Something Like Life
March 30, 2007
MY mom got lost in the Greenhills tiangge last week. Talk about freaky!
I don’t quite know how it happened as she was with my sister and my niece, trying to find some gift we could send to an aunt abroad. They were on the way to an appliance center, which was where I was supposed to meet up with them after finishing my grocery shopping at Unimart.
While I was pushing my grocery cart along the aisles, I got the frantic call from my sister telling me our mother was missing. She said our mom was just trailing behind them and as usual checking out the goods of each stall in the tiangge. Instead of taking responsibility as the first-born in the family is supposed to do, of course my sister proceeded to blame our mom for going missing. Duh.
I couldn’t think straight after that and subsequently ended up missing a few items on my grocery list because I wanted to get to where my sister was. She texted me that she had our mom paged through the Greenhills public-address system and was waiting at the appliance center for our mom to show up. As I was paying for my purchases at the check-out counter, who do I find mosying along the corridor but our mother of course! I yelled out to get her attention and couldn’t help but berate her for going missing. I immediately caught myself and realized I was treating her like my five-year-old grandniece, telling her how to behave. Anyway, I felt relieved that my mother had turned up. She said she was walking up and down Unimart’s corridors in the hope she would find me.
My mom turned 79 in February. Although she is fit as a fiddle and still alert, she has been experiencing some gaps in her memory. (She and my sister always meet at that same appliance center every time they go to Greenhills, so it is befuddling why our mom didn’t find it this time.) Of course, our mom denies she has such bouts of memory loss but it has been noticeable to me as I live with her 24/7. True, she is still strong for her age, can manage her way around despite being blind in one eye, and can still out-talk and bargain down a tindera at the tiangge anytime. Still, this latest episode was a bit disconcerting for me as this was the first time it happened to us. My sister and I are now considering giving our mom a cell phone just so that we can call her if ever we become separated again in a large confusing area like the Greenhills tiangge. While I have no doubts that our mother would have managed to get home if we never found her, maybe giving her a cell phone would help ease our stress levels the next time—heaven forbid!—we lose her again. I just find it a bit unnerving that when my siblings and I were toddlers, my mother never lost any of us in a crowded place.
When we are young, we look up to our parents with awe and depend on them for everything. We may not show it sometimes but we are grateful for the roof over our heads, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear. We are intelligent and educated because they saved up enough to send us to the best schools. They make a lot of sacrifices to give us a life better than they ever had. They are always the ones looking out for our welfare and praying that we make something of ourselves.
As our parents get older, the roles in the family become gradually reversed. We tend to be more protective over our folks and constantly try to look out for them. I know it can be troubling for the older generation as they slowly lose control over their lives and activities. Now that it is us children watching out for them, they feel uneasy and perhaps slightly embarrassed. To them, this is not the way the world is supposed to work.
My father, for example, is so used to managing his financial affairs; he chooses which bank to deposit his money in and which monetary instruments to invest in. Despairing over the recent lowering of interest rates, I explained to him in detail why this has been happening. (Yes, Omar Cruz, your name is now famous in our household.) But my father is skeptical. And not until his banker gave him the same explanation I did, did he acknowledge that I was right. Obviously, my having been a business journalist for over 14 years doesn’t amount to much in my father’s reckoning. In his eyes, I am probably still his five-year-old bunso whose main preoccupation is watching Sesame Street every afternoon. (Nowadays, it is Spongebob.) I know he still finds it difficult to ask me about financial matters and despite my having authored lots of pieces on personal finance, he will never get used to the idea of asking me for financial advice.
It’s not easy to parent your parents. There’s a lot of bickering and arguments because you insist on doing things your way, but they insist on their traditional way of handling matters. You feel your way is the more efficient method, but they feel more comfortable with their own system. I actually got into an argument with my father recently about budgeting for our household expenses, so I just let him go ahead and do his own thing his way.
Parents are very proud people who will try, as much as possible, not to ask for assistance from their children. They will want to maintain that air of superiority, control and independence no matter what. When it becomes clear to them that they cannot get along without our help, they feel defeated and useless. Nobody wants to feel old and decrepit, so it’s important to understand where they’re coming from and treat them still with the gentleness and respect they deserve. Obviously, I have failed a few times in that area given my short temper.
We children, of course, sometimes can’t deal with what we regard to be just plain stubbornness on our parents’ part. We ourselves are sometimes struck by how much time has gone by so fast and we’re now the ones always after our parents to drink their medicine, eat the right kinds of food, or wear the appropriate clothes to an affair they’re going to. It can be an exhausting and challenging responsibility to try to be there for them all the time. When we can’t, we have guilt trips and overcompensate by buying them stuff or taking them out, treating them as if they were our children.
There’s no easy way to deal with aging parents. Sometimes you just have to take each day as it comes. There will be days when we will feel trapped by such a huge responsibility, seeing it as a burden to care for them especially when they no longer recognize any of us. It can be tiring and mind-numbing. On some days, we are grateful we still have our parents around and we are now old enough to josh with them or trade experiences they can also relate to. We can only pray that there will be more good days than bad.
(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo credit: BusinessMirror)