Last night my sister and I lounged on the balcony watching the sunset. We’re on vacation, with our mother and other sister, near San Diego and it’s a lovely warm evening. The mountains turned from green to purple as the sun began its descent and we were enjoying the mellowness of the approaching twilight.
Then shouts and laughter sounded through the screen door out onto the balcony. I turned and saw my other sister trying to take a fork away from my mother, who had it in an upraised arm, defiant look on her face, and she wasn’t letting go.
In moms other outstretched hand was a dish of triple layer chocolate fudge cake.
“Mom, you’ve had half of that huge piece, save the rest for tomorrow,” my sister said her hand reaching for mom’s wrist.
“No, I haven’t gone to the halfway point yet,” mom said and pulled her arm away.
“Yes, you’ve had more than enough, it’s bad for your diabetes, it’s too much sugar,” sister said and grabbed for the cake.
“You better stop it before you get me mad and I sock you,” mom said, with a threatening look, while she balanced that dish of cake in her other hand.
My sister pleaded for mom to remember that her blood sugar is too high and she’s had too many sweets and carbs already.
“You’re going to end up in the hospital again,” she warned.
“I’m old; let me eat what I want,” mom replies and defiantly lifts a forkful of the three layer fudge filled cake.
For a woman over 79, legally blind, and hard of hearing, (that’s a whole other story), my mom still has a fierce grip. My sister, who is in great shape couldn’t take that cake away unless she wrestled my mom, so there they were, locked in the battle for that stupid piece of cake for a full minute.
The other sister and I looked at them from the balcony and busted up laughing while we took pictures on our phones, because no one but the grandkids would believe the battle for the triple layer chocolate cake.
Most people our age are part of the “sandwich generation,” those who have children to care for and who also manage aspects of our elder parent (s) life. Make ours a mile high Dagwood type sandwich.
Luckily, between the two siblings who live close by and another sister, who although lives far away, is regularly in touch with my mother, the ‘sandwich’ is considerably smaller than if I was an only child.
In some ways, we are “parenting” our parent while trying to respect her independence as much as possible and respecting her status as our mother. She, like many elderly parents, needs help managing her money, medications, doctor appointments, house cleaning, and a host of other things.
My siblings and I had learned to walk a fine line when we’ve tried to have “the talk” with our mother over the past few years. You see, our mother has always been “buen macha,” (and I say that in the best sense of the word), strong and independent, a woman who prides self-sufficiency. So it is no easy thing to talk to her about the many things she has encountered with aging over the last few years, like constantly losing items, hitting the shrubs one too many times with the car, forgetting to take meds, or eating things she knows will cause her harm.
Sometimes we come on too strong and forget the tone in our voices when we talk about these topics. Other times no matter how we say, “I think you could use some help around here or the foods you eat aren’t good for your diabetes,” a stony face and her words meet us “I’m not a baby, no te preocupes, or her famous line: I’ve lived this long, let me eat what I want.”
And therein lays the dilemma. We’re right, my mom’s right and we’re wrong and she’s wrong too. I just wish she’d understand that we say what we say because we love her and want her to be with us as long as humanly possible. But for now, the triple layer chocolate cake trumps anything we say and in fact, she is sitting at this table finishing off the rest of that cake from yesterday.