in cursing like a sailor. “I’m going to break something. No, I’m going to die. No, even worse those rotten kids are going to put me in a home.”
There you have the backstory on my mother’s black eye. Which also, by the way, includes bruises up and down her body, yet no broken bones.
You also have insight to her greatest fear. Not fire. Not falling, but losing her independence.
Which brings up the challenge I can only imagine more than a few of us face.
How do you care for a parent who lives far away, makes questionable choices and has little interest in being cared for in the way you want?
My mom has lived her entire life within the same 5 square mile area of Los Angeles. All three of us kids moved away and set up lives years ago. My dad’s been gone for six years.
That leaves my mom living alone in a city and an apartment she refuses to leave.
We’ve been making some less than gentle hints for years now, suggesting different living situations, introducing the idea that she come live near one of us kids.
She won’t hear of it.
“That would be such a burden,” she insists, not realizing the burden of parenting your parent from across the country.
The truth is, unlike idealized versions of grandmas I see on TV, my mom doesn’t live just to spend time with her kids and grandchildren. Within 24 hours of any visit, she’s pretty much had enough of us.
Some people find this shocking. But I know it’s who she’s always been.
She was very clear on the No. 1 quality she wanted to instill in her three children. “Independence,” she will tell you.
Which leads me to the one and only tool I’ve discovered in parenting a parent cross-country.
She’s happier in the city where she’s spent her entire life, surrounded by her best friends since elementary school and the stuff she’s filled up her apartment with than she is around her kids and grandkids.
It doesn’t mean it’s easy to get that call from across the country, Mom sharing like a busted teenager. The idea that her choices might mean a shorter life punch me in the gut. But at the end of the day they are her choices.
She long ago disarmed me and most of my protestations like she did that darned apartment fire alarm.
“Could you maybe try to be more forthcoming next time you fall?” I try.
“Oh, please,” she says, as over the phone I can practically hear her eyes rolling through her head.
Wasn’t it easier when we were the kids and they were the parents?