My daughter is doing home care for a 97-year-old man and his 94-year-old wife. When she started the job, the couple only needed care during the days and evenings. Now they need it around the clock, and they aren’t happy about it. They don’t want to give up their independence or admit they are less physically capable than they used to be.
I’ve got news for them. I’ve been feeling that way since I was about 5 years old.
I’m not making light of the elderly couple’s situation. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly sympathize with them. It cannot be easy to have “outsiders” come into your home and do all the things you used to do on your own. No matter how wonderful the caregivers are, they’ll never be able to do things in the manner and timing that you would do them yourself.
I remember one day during the summer between kindergarten and first grade. I insisted my mom re-tie my shoes, not once, not twice, but multiple times because I didn’t like the way she’d tied them. I threw a hissy fit, which woke my dad, who was trying to catch some sleep before going to his second-shift factory job. He shuffled into the kitchen, gave me a potch on my backside, and sternly told me, “If you don’t like the way your mother ties your shoes, then learn how to tie them yourself.”
Before shuffling back to the bedroom, he turned to my mom and said, “Eva, don’t tie her shoes again!”
Well, Mom never did tie my shoes again. I spent the entire rest of that day practicing until I got it right. Once I’d gotten it, I was determined no one would ever tie my shoes again. No one has, ever. In later years, when I had carpel tunnel surgery, and then when I was so hugely pregnant I couldn’t see my feet, much less reach them, I wore slip-ons. I tie my own shoes. Period.
That’s pretty much been the pattern for my entire life. I prefer to figure things out for myself, do things for myself, and decide things for myself rather than have someone help me. That’s fine for a 5-year-old trying to tie her shoes, but it’s not fine for an adult. It’s especially not fine when that adult (aka, me) prefers not to let even God help her. I often find myself having a hissy fit because he’s not doing things the way I want them done and insist that he do them again – my way.
Sometimes, I seclude myself from him and try to piece together and accomplish things on my own. At other times, I try to make decisions without seeking his counsel or attempt to make sense out of the world around me without deferring to his wisdom and mercy.
Unlike the proud 5-year-old who figured out how to tie her own shoes, I usually end up tearfully pointing to my untied laces, figuratively speaking, and begging God to show me one more time how to tie them or pleading with him to just tie them for me.
Having gumption, or “moxie,” as my dad would call it, can be a great thing, if, and only if, that moxie is bound to God’s guidance and fortified by his grace. It’s not a great thing when it’s bound to pride and fortified by selfish stubbornness.
I’m not elderly like my daughter’s clients, so I’ve not experienced what they’re experiencing on a practical level. But the 5-year-old in me understands what they’re going through. I don’t want to give up my independence, nor do I want to admit that I’m in any way incapable, even when I have a wonderful caregiver – God himself.
(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her website: www.margefenelon.com.)