Role Reversal: Is it Work or Play?
Updated: Jan 14
I’m a mom to a 7-year old and a daughter to a 78-year old. Every day, I take care of both of them.
Before I go into the challenges and humor in this, you must know that my mother and I have a very good relationship. We have amazing capers and laughs and she’s my best friend. She takes care of my son and me as much as we take care of her.
And it’s because of this, the fact that she is still able to share deep thoughts and help with my household that it makes it difficult for me when I need to step in and take care of her. Not difficult, more surprising. I’m never quite sure when she’s capable and when she isn’t. But over time, I’ve figured out a few things.
When it comes to technology, driving, directions, heavy lifting and entertainment, she needs me. When it comes to laundry, vacuuming, a good listener and a good babysitter, I need her. All combined, we make a good team.
I try to take her everywhere, which drives my 7-year old crazy... He’s all like, “Grandma again?!” as we pull up to the senior housing building and wait for her to emerge, which by-the-way is a dead zone so I can’t access my maps or Google or anything while I’m waiting, which would be the perfect time to do that, so instead I sit there and watch all of the elders slowly make their way around with their little dogs or rolling baskets full of groceries. And I have to jockey for position because many times I’m not the only one pulling up to pick up my elder...
But, run-on sentences aside, it’s important I get Grandma because I’m her only form of entertainment. She’s not much of a joiner and refuses to go down to the common area and join a puzzle or a game of bridge. Granted, she’s made a few friends, but as far as getting out and about, I’m pretty much it. So, I try to include her in our excursions, usually errands. And being a single mother, I can’t leave my son home alone, so he gets dragged out everywhere, too. One is happy about it; one is not.
And full disclosure: Grandma still drives, but her route is limited, so I take her with me as often as I can. Also? I don’t really mind it. I love that I can spend so much time with my mother. And we actually enjoy each other’s company.
And mom is so happy to get out that if I say I’m going to Lowes, she’s all like, “Oh! Can I come?!” as if I were going to meet the President (not this one, although she’d probably jump at that, too, just for the entertainment of it, like when you can’t look away from an accident? Like when you’ve been in traffic for an hour and you’re hoping that when you get up to the scene of the accident you see something really horrible, even though you know that’s morally wrong? Like that).
Anyway, when I’m just bopping around town, I take her whenever I can. And she especially loves to go out to lunch, so don’t ever go out to lunch without her. Whatever I’m doing, I ask myself if it’s something mom would love to join (which is nearly everything). Needless to say, there’s a lot of swinging back around to pick up mom.
So, I can understand my son’s annoyance with always bringing Grandma, and I have to constantly remind him that we are Grandma’s only source of getting around and she needs us to take her places, and we should respect our elders, and we should appreciate our elders, and we should be so glad that we still have Grandma with us, and he needs to be nicer to her, and…. And I’ve lost him as he’s buried in his video game again.
I can only hope that something absorbs so that one day he’s having the same one-way conversation with his kids as he picks me up to go to the hardware store for nothing.
Now, during what I call, “Nancy’s Day Out,” which has turned into every day, you have to be very on top of things. You’re not just directing your child, but you’re directing your parent just as much, sometimes more.
“Mom, over here. We’re going to this store; it’s this way.”
“Mom, I’ll meet you back here; do you have your cell phone? Is it on?”
“Mom, yes, I know where I’m going; because the GPS tells me. No, it’s not wrong.”
“We’re going here next. We’re going there now. We’re going to such and such after.”
She asks me all day long where we’re going, even though every time she does, we go over the schedule again. It’s okay, I just repeat it. There’s no need to be a jerk about it. My sister, on the other hand, has no patience for this. She gets exasperated and will tell my mother, "I told you already!" I see no need for this. Be kinder than this to your parents. Please, just wash and repeat.
And the 7-year old in the back? It’s roughly the same but with a little more whining.
And during Nancy’s Day Out, you have to park as close as possible even if it means circling for ten minutes (or drop her off at the door). And you have to walk very slowly. And this is most challenging – because the 7-year old wants to run everywhere. Run to the door! Run to the car! Run down the aisles! Run, run, run! And so, I have to speed walk to catch up with him, thereby leaving Grandma in the dust.
When I turn back to see how far behind she is, she’s usually crossing the busiest part of the parking lot, looking right at me and not at the cars barreling towards her, and I yell to my son, “Mitchell, stay right here!” as I rush out to cross with her, putting my hands up to stop traffic.
I’m sure they would have stopped anyway as some very slow, older woman crossed in front of them, but she just doesn’t care to look first so it’s dangerous.
“Mom, move over to the side; you’re blocking traffic.” I have to constantly say because she has a habit of walking directly down the middle of every parking aisle at 0 miles per hour.
And...I have to clarify that my mother is not some ignorant dummy. She's perfectly capable of getting around and knowing what's going on. I think it's more like -- when she's with me, she gives up control. She just mentally takes a back seat to whatever I'm doing (because I'm the one with the busy schedule) and she's really just tagging along, so she doesn't really have to think about it too much.
And, I suppose we all do this to a degree. When we're out with a friend and just tagging along on their errands, don't we all kind of check out a little? I might just sit a car until someone tells me to get out. I think this practice just gets a little more amplified when you get older.
Total aside, my mother prefers I say “Older” as opposed to “Old.” Agreed. I’m older, too.
And also, truth be told? Mother can still school me on a few things, too. She's definitely not checked out.
The best part about having Grandma go everywhere? Is the conversation. Okay, at times I do have to back-track, re-explain or just know that it will be too difficult to explain something and not bother. And this can be really frustrating when I'm trying to tell a story and she can't follow it (that's when her age will show the most). And sometimes when this happens, I express exasperation and then I feel badly about it. And this is why sometimes I try to simplify, edit, or abandon a story.
For instance, the other day I mentioned that I had a 90 minute call with my boss and we covered a lot of stuff. Later, she asked, somewhat alarmed, "What kind of things does your boss wants you to do? What's all the work about?" I remembered I had mentioned I had a long call and deduced she thought that meant something.
"It's just regular work, Mom."
I can't possibly get into what's on my desk. That will go nowhere and just create more questions for her. Then she'll want to follow up on everything, but won't remember the details or players of the task to begin with and it will be one big frustrating waste of time for both of us.
But for the most part, carting around another adult all day, whom you like, whom knows everything about your life and is funny, is great. I mean, she can really be funny. Sometimes when she doesn’t even mean to.
Like one day? In a drive-thru line at Starbucks? There was a sign that said “Pick up your mobile orders here,” and mother said, “Oh Poppy, look! Quick! Call them and tell them you’re in line!” 😊 She likened it to call ahead seating. She thought it meant I could call and say, “I’d like a caramel macchiato and I’m the fifth car in the drive through.”
Granted, I’ve never used the Starbucks mobile app, so I’m not much better. See? I’m old-er, too.
But back to the best part about Nancy’s Day Out. We have great conversations. And they run the gamut, from the most random things to the most important, life-changing epiphanies. And the capers we get ourselves into are the best.
For instance, last weekend we went to see Carol Burnett live at the local Performing Arts center. Yes, she’s still alive and touring. It was mostly a reflection back on her best work. It was a fun, nostalgic evening.
But on the way there, mother had told me to get cash ahead of time for parking. I replied, “Who uses cash these days? There’s a parking garage there and every lot takes cards now. I can’t remember the last time I needed cash.”
Well, wouldn’t you know when you’re downtown on a Saturday night and a few thousand cars are trying to find parking, the lots take cash only. We realized if we wanted a parking space we’d have to move quickly, but every lot we pulled into the guy said CASH ONLY! We started laughing already at the fact that we were going to miss the show because we’d be driving around Providence all night looking for parking who took cards!
When we made it to the garage (who definitely has a card machine), wouldn’t you know it the guy came out and posted the GARAGE FULL sign Right In Front Of My Car! Seriously! Dude.
Eventually, I had to find an ATM, which was down a thin city street where I double parked and blocked traffic. “Get in the driver’s seat!” I yelled to mom as I ran inside (no one was behind us yet). As I did this, I worried what would happen if she had to circle around. Who knows where she’d end up!
City streets in New England are not grid-designed. They make curves and have one ways and it’s not like it’s a simple around the block. And she hadn’t brought her phone, of course. And she can’t drive at night! I was panicked she’d have to drive. I don’t think I’ve ever done an ATM transaction so fast.
I finished my transaction and ran back out. I saw a red truck behind us and we were blocking him. As I ran towards the car I started yelling, “Get in the passenger side!” Like the Dukes of Hazard, mom flew across the hood of the car and whipped herself through the passenger side window as I jumped in the driver’s seat and took off.
When we got back to the lots, they were mostly full, but this one nice Italian guy said, “Yeah, gimme twenty bucks and I can slide you into this spot heah (that means "here" in RI speak).”
Seriously? This was a sliver, not a spot. But he carefully directed me into place and, with a little Vaseline, we barely slipped out of our doors. We made the show on time. In fact, there was no waiting at all. Perfect.
But we laughed all night at our parking antics. And the elder schooled the mid-lifer on bringing cash to such things! When no one under fifty carries cash anymore.
The moral of the story is: Role reversal is fun. Love your elders, help your elders and I promise you’ll get lots of love and laughter in return.