Apparently on the youthful side of the Victor Hugo quote,
“Forty is the old age of youth, fifty is the youth of old age”
I’m in the interesting position of mom to a toddler and daughter to parents aging out of their second-hand youth.
I now see our 50s as ‘the warning years’. Potential health issues that could affect the rest of my life loom on the horizon- achy joints and a cranky digestive system. So measures no longer considered extraordinary are taken. Yoga & meditation is practiced, supplements & chinese herbs are ingested and inflammatory food avoided, which feels like just about every ingredient available on the planet.
But even so, I will age. And so will all of us, if we consider death by old age the only way to go. Yet I also have a small child, who has helped immeasurably in my determination to take impeccable care of myself (with breaks for wine).
Yet all the other consequences of being a late blooming mom become clearer, day by day. Namely, navigating a toddler’s life while helping my older parents map out the rest of theirs. And just as there are so many more means to become a parent now, there are just as many options for how best and where to guide one’s parents as they age/die. And while discussing these subjects is tricky at best, tragic at worst, it’s becoming more acceptable to broach these issues.
Cartoonist Roz Chast blasted the dust off the doily-covered sofa of her own parents’ journey into the unknown with an acclaimed graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? The book is hilarious and heartbreaking in its honest appraisal of how to approach, enable and endure your parents’ endgame.
My parents, all four of them, (thank you, God of Divorce, for the blessing of exceptional bonus parents!) are blessed with partners to co-navigate and formulate exit strategies. The tenderest discussion currently on the table in both households is, do they age in place, which is the new lingo for living out their lives in their homes?
This technique includes hospice at home, which David James Duncan writes ecstatically about in The Unbreakable Thread, in The Sun magazine’s November 2014 issue. He and his siblings dedicated a small family lake house for their mother’s transition to her next adventure. It can be a financial-work-life burden, but more than likely, it won’t be something you regret later on. Friends have done this for their own parents and I can see how they grieve and thrive, comforted by the deep bonds forged with their parents at the end.
Or is it best nip the inevitable distressing and difficult transition in the bud now and relocate to a plethora of lovely assisted-living condos proliferating in Florida, (AKA God’s Waiting Room)? Several friends have already helped relieve their aging parents from the burden of maintaining homes. Of course there will be emotional landmines unless the parents are willing to downsize their belongings and move to stress-free communities designed to accommodate minimizing abilities, but in recent memory, every aging parent I’ve known who has been allowed to choose for themselves has been happy with the decisions they’ve made.
My mother and her husband have just returned from a location scout in Florida. Deeply committed New Yorkers, they currently split their lives between a condo in Brooklyn and a beach house on Long Island. My mother was grouchy about the Florida trip, as she is an avid theater goer, dallies with multiple book clubs and appears impervious to the blizzard of the week in New York.
My bonus dad was the one pushing the Florida concept on her. When she relented, they had a great time visiting family and friends who pilgrimaged south years ago. I never thought my mother would admit defeat regarding the freezing potholes of Brooklyn, but she returned sold on Florida. My stepdad, ironically, is less sold. He resists anything smacking of institutionalization. This will be an interesting few years.
It’s bracing to examine these choices, especially when a 3 year old is constantly trying to demonstrate her version of a cartwheel. But Grace brings such happiness to all six of her grandparents. It’s lovely to watch them soak up the reflected energy of her exuberant youth. It’s even lovelier to watch her seek them out to make pies and hide from bears (or me). We all feel sprightlier in her presence.
My kid is blissfully immune to our current culture of ageism, where we (especially in LA) hope that if we can pity, hide or mock the aged, (especially for their attempts to not appear so old) we won’t end up like them. After combing preschool after preschool where the teachers appear to be perhaps three or four years out of preschool themselves, we picked a preschool with a teacher in her 70s. Shirley who runs Baxter Montessori has 40 + years of education under her belt. I want Grace to see the oldsters in her life as holding power, wisdom and the keys to the kingdom, if not the car that takes her to her next big adventure.
Which is why I adore this photo of my 80-something father-in-law going down a slide to impress his granddaughter. I relish having my parents get to be grandparents yet again, years after their other grandkids have aged out of the picture books at bedtime part of the system.
Whenever I feel guilty about being an older mother, worried about burdening my beloved daughter’s future with my own old age, this photograph gives me hope for love to transcend as much as it’s designed to transcend, which the last time I checked, was everything.