There was a turning of the tide this past Sunday. It was a day I realized that trying too hard to be good can be bad.
Dad had overslept and texted to tell me he’d be late picking me up for church but still wanted to try and make it. I could have offered to pick him up which would have saved him some time but since summer had finally arrived, I started putting winter coats away. Todd had left to work on the boat and I suddenly found myself enjoying being home alone with time to organize—something I don’t do much of anymore. I go from week to weekend, to week to weekend with a similar routine, week after week.
Over the past couple years, since Mom died, I have spent a lot of my spare time with Dad, or worrying about Dad—trying to fill an impossible void unnecessarily, similar to the way I did for my son after my divorce.
How did you sleep last night Dad? I always ask and really want to know.
I was up three times.
Did you walk this morning? My way of checking on his breathing.
Not today. I immediately get anxious.
Have you had lunch yet? I like to ask this question. I enjoy hearing about what people eat….but this is different.
No, I just finished breakfast.
I was over-mothering, something I tend to do. Taking care of other people keeps me from taking care of what I need to in myself.
Dad eats dinner at 5:30—usually. When we’re together, I arrange my day around it. My husband comes home from a day of work and often waits an hour or more for me to show up. When I finally do arrive, our conversation goes something like this. He says, I spoiled my appetite on cheese and crackers waiting for you to get home, or I stopped for a latte and ate the whole cookie in the car because I figured you’d be at your dad’s, or I had Pakistani for lunch. All of which mean I won’t have to cook dinner. “….Popcorn?” I ask.
The one who probably wouldn’t mind some over-mothering is my latchkey kid husband but I leave him to fend for himself.
After all these Sundays with Dad, this past Sunday something felt off. I changed my clothes a couple times—my first solution for straightening out my head. Then, as I was carrying up and tripping over the third armload of coats, I realized I was tired—tired of more than deciding on what to wear to church or of hauling weights of wool around.
I texted Dad back and told him to go on without me. This would save him time and me some sanity. He wrote right back, OK.
For a moment I didn’t know what to do with the free time. I could have called Todd to let him know I had stayed home and we could meet up, but I didn’t. Instead, I cleaned and found a piece of peace in me. I let go of worrying about Dad being alone and realized he would have time to be with the many people who love him without my hovering shadow of a presence. He could be himself—an independent, intense, wise, wacky, wonderful 85 year-old with a life of his own to live. And I could get back to mine.
Even so, that evening I couldn’t help myself. I called him to check in.
“I was thinking Dad; maybe we should break up our Sunday ritual a little. There are so many people who would love having more time with you.”
“I think you’re right. It was kind of funny this morning. John and I were there for quite a while after the service and at one point there was one person talking to me on my right, another on my left and a third crawled up on the chair in front of me. I had three conversations going on at once! It’s nice that John comes to church now too. I don’t know if this means I don’t pick you up anymore on Sundays….”
“Oh, I don’t think we have to decide anything definite but I think we can be more flexible. Mom had told me to take a year and just go to church with you on Sundays. It’s been two, hasn’t it?”
“Two and a half!”
Why did I suddenly feel like I had overstayed my welcome….?
“Debbie, I love the time I have now. I love being with you and Todd and John and all the family. I’m reading, writing, getting things in order. Did I tell you I have a new friend named Todd at the bookstore I talk to? He orders my books for me and we get talking about things. I’m just enjoying my life…….you know something? I can’t find my book on George Washington! It’s the one you and Todd gave me. Why I love that book. I write notes in my books then lend them to people and miss them. I was writing a letter and wanted a story from that book.”
“Well, I’m sure we can find another, I mean, I’m sure you can find another one,” I said catching myself. He went into a story then about the Hessians and winning the battle—a story of courage and faith, his favorite. Normally, I would have raced for a pen and started taking notes but this time, my eyes met my husband’s and I was ready to hang up just as Dad was getting another call in.
“Debbie, Mike’s on the phone, do you mind if I get it?”
“No Dad, ‘night.”
What an unexpected twist….I thought my Dad needed me and as it turned out, I may have needed him more. Never underestimate an aging parent or you may find out that you’re the one who is aging while they’re getting “younger” all the time.