There is something to be said for life under a rock. Fortune may favour the bold, but the meek and the anonymous have it pretty good. It was cosy under my rock. Quiet, calm, I did not begrudge the dearth of stimulus. But as I counselled my young daughter last week, who was weeping with fear before her school triathlon, we should do what scares us; it informs us of what we are capable, reminds us we are alive. Parenthood, however, makes hypocrites of the best of us. A few months ago, a column in which I unmasked myself every Sunday morning, was canned. And I grieved, until one morning I decided I quite liked it beneath the parapet. And so there I was, happily hiding out, when this page presented itself. I trembled and I quaked. I felt positively ill. I dreaded both your response - and, conversely, your lack of response. I need not have, for you did write and you were so very kind.
Adrienne said she likes my "sometimes unconventional grammar", and then delighted me with her own particular turn of phrase. "Finding nudges of recognition in each other's experiences is joyful." Maureen urged me to think of myself as "normal" rather than "slightly neurotic".
"To me you sound like a person who looks at both sides of the equation, takes the direction you have to at the time, then worries and feels guilty about not taking the other path." Larry told me he is quite probably my "opposite", and Glennie listed the ways in which she is (older, lives rurally, no children), but both said that, regardless, they always enjoy my words.
Of course, you were not all thrilled. Janet wrote that she likes "accuracy, especially in the written word", and took me to task on my use of "font of knowledge" over "fount". She asks me to "assure" her it was "not sheer ignorance". Janet, sorry to displease you, but I have researched it, and both are considered correct. Phil said he'd empathised with what I'd written until the part about me not protesting because I had to "collect" my children from school. I'm loath to think how, but he correctly surmised that I drive a SUV. He suggested my actions did not reflect my intentions.
In my defence, Phil, nine times out of 10, we walk to and from school.
And then there was a letter from a woman, who, as per her request, shall remain nameless. This is what troubles her most: "My mother. She's 81, lives by herself in another town, and her body is giving up on her. She is mentally okay but needs more and more support. I feel it's my responsibility to go and live in the same little town (not such a nice one) to help care for her. That means leaving my well-paid job, although we could afford it by living sparingly. My husband won't hear of it. We go and visit her every couple of weeks and then I feel guilty. She phones for a chat every few days and then ... I feel guilty. I see her struggle physically and I feel ... you've got it, guilty. She won't go into a rest home and won't live anywhere else, either."
Having recently put an elderly member of our family into care, I can appreciate the guilt that will not die down. My mother is only 61, yet she regularly makes me promise I will never put her in a home. We are all somebody's child, and, assuming your parent loved and cared for you when young, I believe the reverse is our duty when they are old. But how much should you give up to fulfil this?
On your behalf, I put the question to my grandmother, who enjoys the wisdom only 99 years alive can impart.
It is their responsibility, she said, to offer her a home, if possible. But they should not have to uproot their own lives.
Her mother should acknowledge she has lived her life, and respect they are only in the middle of theirs.
Guilt is our conscience's way of keeping us in check. However, persistent guilt saps you of your joy, and falsely empowers its subject.
I urge you to tell your mother how you feel, lay out her options, and then put away your hair shirt.
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