Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Growing old gracefully

When my mother used to get frustrated dealing with her aging parents, she used to hiss 'If I'm like this when I'm old, you must tell me' in exasperation at their latest old age antics. Of course she never defined at what point she would become old enough to be reminded of this. Her own mother was still pitying 'old people' well into her 80s, spurning wheelchair transport despite a distinct lack of ability on her pins, because these were devices that should be left free for the elderly. I am sure all those centenarians were most grateful for her concern.

The trouble is that there comes a point in any adult child's life where the worrying switches between the generations. Where once your mum and dad were the ones hovering with concern over you, cuddling you when you fell in the playground, coaching you through exam stress, mopping up your tears at your latest broken heart, helping you move out after the divorce and letting you sleep off your newborns' excesses, at some indefinable point the worry swaps from their shoulders to yours.

Of course just as you shrugged off their concerns, convinced that you knew best in the teeth of the evidence, so your parents will do the same to you. My own mum and dad have long run a business that spans two countries, it has always been a source of frustration to me as never knowing quite where your parents are has an unsettling effect on family life. But when they were younger I simply had to swallow my annoyance and accept that this was what they did, and if they were happy then so should I be.

Now though, when they arrive at my house grey with exhaustion after another early start and interminable journey, my father spending most of his time asleep on the sofa as he recovers from the twin effects of Parkinson's and intercontinental travel, it's harder for me to support their life choices. I wish I was a more empathetic person, that I could just step away and let them get on with it, as I am sure is the prescribed way of dealing with your elders and betters, but I'm not.

I want to fix things for them, I have the same urge to wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from the ravages of life that I have towards my babies. The difference is I can attempt to tell my babies what to do, but there is no way I will get away with this with my parents. I can offer my advice (for which read rant and rave in angry frustration) which they promptly ignore with all the insouciance of a teenage me.

I should be happy that my parents have a way of life that they find sustaining and interesting. But, just as a parent should be happy when a child revels in a precarious career, yet secretly longs them to swap it for the stability of a 'proper job', I can't help but wish they could find some kind of lifestyle that was a bit less taxing, and more settled, in their advancing years.

Perhaps it is one of life's little jokes that the parents you caused so much worry and concern whilst growing up, pay you back by dishing the same right back at you in their old age. If so I shall be taking notes during my four-year-old's next tantrum, just so I can replay it to him when I am in my dotage.

1 comment:

  1. that's a really well written, interesting post. I liked it an awful lot. It has touched a nerve with me because I am starting, just starting to worry about my parents in the same way as they drift into old age. Talking of which I am 35 today and my parents have just flown into Auckland airport and are on their way down to me now. I'm going to see them in an hour which is deeply exciting.