I am fortunate to have reached a healthy middle age surrounded by a husband, kids, parents and other extended family. I am further blessed with a satisfying career and wonderful friends.
What I don't have, like most others I know, is enough time.
But time has taken on a new meaning recently, as my kids are growing up and my parents are growing older. As the former struggle to grasp their independence, the latter struggle with giving it up. And I'm in the middle, trying to facilitate the life transitions of those I love most while coping with my own.
While I've ignored my grey hairs (or covered them up in complete denial), I am starting to realize that life moves on, whether we like it or not. I remember my mother saying to me once that every time she looks in the mirror she is surprised at the woman staring back at her. “I feel exactly the same inside,” she said in amazement. “How can I look so different? I don't feel old. I don't think old. Therefore I am not old.”
Groucho Marx once said, “I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” Most of us would agree with him when it comes to the Old Age Club.
This quote sprang to mind one day as I was driving my father to an exercise program he was attending to help him recover from a minor stroke. He goes there reluctantly twice a week, explaining, “The workout part is fine. I just hate hanging out with all those old folks.”
From my perspective, when it comes to aging, the alternative – death – is even less appealing.
This conundrum has become painfully evident to me as I watch my parents and in-laws enter “advanced maturity,” as my dad likes to call it. Between them they span three decades: My father-in-law is in his 90s, my father is in his 80s and my mother and her husband are both in their 70s.
With my husband and I peering down the dark side of 40 and our kids entering their teenage years – my daughter is 13 and my son is 11 – we often find ourselves in situations where we must balance the dignity of the individual with our concerns for safety. To be told “I don't think you should do that” is a blow to the ego at any age. In the case of my kids, I can give orders (for now). In the case of my parents I can only offer strong recommendations (for now).
The ability to drive a car is an example of this delicate balance. The car in itself is a symbol of independence – at 16 it officially represents your chance to strike out on your own. At 85 it represents your ability to still manage on your own.
At both ends of the age spectrum there are issues of competency and judgment. Will my kids drive within the speed limit? Will they be safe? Will my dad drive at least the speed limit? Is he still safe?
Besides, I like driving them all everywhere – it gives me time to connect with them and talk. It's amazing the topics you can cover when you can stare out a windshield instead of into each other's eyes.
Doctor visits present another delicate dilemma. How long do you continue to accompany your children into the examination room? When do you start to accompany your parents? In both situations you're bound to hear things you'd rather not.
There are topics we never want to talk about with our kids, just as there are issues we never want to discuss with our parents. But we have to.
One day, our kids might have sex (not mine, but yours for sure), and one day our parents might die (ditto). They need to talk to us about these things and we need to listen with an open mind and offer careful, respectful advice if asked. I suppose that requires me to grow up a little too.
I was faced with this recently when my father's doctor walked us through the end-of-life scenario and explained the likelihood of another stroke. When my dad joked that he planned to live to be 100, his doctor responded with a resounding, “Don't bet on it.”
Time to change doctors, I thought. Time to face reality, the doctor said.
Personally, I think reality is overrated, but I guess this got my dad thinking. As we drove home from the doctor's office he casually mentioned that the day would come when I'd drop by to see him and would have a shock when I discovered him dead. “Likely in the arms of a beautiful woman,” he added as he peered sideways at me from over the top of his glasses.
Wow, I thought to myself, maybe I should get him to have the sex talk with the kids.
When we arrived back at his place he raised the issue of his mortality once again. This time we looked at each other. Then we took time to talk and to laugh and to cry. It was amazing.
With that off our chests I am now considering allowing my kids to drive when they are 30 (no sex though) and starting to plan my father's 100th birthday party. Perhaps I'm in denial. All I know for sure is that there will never be enough time.
Michelle Perrault lives in North Vancouver, B.C.