Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: I'm worried about my mum

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I love my Mum and I'm worried. She’s still active and delightful, but she needs people. Photo / Supplied
I love my Mum and I'm worried. She’s still active and delightful, but she needs people. Photo / Supplied

I love my mother. I really do. We have nothing in common other than our love of purchasing completely unnecessary clothes and make-up. My mother also buys an absurd number of cat toys and treats. She seems completely obsessed with her cat's feline movements.

"Skippy is doing something very strange at the moment," Mum says as she does up her seat belt. She says the same thing every time she gets in the car and puts her belt on.

It's always the same story. How I react depends on the amount of sleep I've had, whether I've received a lawyer's bill, my recent sexual activity, and if I'm suffering from any level of PMS.

"He's funny, you know," she continues as she settles in with her purse on her knee. "He is sleeping on the chair at the back door now. He was sleeping in his fabric igloo, but since the earthquake last year, he won't sleep there. Not ever."

I've heard this three times a week for many months now.

"How are the kids? How's Grant? Is he OK?"

I grit my teeth. "Yes, Mum. Everyone is great."

I'm worried about the mother. I'm worried because, like many in our ageing population, she relied on her husband to save for their retirement. He didn't. So Mum has relied on State Housing and her family ever since. I am her family. That's it, just me. My darling daddy died after a series of strokes in the late 80s and mid-90s. As you may know, my sister died in 2000.

We were not a moneyed family. No trust funds floating about. My paternal great-great-grandfather owned the Shepherd's Arms pub and half of Tinakore Road in Wellington. But he had thirteen children and I'm fairly sure the eldest son got it all. Great.

Mum's family were from London. Specifically, her mother's family were from the East End. Apparently my great-grandfather on her side owned a whole street of houses too. But he sold them off one by one as he ran out of money for booze.

It would seem both sides of my family liked houses and booze. And that they held their booze better than they held onto their houses.

There is no money put aside, and no inheritance. I do believe when Mum passes I will get several cardboard boxes of jam jars, some very pretty costume jewellery, a fabric cat igloo, and a rather large collection of clothes from Millers.

I love my Mum and I'm worried. She's still active and delightful, but she needs people. She needs friends and people to chat to about cats, the old days, cross words and choirs. I'm like my father. I have no interest in cats, crosswords or choirs. Instead I have a hearty interest in sport, reading biographies, watching the news, and ridiculous statistics on anything.

Mum is getting very old, and now the time has come where I have to make a decision.

My wonderful mother-in-law - I refuse to call her my ex-mother-in-law because I'm not divorcing her, EVER - is the kindest, most nurturing woman alive.

Not only did she look after her own mum - who although sassy and fun was hard work at times - she also looked after her very elderly and infirmed father-in-law, "Old Koro", and her half-sister who tragically died of cancer.

She spent 20 of her prime years looking after people. Grant's mother is Pakeha, but truth be known, her heart was assembled in Polynesia.

I don't think I can do it. I don't think my heart was built in Polynesia. I think I'm one of those people I never wanted to be. I shall buy my mother a retirement villa. I'll visit her three times a week and listen to her stories of playing bowls with the other ladies, aqua-sizing in the pool, and hear about how she misses her cat.

But I'm worried I won't be able to afford that for her. With my separation I have a mortgage and then with the villa another $450,000 mortgage. From what I can gather you still pay a weekly rental, and when the occupier travels on that great waka back to Hawaiki you get back 80 per cent of your original price paid. There is no capital gain. You lose money. But your parents live in a really cool village for their remaining years on earth.

Someone is making some good money. I wish I'd thought of it. I figure the conglomerates that own retirement villages must make a fair bit considering the ... um ..."turn over".

I'm worried I won't be able to afford it. But more surprisingly, I'm worried I'm a bad person with no tolerance for old people who endlessly tell the same stories over and over. I can manage hours, but full time? I'm not good enough. I'm not nice enough. I'm not kind enough ... I'm just not enough of anything.

How do some cultures just embrace it all with no fuss and no questions? How did we miss out on that? I feel guilty and robbed at the same time.

I'm an only child with a job that seems increasingly tenuous, a giant mortgage and the possibility of being handed two cats my ex-husband no longer wants plus a cat that can't go with Mum to "The Happy Trails" resort, unless he's on a leash. A cat on a leash? Are you sh*tting me?

- NZME.

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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