I used to like old people.
I held doors for them and picked things up when they dropped them at the store. I checked on them when they lived next door and did odd chores like dishes and taking out the trash. I’m still polite to elderly strangers. It’s the one in my basement I have a problem with.
Of all the things that irritate me about Grandma — and there are a lot — it’s her sense of entitlement that bugs me the most. This nagging angel/devil pair in my head take turns whispering, “She took care of you when you were young. Turnabout is fair play.” and, “When you were a kid you appreciated everything she did for you. I can’t remember the last time she said thank you, can you?”
I’ve always been big on manners — my own, my children’s, even strangers’. It’s not uncommon for me to loudly say “You’re welcome,” when I hold a door for someone who doesn’t acknowledge it. So when I spend a few hours shopping for Grandma and delivering everything to her, I expect a “Thank you!” not a “Where’s my credit card!” The older she gets, the ruder she is. She is not someone I would check on if I lived next door.
Except if I were her neighbor, Grandma would be nice to me. I know this because everybody else who helps her out gets thank yous … tips for chores … offers to pay for gas … I don’t even think this is a conscious decision on her part. I think she reasons she took care of four generations, and by god now someone’s gonna take care of her. I just happened to win the draw.
Luckily, one of Grandma’s drivers seems to have taken a shine to her. Initially Shelly hanging around after she dropped Grandma off made me suspicious. “Does she think I’m not taking care of her? Is she a career criminal who knocks old ladies in the head and steals their money? Why on Earth would she sit down there with Grandma, who makes all kinds of unpleasant noises and retells stories that even new acquaintances have already heard 20 times?” I kept asking myself.
I guess Shelly just likes old people, because today she called Grandma to check in on her. Grandma’s doctor switched her to Pradaxa, which means goodbye Warfarin and bi-weekly lab checks. It also means Grandma doesn’t see Shelly as often. I actually thought about asking Grandma if she wanted Shelly to stop by and visit with her a spell — that’s Grandma-ese for come over and hang out. But Shelly beat me to it.
Grandma’s friend is coming over Sunday, and they’re going out for ice cream. Bless their hearts. I’ll nonchalantly grab the Kleenex ear flap out of Grandma’s hat as she leaves so she doesn’t look completely bonkers. And later, when I’m on my way downstairs to clean up Grandma’s routine messes and I hear her tell Shelly thanks for stopping by, I’ll remind the voices in my head, “Don’t worry. She’s just being nice because that’s not her granddaughter.”
Someone told me this post was mean, so I immediately took it down. But after some minor edits and a second opinion, I think it’s OK to leave up. For years I’ve felt guilty about being a “reluctant caregiver” — I’ve never denied I’m primarily motivated by obligation, not love. I do still love my Grandma, but she’s gone. And the person who replaced her is a real pain in the ass.
But after reading Paula Span’s article, I’ve decided it’s OK to feel this way:
“We need to allow people to be reluctant,” she said. “It means they’re dutiful; they’re responsible. Those are admirable qualities.”
See? I’m not mean. I’m admirable. Save the guilt trips, haters.
Image credit: genika / 123RF Stock Photo