By Noah Powell
GRANDMA WON’T change a diaper. Won’t offer to cook. Can’t figure out how to use anything. Is flustered by a slight breeze. Wants to know where every item came from. Looks at the remote with a deeply furrowed brow. Is paralyzed with indecision by most decisions, no matter how inconsequential. Is confused and easily irritated by dogs. Can’t find her glasses. Constantly feels sorry for herself. Needs to be told how to do everything. Is amazed when twenty more auto-generated emails appear on her laptop.
She’s been here since Wednesday, attempting to help me deal with the brief absence of my wife, who happens to be helping her parents, as I juggle our fourteen-month-old and the two dogs. It is now Sunday morning.
I went into silent mode (don’t ask for anything more, don’t get involved) at eight a.m. today, when I was planning to nap for forty-five minutes while she watched the baby. I should have realized I couldn’t nap until after I had walked the more active dog, Boumie.
Boumie gets all revved up because he wants to go out and he’s messing with the youger dog, JoJo. Mom doesn’t simply open the door and let them out, as I’ve explained she should do. Then Boumie knocks the baby over like a domino. Then the baby is crying.
I come downstairs, take the baby (who had just pooped and hadn’t been changed), change her, then take all three on an hour-long walk, trying not to think all along about how useless my mom is. How mean and ungrateful that would be to dwell on. But, to be honest, she is not very helpful.
When I decide a shower would be good for me, physically and mentally, I ask Mom to watch the baby while I cook and shower. Afterward, she acts meek and silent because she knows my patience is done and the energy is different. I’m no longer catering.
Yet, some subconscious groove compels me to invite her to sit on the couch while we watch Classical Baby. This is the conditioning that accumulated over the decade or so between my 1982-1992, which were my most impressionable childhood years. Mom’s needs and neediness and the weight of the world upon us all. Life isn’t fair, a sort of Greek chorus echoing in and out of the rooms. So...I invite her to sit on the couch and relax to the classical animations, made to soothe babies, but also helpful for adults. The baby in my arms gulps happily from her bottle and watches the animated animals clapping and hooting after the song finishes.
Earlier in the morning, she explains she would like to do laundry. Then wants to separate the seven articles of clothing into two piles. I insist she throw her clothes in with ours. Later, after the walk, the clothes are sitting there in the washer. (“I didn't know how to use the dryer.”) I start the dryer.
This is not all about being seventy-three. This is about being seventy-three and choosing to shrink life down to the size of a pea in order to not deal with your overwhelming fear of anything new. This is about being seventy-three and living alone for twenty years. This is about being seventy-three and never listening to music, much less seeing it live. This is about being seventy-three and watching movies obsessively, but never out in a theater. This is about being seventy-three and never compromising, never switching it up, never accepting the human body has needs beyond eating, sleeping, shitting, sorting through old boxes, and doing aerobics.
After we sit down to eat, she says with manufactured pity in her voice, “I wish I could do more.” I don’t lose it. I refuse to get caught up in her issues or manipulation. I take a breath and slowly respond: “Please don’t go into that.”
I know that some part of her is simply being honest. That she knows every machine shouldn’t be an obstacle course, but somehow is. The other part, the not volunteering to help with diapers, maybe it’s equal parts fear of the baby writhing around and making a mess, the universal desire not to touch poop, and the fact she hasn’t been around a one year old in thirty-seven years, or maybe she simply doesn’t want to.
Life is more complicated for some humans than others. My mom is one of those for whom it is harder. At least she loves spending time with my daughter and appreciates the job I am doing with her. Tomorrow morning we drive to the airport.