Sunday, June 6, 2010

Little Old Lady

Barbara: Now that I’ve acknowledged that I actually am getting older (dang it, thought I could circumvent that pesky little phenomenon), I’ve become much more conscious of how we look at older people. 

Ever come across a wide-eyed and delicate older woman and heard yourself say, “Oh, she’s so CUTE.”??? NO!! She’s not a baby. She’s had a whole life full of experience—much of which may have been nasty, crude, or lascivious! She’s not “cute”, her features have just lost that supple elastic of youth and so her beautiful eyes now stand out like teddy-bear baubles, gazing sweetly around. Maybe not all the synapses are firing like they used to, so she seems to have the innocent curiosity of a child. But “seems like” are the operative words. She is NOT a child and she is not CUTE!

I was in the grocery store the other day and a man in his early 30s was taking his mother shopping. The mother saw an errant apple on the floor and picked it up, carefully depositing it back on the stacked pile in the bin. Now she was probably in her 60s––not a “little old lady” by any means—but her son turned on her like she was a naughty child he had to discipline. “Mom! You don’t do that. That is disgusting. Someone is going to pick up that apple and take it home and it’s been on the dirty floor!” Okay, he’s totally right—I mean, Ew—but I was completely mortified for his mom. And it didn’t stop there: “Why?! Why did you do that?” She stared blankly––not stupid, not mentally challenged––unable to speak. “Why?! Why would you do that, Mom?!” Finally, she uttered the only thing she could think of—presumably the truth: “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking.” Yeah, she was probably on auto-pilot after all the errant socks, dishes, toys, games, shoes, and garbage she’d had to pick up and tidy through years of motherhood! And one misstep later and her dignity gets publicly leached from her by her own son. 

So I kinda worry. I worry that I’ll forget the example of that moment and talk to my parents like they’re bad kids. I worry that my own kids will threaten to send me to the corner. I worry that one day I will be infantilized by strangers observing me in the street. Well, I can tell you this: I may one day look like a “cute” little old lady, but I won’t deserve the adjective! 

Deb: What a tool. How dare he talk to his Mom that way?! I can guarantee that I would never speak to my parents in such a cruel, berating way. But I confess that I have had to check my condescension meter as they have gotten older. My parents are both 83 and both extremely bright, with-it people. Except when they are not. And I admit that when you become the partial caregiver as I have become and there are times when they seem to not get what is happening, you A) panic B) overreact, and C) maybe fall into a pattern of taking over for them. It doesn’t happen at once and it doesn’t happen on purpose and it doesn’t happen from lack of love. But it is a lack of respect no matter how deep your love for them is. They are the same people they were at 10 and 30 and 50, but we tend to treat them like babies. I already notice my son doing it to me when I don’t get something (lovingly, but still, I guess that’s where it starts). It is something that I am aware of and something I watch out for. As my Mom says, “I look in the mirror and I look into my eyes and I am the same person … but only I see it.” 

PS: If you want to see cute – THESE are cute! You must click over to check them out.


  1. I guess I have had parents but my grandparents and great grandparents have raised me the most. My greatgrand mothter is 90 years old and sometimes i think my family forgets that yeah she may be in her 90's but she still feels like she is 30 or 40. Sometimes i forget that she is not compleatly helpless. "Thank God". I love my gradmother to death but i do treat her as if she were a child sometimes and so do her own children. With my other grandparents i do watch over them like they are children because i am scard of what could happen to them. They are only in there 60's but my grandfather just had a heart attack so i do feel like i treat them like children because i am really just scared of what could happen if don;t. I do have to tell them things like how to drive the right way. Or which roads to take " Or even what healthy foods they should eat. I think that as we are youger our grandparents or parents take care of use but then the role is reviresed and we take care of them. I think sometimes though we need to relize that yeah there getting older but they are not compleatly helpless and they are still out parents and not our kids so we need to treat them like it. I don;t have kids im only 20 but i hope that when i get older my kids don't treat me like i am compleatly helpless. I still love my grandparnets and greatgrad parents with all my heart and I think that the reason that we do treat them like they are kids is because we do love them so much. I think that the most important thing to do is just to tell your parents or gradnparents three simple words everyday and as much as possible "I love You" thats the thing that really counts right.

  2. Okay, the son needs to chill. I'm sure that happens all the time in grocery stores, produce gets put back on the shelf. That's why we wash it before consuming. The mother was fine, it's the tense son with the problem.

  3. When I was younger my great-grandfather experienced a stroke and I was the only person that he could remember. Even though I was in elementary school I had to help him learn to eat, walk, and do all things that are second nature to the rest of us. He had really looked after me when my mom passed away and I actually enjoyed being there for him and being able to help him It taught me a lot about having patience with older folks. Now my grandmother (his daughter) has Alzheimer's and all that practice is coming in handy. Because I'm away at college, I don't get to talk to her very often, and when I do we always seem to have the exact same conversation. It takes a lot of patience to not be condescending and remind her that I've already told her something many times. But I love her dearly and I do treasure the time I have with her. I suppose we all have days when it catches up with us...

  4. Wow -- thanks for sharing your heartwarming stories about your own relationships to older people. It's always wonderful to hear about thriving connections between the generations. And it's good for everybody to feel they are both cared for when they are vulnerable and able to step in when they are needed. Beautiful!

  5. I'm betting there's a good chance that man spoke to his mother in much the same way she spoke to him, once upon a time.
    Signed (to the Beach Boys tune),
    Little Old Lady from Past Wadena
    Go Granny Go Granny Go Granny Go!

  6. I think that it is important too care for our parents or grandparents, but maby just not treat them like they are kids cause they arn't even know that might think or act like it sometimes. The guy that got after his mother for just picking up an apple off the floor is so mean. He should not have yelled at her like she was 3 she is of age where she knows whats right or wrong she's not dumb.It's not like she was his child it was his mother. It sounds like to me that guy needed an attitude adjustement.

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