I come from a small family. When my Mother died in 1988, I was left with my grandparents, a brother and sister, and my own husband and daughter. When my dear Grandpa passed in 2005, there was nobody else to take care of Grandma, so I dutifully stepped in. With her help I bought a house after my 2006 divorce and helped her relocate from the small town of Osage City to the Kansas City suburb where we still live. I had no idea what to expect, but Grandma had always been there for me, so I didn’t think twice about taking on the responsibility.
Wow, was I naive. When Grandma moved in I was still raising two children, working, and trying to cope with crippling depression. But then I met Tam. She and Grandma instantly hit it off. And even though Grandma was as demanding as ever, Tam’s presence took an enormous amount of the burden off me.
One day during a particularly heated argument with Grandma over the plastic bags she’d shoved in several basement vents, Tam came downstairs to calm things down. “Well hello there, Sunshine,” Grandma said, her face perking up like a child who’d just been offered candy.
“She’s going to start a fire with those damn plastic bags she’s shoving in the vents,” I said.
“That vent blows right over my head,” Grandma said, pleading her case. “I’m going to catch pneumonia from all that cold air going down my neck.”
“It’s not going to be cold when the room bursts into flames,” I observed.
“Let me take a look at the vent. I can probably close it so the air won’t blow on you, Margaret,” Tam said. Her calm approach to Grandma’s ridiculous complaints only pissed me off more and I headed back upstairs. I could hear Grandma defending her vent stuffing until I slammed the basement door behind me.
When Tam finally came back upstairs, she’d fixed the problem, at least temporarily. She and I both knew it was just a matter of time before Grandma complained that it was too hot and she needed more air. But for now we had peace.
“You know what she calls you?” Tam asked me as she quietly shut the basement door behind her. “The War Department.” She laughed as she told me. I tried to act mad but I laughed too. “I bet you were the teacher’s pet in school,” I teased. “No, I just have more patience than you,” Tam said. “Not that it’s hard,” she added.
“Well you know what? She thanks you for every single thing you do. She just expects it from me,” I said. Tam didn’t argue with me. She just shrugged her shoulders and defended Grandma. “She’s an old lady, and she can’t do anything for herself. So I don’t mind helping her out,” she said. I couldn’t dispute she was old. But I was convinced Grandma wasn’t as helpless as she pretended to be, and I couldn’t help being annoyed at the way she manipulated Tam.
Once she had an ally, it didn’t take Grandma long to learn that while I wouldn’t fulfill every request for groceries or prescriptions or climate control at the drop of a hat, Tam would. Slyly, she started bypassing me and going directly to Sunshine when she wanted something. I never let her go hungry or without medicine; I just tended to her needs on my schedule, not hers. For awhile I ignored the situation; after all it meant fewer errands for me. But one evening when I heard Tam come in, dragging something large behind her as she walked through the front hallway, I finally said something.
“You need to stop enabling her,” I said, determined to make my point. “I know her heater went out, but it’s 75 degrees outside. She’s not going to freeze before I buy her a new one this weekend.”
“I was over by Lowe’s anyway,” Tam said. “I told her I didn’t mind stopping and getting one for her.”
“But I mind. Because every time you jump when she asks for something, it makes her think she’s entitled to immediate gratification. And she’s not,” I said.
In the end, Grandma still got her new heater that night.
Not much has changed since the fight over the heater. The War Department still makes Grandma wait until after work for her latest prescription, and Sunshine usually delivers cat treats and bananas within an hour or two of the request. Grandma is older and frailer, but more determined than ever to get her way. And as long as Sunshine is around, she knows she has the fast track to fulfilling every whim.