A Different Kind of Family
by Pat Carbonell
Here in the good old U.S. of A. our society has grown away from the multi-generational agricultural family model. The Industrial Revolution had a lot to do with it, as did the growth of cities and a mobile society. By the 1950's, the ideal American household was Mom, Dad, the kids and the dog. Grandma and Grandpa lived somewhere else, and their entire purpose in life was to spoil the grandkids, in between shuffleboard games at their retirement community.
I have a different kind of family. It kind of evolved through tragedy and hardship. My mom was widowed at the start of my first semester in college. Dad died young - he was only 55. My two older sisters were married, and Mom had my seven year old kid brother. Fortunately, she was a nurse, so Dad dying didn't throw her into poverty, but she became a single working mother.
While I went through my four years of college, Mom sold the house and moved to New Hampshire - then came back to Vermont. My graduation present was getting knocked up during final exam week (what? I was stressed out and forgot my Pill for 2 days...). After spending my pregnancy living on welfare and doing my laundry in the sink with a washboard (try doing that around seven months worth of LARGE baby!), I moved in with Mom for the last month so I would (a) be with other people and (b) have access to a phone when the time came.
When Joy arrived, we became a three-generation household... except that Mom was still the MOM and we were her kids, plus a bouncing baby accessory. A few months later I went to work too, so we started edging toward two working moms and two kids - more partners than mother and child. That suddenly got cast in concrete a couple of years later when Mom screwed up the car payments and it got repossessed - the following day she handed me her bills, her checkbook, her bank statements and told me that she was done, it was my headache now. Whew. I suddenly was "Dad".
We got a divorce a year or so later, when my brother and my carping at each other got too much - she kicked Joy and I out. No big deal, I was more than ready for some space of my own. Finished another college degree and started on my career in computer system management. I lived in an apartment complex full of other single working moms, so we networked day care and all that good stuff. The single dad two doors down taught my kid how to ride a bike (I was totally useless - I went inside and told them to let me know when she had it or I needed to take her to the emergency room).
During that time my Mom and brother had moved to Florida. When the college I was working at and I came to a parting of the ways, I looked around and realized I'd have to move to get decent work. I opted to join Mom and my brother in Florida. That was 21 years ago.
So we again became a three generation household, with two working moms and a (now) adult working brother. Yeesh, for awhile we only had one car - those were the commutes from hell! Oh, yeah, and I got the damned bills handed back to me.
After a couple of years my brother joined the Air Force and went away. My job turned into one of those 60 hour a week gigs, plus working at home. Mom really became my daughter's "mother" and I was the "father" of the house. I regret those years.
The final shift to me being the head of the household happend fifteen years ago, when my mom retired. I asked her what she wanted for a retirement gift, and she told me she wanted a washer and dryer, so she could do the laundry at home instead of me schlepping it to the laundromat every weekend. No problem! I'd always wanted a wife! It was great! She did the laundry, the cleaning and the cooking. I worked my ass off, paid the bills and did the shopping. Between us we raised my kid.
Then about 13 years ago the absolute craziness down there finally got to me after my kid got hurt during a riot at school, followed by a domestic violence shooting in our complex - I decided it was time to come home to Vermont. At least here we all know who the crazies are - they're our neighbors and relatives!
Mom still kept the homefires burning while Jo finished high school and I worked/finished my Master's degree. Then it was Jo working part time and going to college while I worked full time. Jo finished her degree, went away for a semester and then came home just in time for Mom's first illness... and then everything shifted again.
Mom's pneumonia that winter segued into her heart attacks and triple-bypass surgery the following summer. Jo quit her job to stay home with her grandmother. Then there was the stroke. We finally got help from the state to pay Jo to stay home with Mom so she wouldn't have to go into a home. Then she had stents and an arterial graft for a major anuerism in her belly. Then she started going blind. And then she developed Alzheimer's disease.
Over thirty years, I've gone from being my mother's daughter, to her house-partner, to her caretaker... at least that part's shared with my best friend (my daughter Jo) and my oldest sister, who came to help out a year and a half ago when Mom fell, and stayed because it had become too much for just us (for those of you who want a taste of hell, try being one of four adult women living in the same household!).
Mostly, I'm Mom's personal private shrink these days. I help her sort out the confused memories, listen to her depression-talk, make bad jokes to make her laugh, and try to find ways we can all make her life easier. One of my oil blends, for arthritis pain, helps her, so I massage her legs with that sometimes. Because she can't see and she's a fall risk, we have to go everywhere with her - including the bathroom. We help her dress, put in her teeth and prepare all her meals so they're either finger food or can be eaten with a spoon.
My mother has become my child. Last night she had a rough night (she just had some corrective surgery on her graft), so I pulled up a chair and slept next to her bed - just like I did with my six year old daughter when she was in the hospital years ago with pneumonia.
And when she passes, she has asked me to conduct her funeral. I'm an ordained minister, and she feels that I understand her spirit and her faith better than anyone else... and I will do it. It will be the last service I can do for my beloved friend, who not only raised me but helped me raise my other best friend.
Of course, being MY mother, she's threatened to haunt me if I don't take extra good care of her cats!!!!
Pat is the Uber Mom.