Like so many children, I’m simultaneously exactly like and nothing like my father.
One of the things that’s very different about us is that he’s very much a caricature of the absent minded professor while I have a life that’s planned weeks in advance in a color-coded calendar.
He’s also oddly impervious to worry, while I’m wearing circles into the rug with anxious pacing.
His girlfriend is a very good match for him, but maybe too good. They are both incredibly kind people whose feathers are impossible to ruffle and they probably can’t find their car keys. Or their car.
This really came out while they were taking care of my grandmother. They are three very smart people, but sometimes it wasn’t easy to tell which one of them had dementia.
My grandmother stubbornly insisted on managing her own medication, bills, and just about everything pretty much until the end. For once, I felt like that was probably a wise choice.
As my grandmother became more frail, I grew convinced that it was actually better that I was a plane ride away from them. The more dementia took her ability to care for herself, the more I worried. We hear plenty of stories about family members whose well-intentioned help was more trouble than it’s worth, and I’m pretty sure I was one of those annoying, meddling family members. My dad was just too nice to tell me to shut up and stop nagging.
It was all I could do to keep myself from texting them twenty times a day to make sure they had set up that follow up appointment, read this article, don’t forget to pay the taxes, update this paperwork, and close the windows upstairs because it was going to rain tonight.
Yes, I know my father is a successful adult. Who raised me just fine, even if he did sometimes put my sister’s kids to bed with their shoes on and did once feed us tuna straight from the can when mom wasn’t home. I did sort of suspect if my mom hadn’t been in the picture we’d have ended up being very polite, but might have our pants on backwards.
Which would lead to me texting my dad to make sure grandma’s pants weren’t on backwards.
But let’s be honest here: grandma didn’t know if her pants were on backwards. Can you even tell with elastic waistband pants? She’d be in the background insisting the steak they’d dutifully made for her was actually a salad. I was getting myself worked up over things that didn’t matter while they were doing their best to keep her weight up.
I wasn’t just bossing them around, I also wanted to help. The problem was, I couldn’t walk over to grandma’s desk to find the paperwork to make sure the bills had been paid, taxes filed, and deal with that denied claim from the insurance company. They would have to scan the paperwork so I could see it. Which was going to be more annoying then just doing it themselves. Plus, they weren’t worried about any of these things. I was the only one who thought these things were urgent matters.
When I was there in person, I could actually do some things that were actually helpful. Sometimes. Only most of the really helpful things I could do in their suburban town required me borrowing their car to run errands, which they would have to explain to me. I kept an eye on grandma. I straightened up the house. I did a bunch of chores they were completely oblivious to.
It still felt like when I used to “help” my dad as a little girl and would follow him around asking 1,000 questions an hour. In fact, it felt exactly like that. I wasn’t actually helping them at all.
While my grandmother would keep a wary eye on me, she trusted my father completely. The only way to calm her down was to reassure her that he would be back soon and take care of it.
She did not trust me. And for good reason. They were pros at maneuvering her around her victorian house. I was not. They understood her demands when they didn’t make any sense. They were far more patient than I am, which is how they calmly listened every time I gave them advice they did not want or need.
As much as the whole family jokes about my dad and his girlfriend being scatterbrained (and the stories we have to tell…) they are still the people I call when I need advice. My dad is the most reliable person I know, I just know he’ll be a little behind schedule.
Grandma died before I managed to get my backseat caregiving in check, but I suspect this is going to be a lifetime struggle for me.