It#039;s tricky when the baby becomes the caregiver

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 14, 2006

I am the youngest of three in my family, the so-called &uot;baby.&uot; My mother still introduces me as her baby from time to time, despite the fact I loom over her tiny little white-haired self.

The babies in families are supposed to be very charming and funny and delightful, but not necessarily great at responsibility, or so they say.

In my case, I’m sure if I had had children of my own, I would be one of those worrywarts who frets over the hint of a fever or the slightest cough and worries about all those sinister germs lurking around other children.

As it is, I get concerned if my youngest dog, Tutie Belle, looks a little peaked or turns down the cat food I hand-feed her from a cup (don’t worry, she gets dog food too; it’s just that she enjoys the Cat Chow so much).

While my nine spoiled pets surely constitute a bit of credit in my favor, I am not a parent.

As the child of an aging parent, I am learning all about responsibility.

I suppose the first time I felt what a parent feels was the time following my dad’s stroke in 2002 and his subsequent dementia.

In those eight remaining months of Daddy’s life, I wanted so desperately to make everything better for him again. I wanted some kind of magical bubble wrap to roll him up inside to protect from all the pains, fears and demons that haunted him.

&uot;How do parents do it,&uot; I wondered. &uot;How do they manage to do their best to take care of their children and not worry themselves to death about what they cannot do for them and all they cannot protect them from?&uot;

When Daddy died, I suddenly felt old and half-orphaned at the same time. But I also knew in my heart my sisters and I had done our best for him.

Mama has been a widow now for more than three years; the rambling old farmhouse seems empty, yet full of so many memories. She is slowing down, and she’ll tell you she is.

I was the one who had to tell her she could no longer drive. Thankfully, Mama conceded her peripheral vision problems were too much of a worry to make it safe for her to get behind the wheel.

She takes a lot more medicine than she ever used to. I’ve started sorting it out for her each week in one of those daily-weekly pill containers – pills to keep her heart beat regulated, her blood pressure lowered, her blood thinned, to fight her osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to help the memory that keeps playing tricks on her.

She feels overwhelmed by it all sometimes. &uot;I wish I didn’t have to take so much medication. Then again, I don’t really want to die quite yet,&uot; she will say with a bemused grin.

The girl who once jitterbugged to Goodman tunes, skated across frozen Tennessee ponds and rode on horseback through the back forty needs a helping hand to keep her steady these days.

My blood boils at the thought of anyone harming or taking advantage of my fragile, funny, frustrated little mother. I think I now know at least a little of what a parent feels. It ain’t easy, but there are compensations: my mother’s smiles and hugs, the feel of her small, arthritic hand tucked into mine as we cross the parking lots and streets, watching her tuck in and enjoy a meal out at a =


I guess I’m not ready to be a full-fledged orphan yet, either.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at