Right now, my father is getting over pneumonia, my mother has bronchitis, and I am annoyed.
When I spoke with my mother on Saturday night, she first asked about my daughter and what we did during the day, and then I heard, “Oh, so Dad’s in the hospital.”
Me: “Um. Why?”
Mom: “Well, he has pneumonia and his oxygen level was low.”
Following that conversation, I conducted the “routine.” I have to share the news with my two older brothers as I am usually the first to hear any news in the family. I called each of them and heard the same response: “What is wrong with them that they can’t tell us what is going on?!”
And so it goes… our parents always want to protect their kids, but in the end, all they do is annoy the hell out of us. I always joke that one day my mother will call and say, “So, I had my arm amputated yesterday, but I am fine and it’s no big deal.”
I have been a mother for almost four years and am already guilty of this myself. My daughter’s middle name is for her grandfather, who passed while my husband and I were neck-deep in fertility treatment. We talk about “Pa” a lot and she has a special picture of him in her bedroom.
She has only asked once where he was and I admit at that moment, I froze. Not only did all of my clinical training as a social worker go out the window, but all of my Jewish education did, too. Now, what do we (Jews) believe about death?? My first thought was basic: I can’t tell her that he died. It will be too much for her. My mother-in-law was there and we both told her that he was in heaven. I was comfortable with that and my daughter moved on from there.
Was that the right way to handle it? I honestly have no idea. In that moment, though, I was in protection mode and wanted to create a safety net around her that would keep her from having to experience anything confusing and painful.
My parents are both 72 years old, which is young. They each have some health issues, but they are very good about seeing their doctors and taking their vitamins. At what point, though, can they truly trust that their three children (all between the ages of 39 and 44) can handle news, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent?
I do hope that as my relationship with my own daughter evolves that I will have more faith in her and myself to share the difficult things and be there to help guide her through those painful moments. I know it will not be perfect and my initial instinct will be to protect her, but I am challenging myself. Our kids are more resilient than we think and we need to follow their lead with what is appropriate and what is not.