BECOME AS A CHILD
Recently, on a late summer afternoon while I was resting on the back deck, I had the misfortune to drive a huge splinter into my heel – sideways. I have a very high tolerance for pain, but this thing was like the middle half of a round toothpick, only a little bigger and with jagged edges. It was one of those “hold your breath until you almost pass out” moments. I was home alone as my husband was working late and there was no one to help. Luckily, I had the phone outside and called the most obvious person – my dad. We never get too old to need our dads and moms. I’m so blessed and happy to still have mine. I knew he couldn’t really help, especially from the nursing home, but I had to call him. First I had to assure him that I was in no real danger, then it went something like, “Daddy I have a huge splinter in my heel and I need you to get it out.” To which he replied, “let me get my pocket knife and I’ll be right there.” Of course this was exactly the response I would have written into a script. It’s what he has always said. It is his theory you can accomplish almost anything with a good, sharp pocket knife.
I went from a middle aged woman to a little girl in the space of a few seconds. All I could think was that my daddy could handle this if he were here. I didn’t always feel this way. When I was really a little girl, the “let me get my pocket knife” line wrought fear and dread in my heart. Oh, such screaming and crying. He had to threaten me with a spanking to get me to be still and let him remove a splinter. After it was out, he became an instant hero – until the next time.
This all came to mind last night after our inaugural meeting of the Family Council at the nursing home. We were trying to establish some goals and taking suggestions for speakers, programs and activities. One of the things I discussed with a few of the family members was that we give the residents an opportunity to share their vast knowledge and experience with those of us still in need of so much guidance. I too often get lost in the roll of caregiver and forget that these are still vital human beings with a longing for purpose and accomplishment. Some of them are in no mind to participate in this activity, but many have sharp minds and are only physically debilitated. I learned this several years ago before my mother’s oldest sister died. I had been caring for her a number of years, all my life if the truth be told. When I could no longer accomplish this at home, along with Mother and Daddy and a full time job, we moved her to Lake Villa in East Lake. She had a beautiful room, if small, and received good care. It is a wonderful facility. I had neglected to visit her for longer than usual and was feeling very guilty in spite of the fact that I was about to lose my mind trying to cover all the bases of wife, parent, child, niece, aunt and employee. I finally could put it off no longer and had to face the guilt. I went into the room and she was so happy to see me. I started trying to explain why I had not been by. Suddenly, I just lost control and became the child she had loved and cared for so much. I fell on the floor, laid my head in her lap and cried like a baby. Her mind wasn’t very good, but she knew in her heart what to do. She sat quietly patting my head and started to sing to me like she did when I was little. It was such a comforting, cleansing experience – at that time. Right now it is breaking my heart just to tell it. I really miss her a lot. It just hadn’t occurred to me before that day to let her be the adult and me the child in need of guidance. I’ve tried to remember this and rein in my “bossy self” when needed.
Mother and Daddy are very dependent on me, but they are still my parents and need to be treated appropriately. Sometimes I just have to tell them my problems and let them handle it for a while. It helps them to understand what I’m going through and makes them feel needed and helpful for a change. We all reach a time in our lives, if our parents are blessed with long lives, where we change places with them and have to become the mother or dad. That fact can not, and will not be changed. But we don’t have to be locked into that roll 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s okay to slip back for a while and let them do what they did so well when we were growing up. I’m going to suggest that this be one of the family council’s first orders of business – forming an advisory group of residents. I’m sure many of them have a lot to offer in their particular areas of expertise. All they need is to be asked and given the opportunity. Even if the advice doesn’t turn out to be right or put into action, they will have been given a chance to feel needed and useful.
I really did need my daddy that afternoon. I ended up trying to remove the splinter myself and broke off the end. When my husband finally got home, we sterilized various implements and managed to remove most of the splinter. It wasn’t nearly as quick, painless or thorough as Daddy’s pocket knife.
August 29, 2003
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