My 100-year-old mom was heading for the bathroom, and that meant I was headed there too.

Until just a few years before, my mom had led a fiercely independent life. And then she got pneumonia. She needed live-in help, and it took me about 10 seconds to decide that that helper would be me. My life was full but flexible. I was a self-employed documentary filmmaker and a part-time NPR radio host in San Francisco, plus I was single. It all seemed pretty straightforward. And so in late 2007, at the age of 59, I moved back to my childhood home in Menlo Park. I moved in with my mom.

It felt like a turning point, except I was beginning to understand that there aren’t any turning points. There are only commas. My mom turned 101 and then 102. I turned 65 and then 66. At an age when you’d like to think you know who you are, I began to discover darker corners of my personality. Eileen and Sinai accepted my mom’s growing limitations with grace, while I sometimes stomped around the house, slamming doors like an angry teenager.

My best friend, Gary, had once said to me, “You know, it’s not that you’re doing anything unusual. It’s just that it’s unusual for a white guy.” And so here I was, a white guy whose life had been blessed by opportunity and open doors from the moment I was born, now in over my head. Eileen and Sinai, on the other hand, were women who’d arrived in America with nothing save skill, determination and a deep cultural understanding that caring for the old is part of life’s bargain.

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