“Did you bring my blanket?” my 80-year-old mother asked as I buckled her into her seatbelt in the car one winter day.
In fact, I had not remembered to bring the blanket, which my cold-sensitive Mom needed to put over her legs even in my toasty warm car. As I returned to the house to fetch it, it dawned on me that this kind of errand reminded me keenly of the time when I was a young mother. Back then, not only was there the baby to safely strap into the car, but a blanket and stroller and diapers needed to be taken along on every outing. Now, as I took care of my visually impaired and handicapped mother, things were not really so different. There was the blanket, walker and wheelchair, and even diaper-like Depends panties to bring along on every errand.
There was also the reality that going anywhere was no longer a simple matter of throwing on my own jacket and flinging open the door. I had to allow a good 20 minutes just to get Mom ready. Getting Mom kitted out in boots, jacket, hat and gloves was remarkably reminiscent of taking care of a young child’s needs. At least, once we were outside, Mom was not apt to dash out into the street, the way a toddler might. Nevertheless, the potential for her falling more than made up for that small blessing.
The incident of the blanket alerted me to about Mom’s changed position not only in my life, but in her own. Instead of Mom parenting her daughter, her daughter was parenting Mom. It had to be profoundly frustrating for her.
This carried over into other arenas, too. Chief among them were those that used to be her particular purview, especially in the kitchen. It took my college-age daughter to clue me in on this after we overheard Mom complaining mildly about my cooking to a friend on the telephone. While I naturally felt a little bit hurt about this, my daughter took the complaint as an opportunity for insight.
“Grandma feels out of control of everything she used to take care of,” my daughter said. “Think of it, Mom. She used to plan, shop for, prepare and serve the meals. She can’t do any of that on her own now. It must make her feel pretty useless. I think we should involve Grandma more in the meal planning and preparation.”
That evening, my daughter took out a pad of paper and told my mother, “We have to go grocery shopping soon and we would like your advice. First of all, are you craving any particular meal we can make together? I’d like to learn how to cook some more meals. So why don’t you tell me what ingredients we need, and when we get them, maybe you wouldn’t mind telling me your tips for cooking the food.”
My daughter might as well have waved a magic wand. Mom’s whole demeanor brightened as she named groceries to buy. And once the groceries were in hand, the two of them had a companionable, memorable time preparing one of Mom’s favorite meals. It was the highlight of an entire week, and the results were delicious, too.
Admittedly, I did not have the luxury of time for, nor did I particularly need Mom to teach me how to cook family recipes. But the lesson was nevertheless important. By being alert to arenas where Mom used to shine and by giving her as much control as possible over them, she felt less helpless and the overall experience was more pleasant for all.
There was another bonus, too. I began to hear Mom enthuse about mealtimes to her friends on the phone.