Another Stage of Adulthood

by Abby on July 11, 2012

patient in hospital bedAs I am writing this my mother is still in the hospital following surgery on her broken ankle. There were complications. The past few days have been a blur of phone calls, complicated medical terms, and anxiety. All of a sudden my family has been thrust into an unfamiliar and unwanted situation. No one knows what to do or say. There’s no precedent for this.

It feels weird. It feels weird being the adult child of an ailing parent. It feels weird to even THINK the words “ailing,” “frail,” or “elderly” in regards to my parents, because they are not. Of course, it also feels weird to think of my parents as senior citizens, but they are. Birthdates don’t lie. They recently installed a new first-floor bathroom with easily accessible facilities and grab bars. When my dad told me about it I wanted to say, “Stop it! You’re talking like an old person. Why would you even be thinking about that stuff yet?”

But they are. My parents are 70 and 71. My dad had knee-replacement surgery not too long ago. My mom will be on crutches and/or a walker as she recuperates from her ankle injury. My dad, the marathon runner. The guy who can’t go two days without exercising. Who plans his day around his workout. My mom, whose first questions to the orthopedic surgeon were when could she get back to yoga and riding a bike again. Do those sound like frail elderly folks to you?

Becoming an adult is strange and unsettling, if you ask me. When I was a kid I couldn’t WAIT to be an adult. I thought I’d turn 18 or 21 and all of a sudden, overnight, everything would change for the better. I’d be independent, in charge. I’d move away and get a job and boobs and start my real life and everything would just fall into place. But it’s not like that at all. (Not even the boobs part, sigh.)

Adulthood sneaks up on you in little increments, tiny shocks to your system you don’t even see coming. Like when your parents drop you off at college – and then leave. When you realize by “home” you mean your crappy 1-bedroom apartment, not your parents’ house. When you’re in the hospital after having your first baby and they say, “OK, Mom, you can go ahead and feed him now.” And you look around for an older lady wearing sensible shoes before realizing with a start that YOU are Mom. Holy crap! When did THAT happen?!

I can tell you exactly when the next stage happened – me taking care of my parents instead of vice versa. It’s happening right now. And it’s disconcerting for everyone. But it also feels strangely natural, too. Empowering, even. At some point, without me even realizing it, I became a grown-up who stands up straight and stands up for herself. Who can talk to doctors without feeling stupid and make decisions for my family without deferring to a “real” grown-up. I can cook and clean and pay my bills. (Usually.)

And I can take care of people. Not only little, helpless people but grown-up people who’ve never had to have anyone take care of them before. I guess that’s an inevitable stage of adulthood, too. Boy, to think I once pictured it as freedom and my own apartment and all the candy I could eat… Though I guess there’s nothing stopping me from that last one. Maybe I’ll pick up a jumbo box of Junior Mints for my mom and me. They’re her favorite.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this, my mom has been discharged from the hospital. She’s now resting comfortably at home and maneuvering around skillfully on her walker. I’ll be here for a few more days helping her out. The kids arrive tomorrow. Gulp.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Basi July 11, 2012 at 7:11 am

We haven’t reached that stage yet–my parents are young at only 63 and 64–but I think of this often as I watch them take care of my grandmother, who is hanging on at 97.


Lou Mello July 11, 2012 at 9:59 am

Yep, we dream, we plan we live carefree…and then, Life Happens.Sorta scary, but, I love your take on it being empowering as well. Hope all goes well with your Mom’s recovery and back to Yoga really soon.


Nadine Feldman July 11, 2012 at 10:28 am

Welcome to the beginnings of the sandwich generation. It is odd indeed to watch parents age and change. When my father-in-law went downhill quickly, we spent the last year and a half or so in and out of hospitals constantly. We took over all of his care, including laundry and food — and he was a tough taskmaster to boot! It was painful and busy, yet very rewarding, too.

My own parents are now 78 and 80, and it’s hard to have the conversations with them about their challenges as they continue to age. During a recent visit, Mom confessed to me that the part that scares her the most is being separated from my Dad when one of them dies. They’ve been together since they were teenagers and married for 62 years, so the thought of being without each other terrifies them. It’s hard for me to hear, but not nearly as hard as it is for them to experience.


Abby July 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Oh, wow, Nadine. Those are hard conversations. I can’t even imagine what it must be like after that many years together to face the alternative.


Malia July 11, 2012 at 11:05 am

Yes, I agree, it is strange. Some days I toggle between trying to talk my mom into downsizing to a smaller place and trying to talk my toddler into putting on her shoes. Being a mom and an adult child at the same time can be draining. My father died from cancer last year, and my parents are only in their early 60s, so I know that even though I feel too young to deal with this (and I feel like THEY’RE too young) they’re not and I’m not. Hope all goes well with your mom. She’s lucky to have a concerned, helpful daughter like you!


Pamela July 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

This is a beautiful post. I feel like a TRIPLE sandwich, relating to how you feel about taking care of your parents (they can’t possibly be aging, not really) as I watch my very active 88 year old mom age slowly before my eyes (no more tennis, and now NAPS in the afternoon,unheard of for a woman who acts like a hummingbird). And I have children to worry about with THEIR little babies, and I watch, and see them watching me, wondering when in a decade or so down the line, they’ll have to worry about me. But thank goodness for the love and caring, and that we spread it all around like peanut butter and jelly on that sandwich.


Abby July 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I love that image, Pamela, since once of my sons’ favorite lunches is a triple-decker PB&J. 🙂


Corey Feldman July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am

Scary stuff. When my mom passed suddenly, I remember thinking, I’m not old enough for this.


Rebecca Einstein Schorr July 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

So glad that your mom is able to recuperate at home, surrounded by her things. You are doing a great job being the grown-up 🙂


Abby July 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Thank you all for your comments and well wishes. They really are a comfort.


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