i’m thinking of auctioning off my mother on e-bay
when the parent/child roles reverse
by robert a. melos
I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “How dare you! You selfish hedonist! How dare you even jest about the sacred vessel that carried you for nine months, then supported you for 18 years, and then another 20 years while you tried time after time to get your miserable life together.” La la la la la la. I can’t hear you!
I know what the rest of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “Damn. Why didn’t I think of this?”
Now I had better point out that I love my mother, and consider myself to be a good son, no matter what you all may think. However, I really need the money. I wonder what the going rate is for elderly parents? I need to get some big bucks here.
Okay, enough joking. E-Bay won’t even allow auctioning off body parts. There’s no way they will allow auctioning off an entire elderly person. Besides, it would be really disappointing if I put her up and she didn’t even get enough to cover the shipping costs.
Okay, I’ll stop. Really.
What brought on this thought, you may ask? Well I’m afraid only “only” children of elderly parents will understand this, as the rest of you with siblings have someone with whom to “share the load.” As an only child the burden of caring for the elderly parent rests squarely on my shoulders. Now mind you I’m not complaining, but I’m an only child who is struggling to get my own life together. At no point in time was it made clear to me that my mother was going to breakdown like a Ford Taurus after it left the showroom floor.
Okay, I am complaining. Whining is more like it. Get used to it. I’m not the only guy out there who is an only child of an elderly parent. You’re gonna hear a lot more of us as the baby boomers get older. Now some of you may ask, “why not dump her in a home and go on about your life?” I’ll tell you why not. Guilt.
I was raised in a family of people who all took care of the previous generations, and unless someone became so incapacitated as to need medical care that could not be provided at home, no one in my family, extending to several cousins and relatives removed by marriage, has been dumped in a nursing home. That is all there is to it. My aunts even provided for home health aides for two older sisters, so they did not pass away in nursing homes.
Now my mother is far from being that bad off. In fact, it might be easier if she were worse off than she is, because right now she still gets around very well with the use of a cane, and insists on “getting things done around the house” even after I tell her I’ll take care of them later. So we are really having the battle of the wills.
This point was driven home when her doctor told her that she has vertigo, and he doesn’t want her driving any longer. Oh yeah, this was not news that set too well with my mother. Now since she became ill more than a year ago, to the point where she agreed to retire from her day job as a nurse/receptionist in a private doctor’s office, and consented to only work her other job as a Realtor from the office and no longer take customers out on her own, I have pretty much done most of the driving for her. However, there has been some driving she was still doing, mostly when I was at work and not immediately available to run to the store for garbage bags, or hedge clippers (the necessities in life).
The battle of the wills is now more apparent, since I’ve taken her car keys and hidden them in plain sight where she has not thought to look. “There is no need to drive when I’m around,” I said. “I can take you wherever you need to go.”
I should’ve known to keep my mouth shut. I now have a list of appointments or rather she has a list of appointments that seems to be eating up my time. Not just my time, but also my work time as well. This is a complaint, but I realize I’m lucky to have my mother, at her advanced age. However, all mommy-sitting makes Bobby a bitchy boy.
The truth is, I can’t be home to stop her from doing the things she shouldn’t be doing, twenty-four hours a day. I do have a life, and I have work. So sometimes the laundry will not get to the basement to be washed until late at night when I’m available. In truth, the laundry doesn’t need to be done immediately. As long as I’m dressed there are clean clothes, and no need to toss the laundry to the foot of the basement steps, and then go down the stairs, while I’m out working, to do the laundry.
There is no need to go get the newspaper from the driveway at 5:30 AM when the paperguy drives by, hurls it out the window of his car and speeds off, burning rubber like a bank robber leaving the scene of the crime. She doesn’t even read the paper at 5:30 AM when she gets it. The entire reason to get up and get the paper is, I am told, because it might rain and the plastic bag holding the paper isn’t really waterproof.
You can tell Mom has issues.
I understand how frustrating it is for her since her illnesses have set in, to feel as if she is helpless. I understand her constant pain from Costochronditis, and from osteoporosis, and from diabetes, which has effected her sight and apparently has lead to vertigo.
Now bear in mind I empathize with growing old, as I know I will someday be there myself, and will probably inherit many of these same diseases thanks to the genetics of my parents. So I don’t begrudge her the moments of frustration that lead to the moments of depression or anger, or both, but I am the one who gets to bear most of this alone.
I am not looking for sympathy, because this is not a situation where it is required. I’m more or less sending out this warning to all the only children who read this. RUN! Get out while you can. Change your phone numbers, don’t leave forwarding addresses; disappear before your elderly parents start to look to you for help. It takes a person of strong character to go through the moments when you go from being the child to being responsible for your parent’s well being.
I know I can do this, and have been doing it for the past year, but it isn’t easy. It takes a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of patience and love and understanding. You can compound this when your parent has several elderly friends who are also in similar states of collapse, and they latch on to you because their lousy slacker kids have already escaped and simply call you occasionally to say, “I know your mother is going to the doctor at the same time my mother needs to be there, so I don’t see why we should both make the trip, do you? Be a love and pick my mother up at 10, would you? They can gossip away the time until the appointment. I’d do it myself, and take them both, because I know this is just so much for you to do, but I work in a job where I actually have to be in the office, and you’re a Realtor.”
I don’t really mind. Really! I don’t. I can handle this, but it isn’t easy for the only children to watch their parents not being the strong people they once were. And as for all of you with siblings, who do share the responsibility of parent care, who get to dump the ‘rents off on bro or sis for a few days, weeks, months. You do know that your own kids are watching how you handle gram and gramps, and they are already dividing up holidays and birthdays among themselves and silently hoping to get a really great job that will take them so far away it’ll cost too much to ship you to them when it’s their turn, or marry someone who will take them far enough away, or whom you hate enough, to prevent the inevitable visits.
So I guess E-Bay is not an option, and in the end I’m really selfish in that I am glad I can be there to help my mother at this stage of her life, but some days are just better than others. Besides, how much can you really get for an antique in not very good condition?
Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.
ABOUT ROBERT A. MELOS
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.24.04 @ 5:41p
I know, buddy, there ain't no help for it, but be assured you have my deepest sympathy - empathy, even. It's hard because you DO love 'em (and you don't want someone who doesn't love them to be caring for them) but it puts a huge impact on your own life. Hang in there - even though you're alone in this, you're not alone in this :)
10.25.04 @ 1:16a
You're right about not wanting strangers taking care of a loved one. A friend of my mother's, the one I patterned the character of Esme in my American Gothic stories after, had a fall and is now in the hospital. She's kind of lost her mind a bit, not knowing where she is and all. Tonight she called my mother, hysterical because some "crazy person" (the nurse) was attacking her.
The nurse got on the phone with my mother to explain that they are trying to put a straitjacket on her because she is trying to get out of bed and insists she's being held in her chruch's parsonage house against her will.
She obviously needs help, but
try as I might not to think the straitjacket is a bad thing, all I think of is that if she had any children she would probably be home now, because her fall wasn't bad. She was just too weak to get up on her own. She's 90. She's confused and frightened, and the response of a straitjacket is needed, but I don't like the idea. I much prefer the idea of respecting our elders much as the Japanese do.
Just let 'em try to straitjacket me when I'm 90. There will be some serious butt kicking.
10.27.04 @ 1:34a
Your situation is not confined to only children. There is no guarantee that siblings will step up and take responsibility.
It appears that your mother's mind is still intact. Despite all of her physical problems, that is really a blessing. Granted, her mental acuity adds to her frustration and awareness of her loss of control over her life.
Imagine if someone suddenly ordered you to stop driving. Imagine not being able to do the most basic household tasks and having those same tasks nag at you.
My grandmother, who hated housework her entire life, fretted as she failed from Parkinson's disease over her inability to get up from her chair and clean house. It wasn't the housework; it was the loss of control over her life and her physical body that disturbed her.
10.27.04 @ 1:46a
There is no guarantee that siblings will step up and take responsibility.
Amen to that, sister. My husband, his brother, and his brother's wife all have "real" jobs. I'm an artist, so that makes me the only conveniently available adult during the day. My in-laws are still living on their own, although they've moved to a "senior community" condo where some help is available, but for the most part, I'm responsible for them. I don't mind it, but occasionally, I resent the fact that their actual children seem VERY content to let me do it.
10.27.04 @ 8:07a
Yep. Been there, done that. It was perfectly acceptable for me, the in-law, to clean and sort and move my mother-in-law, while her own daughter did nothing...
...except pick out what valuables she wanted.
It does take a lot of sacrifice. Bobby, have you thought about hiring another senior woman, say, in her 60s and capable of driving, a day or two a week?
10.27.04 @ 7:36p
Part of the problem is money when it comes to hiring around here. People don't do much if they aren't get top pay. I did make a few calls. It would actually be cheaper for her to take a taxi that would show up when they showed up, for about $20 one way, rather than getting a service or another senior. All the ones I've spoken to get $20 an hour to drive people somewhere, no matter where, and they also get a three hour minimum. We have a senior bus service, but they require you to belong to the local Senior Citizens group. Mom refuses to join such a group. She has no interest in those type of organizations.
Actually, I kind of agree with her on that.
I can handle it all, but I find the fact that the township doesn't really have anything other than the Senior Center group a bit disturbing. I've got more to say, but must run now.
10.27.04 @ 10:05p
Have you or your mother ever visited the Senior Citizen's group? Would she go if you went with her the first time?
My dad resisted such groups for a long time. When my mother went into a nursing home, he was suddenly willing to try some new things. With my mother, we made the nursing home decision reluctantly, but we had no choice with a diagnosis of dementia with acute psychosis and a likely risk that she'd hurt herself or someone else if not confined.
Is your mother a relatively "young" senior other than her physical complaints? Then, I understand her hesitation of associate herself with "seniors." Nonetheless, it that is the only way to get services, it may be a good avenue to explore. It might not be as bad as you think.
Our senior center here in Simi Valley has lots of vibrant older people who aer active in the community. I've met many of them at our library where I volunteer (our senior center is adjacent to the public library).
10.28.04 @ 12:41a
Mom's 77, and was working up until last May when she became ill. In my home town, there are a lot, and I mean a lot of elderly people who refuse to even acknowledge the the Senior Citizen's groups. I mean people older than my mother, in their 80s and 90s.
I live nextdoor to a woman who just turned 100 yesterday. She won't even go to the Senior Center. Actually, most of the elderly I know are women. They've all survived their husbands, and some survived multiple husbands. They all tell me the same thing. They say they have better things to do with their time than go to lectures from AARP, or play bingo, or do crafts.
The service our Senior Center offers isn't as good as it sounds. It's all volunteer, as our town budget doesn't figure seniors into the mix. We did have a Coordinator of Elderly Affairs in town, but she moved to Florida, and since then no one will take on the job. She organized phone call schedules for volunteers to call those elderly who lived alone. The call was really twice a day, just to make sure they were okay (hadn't fallen, or were in need of help), but the volunteers sort of dried up.
As it is, thanks to my mother, I've sort of gotten involved in a lesser version of that, checking up on about 5 elderly folks in town, but it is time consuming. If I didn't have to make an effort to support myself, I'd be able to handle it easily. I'm thinking of speaking with the mayor and maybe petitioning to recreate the Elderly Affairs Office, but I'll need to be in the budget if the town is willing to do it.
Scary fact. The 100 year old woman was driving until she was 96. She drove fast too.
10.28.04 @ 11:20a
See? That's perfect for you, Bobby. I think you need to get on that. What a wonderful idea, and a better use of your soul.
10.28.04 @ 12:00p
It sounds like your township needs to greatly improve services to older residents. Go for it!
10.28.04 @ 6:25p
Tracey, I thought I sold my soul years ago when I became a Realtor. I know I have a receipt for it somewhere.
Ellen, it's true this town does need some better organized method of communication with the elderly. The more I am dealing with my mother's problems, and with those of some of her friends, I realize not all the seniors need nursing home care, or round the clock watching. Some just need a person to do the little things around the house, like change a light bulb in a ceiling light, or take out the heavy recycling once every two weeks.
Others need more like a delivery of prescription meds when the insurance approved drug store doesn't have a delivery service, or a meals on wheels program. Some just need help organizing to pay their bills on time, as they forget to do so. Mostly it is a question of organization.
I'm great at organizing other's lives.