Thursday, June 01, 2006

The one where I pretend to be an adult

I guess I knew it would happen eventually – the role reversal of parent/child. Where the adult children cared for their older parents – taking them to doctor’s appointments, worrying about illness and mortality in a different way than when you were a child. A more concrete way, a more REAL way. To see your parents as humans – scared, in pain, frail – the things you never thought your parents could BE.

I knew it would happen, but I guess I figured I would be an adult before it did. Yes, I know, I’m 30, but I don’t feel like an adult. I have this card that says “Everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.” That’s exactly how I feel. I don’t feel like I’m old enough for this to start happening, and more to the point, I don’t feel like my parents are old enough for this.

Both my parents are 60, and I remember thinking how old 60 was back when my grandparents were alive. But my parents aren’t old – my dad isn’t gray at all, and my mom looks much younger than her age. They go out to hear live music and have dinner with friends and drink margaritas and my mom takes yoga and my dad plays basketball and racquetball every week. That isn’t what old people do. Old people sit around and play cards and they smell funny. My parents smell the same as they always did. Thank god. Because old people smell is awful. Anyway.

The reason I bring all of this up is that recently I’ve been faced with the parent/child role reversal. Since I’m not working, I have lots of free time to do whatever anyone needs me to. A couple of weeks ago, I took my mom to have a minor surgical procedure. I sat in the waiting room for 3 hours, and when they called me back to where she was recovering, she looked so tiny laying there in her hospital gown on a hospital bed. The doctor comes in and explains to me all of the stuff that they did and what she needed to do once she got home and then he hands me the discharge papers to sign because I’m the responsible adult. WHAT? Sure enough, next to where I had to sign, it said “signature of patient or responsible adult.” Gah. The pressure. So I sign th papers, and wait for my mom to come out of the anesthesia and I walk with her to the car, with her holding my arm for balance. It was so strange.

Today I was at the Hot Tub House, because the owner had back surgery last Friday and her husband had to go back to work today, so she needed someone around for a couple of hours in case she needed anything. So we went for a walk and I went and got us lunch and then I took her to the doctor. Again, super weird, because she’s even younger than my parents. And I want to make sure she's ok without treating her like the weak and infirm, so that's a fine line to learn how to walk.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind helping out at all. I like it, actually. I would rather do it than have one of them hurt themselves or whatever. My mom said she was glad it was me that took her to the doctor and not my dad, because I’m much more patient and mellow. And I joked about how she should have gotten my brother to take her and she’s like “NO WAY”, and that’s when I realized that I’m the one. I’m the one who will take my parents to the doctors and be the responsible adult.

It’s totally surreal and I have to face it, even though I’m not ready for that phase to begin yet, but I decided one important thing. I will NEVER complain about taking care of my parents, because I would rather care for them than be without them. And not only have they taken great care of me throughout my life, they continue to do so, and that’s something that I can never completely repay. This is the least I can do.

But responsible adult? Really? That’s pushing it.

16 comments:

Hope said...

I've missed you Amber!

Very nice post. I especially liked the words, "I will NEVER complain about taking care of my parents, because I would rather care for them than be without them." I too know what it's like to know that when my parents are frail I will probably be the one taking care of them and not my brothers.

The Husband said...

my parents are mid to late 60's and i've experienced the samething. one time my mom hurt her elbow. she needed help styling her hair. i had to blow dry it and brush it. needless to say it was quite an event. i joked by saying "i guess i better get used to this". its kind of sad watching your parents get older. its even worse when your older relatives start passing away. fortunately both my parents are in great health.

Crystal said...

i know exactly what you mean! my mother had an ooforectomy (sp?) last year and to see her lying in a hospital bed and having a nurse have to come change her sheets was almost more than i could take. even though it wasn't a life threatening surgery, it still made me realize that she won't be around forever and that kills me. i don't know what i would be without her and my dad.

Amanda said...

this is all too familiar, parents in hospital gowns. last week my dad had a heart scare and i realized that at my age, he had already been, in effect, an orphan for 3+ years. i am still too young to be less one parent! i totally identified with what you wrote here about dealing with it in a different part of the brain, a part that's a little tougher and more realistic. even if that reality is inconceivable.
xoxo

Whinger said...

It is taking all my strength to not plug my ears and sing "Lalalalalala" about my parents getting old.

Of course you hate it. But make sure you're not doing it alone.

Mr. Fabulous said...

I am in the same situation with my dad, who is now in his late 70's. Hey, I'm 44 and I think you know that *I* am not an adult either, LOL.

It sure is an adjustment.

-J said...

I this all right out of the way when I was 14 and my mother was diagnosed terminal with cancer. So ... I have that going for me.

It is an odd role to be placed in because I don't think we are ever taught to consider our parents as frail ... or even human, really.

Oh, and this is where the estate planning attorney part of me kicks in, I hope they have long-term care insurance, a living will, a durable power of attorney, and some sort of health care proxy. (The durable power of attorney is for financial matters, while the health care proxy is for medical. They are sometimes incorporated into one document. These documents help with some obvious potential complications, and help the person avoid a costly and oftentimes embarassing guardianship proceeding.)

Kyahgirl said...

When exactly do you start feeling like an adult? I'm not there yet, even though I have kids of my own.

You did a good job Amber. Your folks are lucky to have you to help them.

Cheryl said...

I missed you while I was away!

Anyway, any time I am faced with those "responsible adult" moments I freak out too. Actually I got kind of freaked buying a baby gift for a good friend recently. It was too much.

Further on up the road said...

Do you ever get used to it? My Mum passed away in April and I was there in the hospital and like this little kid with all this responsibility. It hasn't stopped as I'm the executor of her will so am now embrioled in trying to get her estate all sorted out. Where the hell was the bit in the job description about all this. But I suppose you never are ready for these things - you just have to breath deep and cope as best you can.

lil'bitty said...

You sound like my Daddy. He looks at it like this. . . . You are a kid still playing dress-up. You just put on the clothes and hat of a responsible adult when needed. Kinda like being a super-hero. It's Responsible Adult Amber to the rescue. No cape or mask needed. The rest of the time you are free to be as childlike and silly as you want. The difficulty is not wearing the Responsible hat too much. . . . you get old and boring if you do.

United We Lay said...

I'm 28, pregnant, married, and own my own house. I still don't feel like an adult. Sometimes, in the classroom (I'm a teacher), I have flashes of adulthood, but not often and it doesn't last long.

Timmortal said...

There's way too much adulthood over here. Where did Amber go?

Nicole said...

Great post. The realization of our parents' humanness and mortality is indeed difficult. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and then my dad with prostate cancer, I felt similarly unprepared to be the responsible adult (I'm the oldest) who would eventually care for them in their old age. Thank God they're still around, because as you say, it's better to be charged with caring for them than to be without them. Beautiful!

Miladysa said...

This is an amazing post! Has your mother read it?

Peter DeWolf said...

“Everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”

That is perfect.

And that was a wonderful post.