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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The apple and the aging tree

Carole Townsend

Carole Townsend

EDITOR'S NOTE: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is beginning a new blog called Food For Thought. It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.

I suspect that many of you out there are members of the sandwich generation, that group of adults still raising their own children but now in the position of also caring for elderly parents. My husband and I are sandwich-generation-ers. His mom, now in her 70s, is still living independently in her home in South Carolina. My dad, 92 this August, lives in a senior residence in Duluth. It's a beautiful place, quiet and peaceful; he refers to it as "that place where my kids stuck me."

Dad moved there about three years ago when an illness he suffered smacked all three of us children into reality; he simply could not continue to live alone in his big house. And really, living independently up until age 88 is an admirable accomplishment. Still, the transition was hard on him. I watched him as we sorted through his belongings, made important decisions for him and moved him to a place where he'd have some help. He absolutely hated it.

As a side note here, yes, we tried moving him into our home. It's not the warm and fuzzy setup you see on TV, folks. Our children were in high school at the time, and my dad insisted on walking around the house in his skivvies in the early morning hours when they and their friends gathered at our house before leaving for school. We'll be paying for that therapy in the coming years, no doubt.

A retired Burroughs employee, he also repeatedly reprogrammed my husband's beloved universal remote, so thoroughly that we had to involve the cable company to unravel the mess on more than one occasion. More therapy.

Dad also insisted on feeding our dogs from the table, then blaming them for stealing the food off of his plate when I'd ask him again to please not do that. He'd "test" our home security system every now and then to be sure the "cops were on their toes."

In other words, I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Suffice it to say, that living arrangement did not work out. After about two months of this extended family bliss we had to decide on a different arrangement.

When Dad first moved to his new apartment home, he attracted a following of sorts. I think he was actually planning an uprising or some other display of defiance, and there were plenty of other "inmates" (as he refers to the residents) who were willing to throw their hats into that ring.

Here's another fact that you may or may not know: Men in the 80-plus age bracket are rare indeed, so my dad was a hot item, in great demand among the women living there. He quickly became convinced that there was a marriage trap waiting around every corner, so he still steers clear of the opposite sex, just to be on the safe side.

My siblings and I have joked about my dad's attitude concerning the changes he's endured over the past few years. He is belligerent, defiant and sometimes outright and openly rude. He says he has earned the right to say what he wants. He'll also tell you that the food at this place is terrible, but then he's at a loss to explain his 25-pound weight gain.

There is a scrapbook in the front library with photo after photo of my dad in party hats, blowing noisemakers and dancing, but if you ask him if he ever participates in activities, he will reply with a flat "no." If you ask him whether he likes his new place, he'll give you an emphatic, "no." If he participates in en exercise class, he'll say it's because "the officials make us."

Yes, we have laughed, partly because he really can still be funny, but partly because the laughing eases underlying feelings of... guilt? Fear? Sadness? Maybe all of the above. Mostly, I think it eases the unrest of watching the man who was always "the strongest man in the world" slip back into a sort of childhood of his own. It keeps us from questioning why we work so hard our whole lives just so we can be sequestered in our old age. I think maybe our culture has it all wrong, the way we regard our elderly.

Who out there is still trying to raise their own children and now balance the care of elderly parents? It's not easy. Share any tips, observations or ideas you have that might help the rest of us.

Carole Townsend is a freelance writer and a 25-year resident of Gwinnett County. As a mom, a wife, a former corporate executive, stay-at-home mom and correspondent for the Daily Post, she brings a unique perspective to life and living it in Gwinnett. "Food for Thought" gives Gwinnettians a forum where they can share perspectives, opinions, advice and solutions, as well as enjoy a few chuckles.