Between Generations

Post Date: August 11th, 2013


I’ve been musing about the generations on either side of me: my aged mother-in-law who just stopped driving and my daughter and her husband who are finishing the bidding process on their first house.

My mother-in-law is among what gerontologists call the “old old.” The “young old” are ages 65-75, the “middle old” are ages 75-85, and the old old are over age 85. My mother-in-law is one month shy of her 89th birthday and still lives in her own home. 

She’d been praying not to hurt anyone every time she drove in recent months, so when her car needed repairs costing nearly $1000 it was rather an easy decision to give the car away and let others do the driving. “Others” meant me since I am now retired.

Initially I felt impinged on. I haven’t yet developed my retirement rhythm before having to add chauffeuring to my days. Once a week hair appointment, once a week grocery shopping, each for one and a half hours. Then there are errands to the bank and the drug store, periodic doctors’ appointments. At first she tacked on other errands as we were running one, which irritated me. Just tell me ahead of time so I can plan accordingly, I would say. Oh, oh, okay, she responded, a bit baffled.

Meanwhile I struggled with why I felt resentful, why my love, respect for elders and gratitude for all she’s done for my family didn’t add up to feeling generous with my time.

On the other side, the kids still live with us. My son-in-law now works third shift, so my daughter and I spend our time quietly since he’s still getting the gist of daytime sleeping. We are companionable with one another, she and I, and I sometimes feel we are more like sisters than mother and daughter. I have gotten to know her so much better these past two years and have come to like and appreciate her more than ever – her quick mind, her compassionate heart, her interesting viewpoints, her clever humor.

I have felt the kids’ anxiety as they awaited counteroffers and their frustration as the bidding process has languished over 12 days. It’s been hard to keep the boundary in place and to think, it’s their life, not mine; I am merely observer, not participant.

Nonetheless as the reality of their buying  their own home begins to seep in, I have been coming to terms with their moving out. On one hand, I can’t wait to have the house back. On the other hand, I will miss their vitality, a hallmark of young adults.

I used to think that when they lived on their own I would go there once a week and make dinner so it would be waiting for them when they got home from work. It was something I often wished for as a working mother. But now I realize I need to let them go completely. Time to mother less so they can grow more. Wise, of course, yet I feel a little sad. Being needed is gratifying, but I need to let that go too.

At the same time, once they move out and my time is more my own, I suspect I will feel more generous in lending it to my mother-in-law. And in spite of myself, I realize that I am appreciating becoming closer to her as we spend more time together in the car. Even the old old have vitality.