Isn’t There an Adult Around? When the Child Becomes the Parent.

My mother is having open heart surgery right now. I’ve been shaking since yesterday morning. The nerves committed, with equal swiftness and intensity, to the panic attack agenda. Nerves are bastards. I thought I was holding things together very well, because I am generally excellent at being the calm voice of reason when it is someone else that should be freaking out. Hey, I’m no union scab, so I’ll leave the freaking out to the person who is actually having the surgery. I hardly want to do my own jobs, let alone those of other people. Especially the ones that suck. If a poutine taster or 5-star resort reviewer ever wants a nap, I will gladly swoop in and snap up that gig, however.

Most of the time, I like to wait until a crisis is over to fall apart. It works well, I get to rid my body of all the pent up anxiety, because lord knows my yoga pants can’t stretch any further to accommodate lingering nerves, but I can be the calm and capable one who can work through the practical list of tasks to accomplish in the moment. I’ll just eat my weight in chips later. Privately, and with with gusto.

But this time it apparently wasn’t going to work that way. My mom has needed a lot of support over the past few years, and in particular this year, to take care of things that overwhelm her, or that she has forgotten or misunderstood. When I cross the line and give her too many instructions, or question her on whether she did what I asked her to do, I often get a semi-sarcastic, “Yes Mummy,” in reply. She has been making a lot of comments lately about how she feels more and more like the child in the relationship, and that the responsibilities and capabilities have shifted. She doesn’t usually mean that she feels like I am being condescending…although there are definitely those days too…but rather that she is grateful, and kind of in awe about her only child suddenly becoming a capable adult when she wasn’t looking.

I’m not sure who is more surprised that it’s no longer her looking after me. No matter how old we get, I think it always feels backwards when the child becomes the caregiver.

Driving to pick her up this morning, I caught myself thinking, “Isn’t there an adult around here that should be handling this?” I’m just a kid, and surely there is someone responsible who will know how to deal with this and won’t be shaking like they are mainlining caffeine.

Tara, you’re 42. You are an adult. You do hard things and make big decisions for yourself and your children every day. Also, I don’t want to be the one to point this out to you, but you are driving a minivan right now. You actually have TWO minivans in your driveway, and have been driving one since 2003. Unless you’re an uber driver, or you have a mattress in the back to do unthinkable things, while you follow a sketchy band around the continent, you are a fully-formed, bonafide adult. Most of the time.

Shit.

It must be something about looking after a parent that makes a person forget that they are 42 and not 22.

I’m not sure who is more surprised that it’s no longer her looking after me. No matter how old we get, I think it always feels backwards when the child becomes the caregiver.

It’s also the reason I made my children watch the birth control commercial that came on YouTube, during a CBC documentary, FIVE times, in spite of their animated protests and bright red faces. I completed the impromptu sex-ed class with a lecture on how they had better pay attention and soak it in, because I sure as hell do not have time to look after a fourth generation of this family anytime in the near future!

Perhaps my anxiety escaped a little ahead of when I thought it did.

The good news, is that the surgeon came out to tell me that the surgery went well, and I can go in and see my mom soon. I’ll try to resist the urge to ask her if she has any homework.

I’m not sure who is more surprised that it’s no longer her looking after me. No matter how old we get, I think it always feels backwards when the child becomes the caregiver.


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