When I Am An Old Woman

Daughter on Duty, January 2015

Mama—whose ENT told her this week she was close enough to 99 to call it that, since she will be the next time she comes to have her ears cleaned out—is fond of telling me what I will understand when I am her age. I will understand what it’s like to be old. What it’s like to lose control over things. What it’s like to lose your independence. What it’s like to feel guilty that I didn’t do more for my mother. Because she wishes she had known all those things so she would have done more for her mother. Then she wouldn’t have spent the past two-and-a-half decades feeling guilty for whatever it is she feels guilty about.

My sisters and I have all pointed out to her that her mother was difficult. That she did the best she could and she has not one thing to feel guilty about. We have wondered why the lesson she learned was not how to be more grateful for everything her daughters do for her. But this post is an exploration of what I hope I understand at 99 because of this experience, rather than what she wants me to learn.

1. It is not all about me. Nor should it be. It would be nice, of course! Don’t we all want it to be all about us all the time? Get over it.

2. If salting my food makes me happy and knocks a day off my life, so be it. In fact, be grateful if it does.

3. There is no cure for old age. Let doctors save their time for the young with life ahead and treatable maladies. *

4. If my child wants to live in my home to care for me, and I can’t talk her/him out, give them the house. Adapt to their decor, their belongings, their organization; or pretend to. Get over it and be grateful to still be in my home, if that is what works best for everyone involved. (See number one.)

4-1/2. Talk her/him out of it.

5. Move to a small dwelling, on a bus line, or walking distance to a grocery store, library, coffee shop if I want to be independent. Otherwise don’t complain about not being independent.

6. Complain to a friend, or a therapist, or a minister, or a tree, or the cat about my children. Not to my children.

6-1/2. Have a cat.

7. Treat a paid caregiver as a companion, not as hired household help.

8. Treat an unpaid child as a partner, not as hired household help.

9. Don’t treat an adult child like a not-adult child. I may think my child will always be my child; but glory be, thanks to me, or no thanks to me, they have grown up. Let them be grown up. They might even know stuff. Gasp. I might even have taught it to them.

10. There is more than one way (my way) to do everything. Some might even be better than my way. Gasp. If it’s not, keep my mouth shut unless asked for advice.

11. If someone fixes my dinner for me and all I have to do is sit down and eat it, just say “thank you.”

12. Don’t feel guilty for what I didn’t do, for mistakes made, for words said, for words not said. Just say, “I’m sorry,” even if the only person I can say it to is myself. Then let it go.

13. Seek information before making accusations. Then skip the accusations. Who needs that shit?

14. Own up to being forgetful or confused. Put a big ol’ sign on the bathroom mirror, “Remember, you forget stuff!” Let it be okay that my child is the keeper of memory. In fact, be glad for it. Say “Thank you for keeping track of the details! I’m old! I can’t remember shit!”

14.5. Say “shit” a lot. Except in the #15 usage.

15. If I can’t see or hear or walk or sleep or poop, assume everyone knows that. Don’t tell people every time I open my mouth. See number one.

16. There is always someone worse off than I am. If there is not, and I deal well with my worst-off status, I win!

17. Realize that we are all interdependent all our lives. Let that be okay. There is no independent and dependent.

18. Don’t be 99. Don’t make getting old the end all, be all. Save up pills. Or something. The oldest person doesn’t win shit.

19. Give this list to my children to read to me when I am old. I’ll probably need a reminder.

20. See number one.

My mother is teaching me so much! Just not what she thinks she’s teaching me.

* I have a different feeling about #3 in 2023. Doctors need to care more about elders—mostly they just need listening skills. But all the rest are still spot on.