Friday, April 22, 2011

the old are always with us

Recently, my 81 year-old mother, a mother of five, needed some help getting her jacket on.

She turned to me and said, "All those years ago when I was putting coats on little children and buttoning them in, I never thought that one day my children might be putting clothes on me!"

Mom's tone was funny/sad and nostalgic, and that's a rare moment for her-- she tends to keep things light. She works hard to keep a positive attitude about aging.

The comment gave me a lump in my throat. I started looking around at mothers and dads with young children, trying to detect which children would be assets to their parents in their old age.

Would that little boy with the brown curls help his old dad get on the toilet seat one day? Would that blue-eyed toddler invite her elderly mother to live in the spare room in her home with her husband and five children as my mother did for my grandmother? How will that adorable 15 week old baby girl, sleeping in her carrier, react when her mother gets so forgetful that she puts her underwear on over her street clothes? Right now, that young mother is smiling down at her beatific little one.

I don't have any children, so I wonder what will happen to me if I live long enough to be old?

I'm a teacher at a community college, and I've heard some of my students complain that they hate old people. The old ones clog up the roads, drive too slow, hold up the line at the store asking the clerk to explain something on the receipt.

I try to remind my students that their parents will be old one day. And, horror of horrors, unthinkable as it may be, they themselves may even be old one day! Perhaps I can influence one or two of these young adults to re-think the impatience and callousness some of them have toward the elderly. I'm going to keep trying.

I'm so incredibly grateful when I'm out in public with my parents and someone holds the door open for them, smiles or offers a thoughtful word. So many people won't even look at the elderly-- it's like the old ones don't even exist.

I hope there are a few kind people left when I'm old(er)!


  1. I love your blog! I am 41 yrs old, and chose to move my 80-something yr old grandparents in to a granny flat on our property. We lost my grandfather in 2009, and my kids have been here helping the whole time. Great life lessons for them, now 19 & 16 yrs old. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Thanks so much for the kind words, Danna! You’re right-- your kids are learning so much from being around your parents. I don’t want it to sound like my students are all down on old folks, though. I just read a paper from a student who gave a year of her life to being the sole care provider for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s. It was a beautiful and moving essay. Then sometimes I meet some young adults who haven’t been around elderly people enough to even understand that old folks are people, too. Thanks for reading and good luck with your parents!

  3. I loved this posting, Melanie, spoken from the heart. Presently, I and my two sisters and two daughters are helping to keep my mother, a widow of 3 1/2 years, company.