Sunday, May 07, 2006


This week, the artificially induced pregnancy of a 63-year-old woman in Britain has society debating if such a situation should be allowed? If parents at that age can do the job? The debate has me thinking that in order to explore the questions, maybe all I have to do is explore my own history.

Now I realize I’m not a poster child for this particular situation but with my mother being three months past her 50th birthday when I was born, there may be some similar applications. After all, depending on an individual’s particular state of health, there are OLD 70-year-olds and there are YOUNG 70-year-olds. The difference being that the former are frail sickly individuals, the latter active and healthy. And in light of this, the truth is that my parents were older than their years. My dad, because he had stomach ulcers and crippled legs. My mother, because she was a diabetic whose health rapidly declined due to a saturated diet of affordable starches. Bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta.

Now the paramount thing I need to tell you is that my parents, though old, were kind, loving, and unbelievably patient. My parents had a gaggle of kids. I am the youngest. So a large part of their patience had to do with how worn they were from struggling to get the older ones to do chores. So worn out that they eliminated chores from my list. The outcome of that decision was that decreased expectations radically increased tolerance and patience. But from my own standpoint, as easy as I had it then, today I am guilt-ridden and red-faced-ashamed at how little I did to help. Mom, my dear old Mom, made my bed and washed and ironed my clothes until I moved out. I could probably count on two hands how often I swept a rug, mopped a floor, or dried a dish.

And so, in my youth, there was no big push for me to do the many chores the older ones had to do. But at the same time, home-life before I was born was quite different. It was a busy lifestyle. There were farm animals to care for, fields to plant and harvest, endless household chores of cleaning, baking, canning, etc. All things critical to sustaining life in the midst of abject poverty. The motto back then was mandatory. If you don’t work, you don’t eat!

But in my years all that is a blurred memory. Probably ended when I was around 10 years old. Now life became existence in a kind of barren wasteland. Older siblings had moved out. There were now no farm animals, no field-work, and little social interaction. With older parents in forced retirement due to failing health, there was little physical activity. More often than not, there were just two old people at the kitchen table drinking tea and reading scripture to prepare for the next stage of life. Meanwhile my friends’ parents were out and about. Taking their children to the city, to card games, sports events, Bingo games, even dances. All wondrous amusements that had no context in my life.

So by the time I was born life was a calm quietude. And although the older kids said when they were young my Mom and Dad had loud and long arguments that once or twice came mighty close to the disastrous brink of separation, I saw no such thing. The testiest situation I remember is the insensitivity of my Dad as he snapped at tea time, “Woman, can’t you just leave the water long enough to come to a boil before you make tea?”

And my Mother would respond with an equal lack of diplomacy by whistling merrily, ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, and sometimes doing the actions to match. But nothing changed. Next pot of tea was also made with lukewarm water. She was just too tired to argue, too tired to care, too tired to wait for the water to boil. And so, for me, as a child, there was an ongoing embarrassment that my parents were too old, the house was too cluttered, and the tea was lukewarm. An embarrassment that I am mighty ashamed of now.

But what most impacted on my life because of the age separation was the affliction of my Mother’s fashion sense that was so separate from mine. My mother was rooted in Victorian-Principled modesty. Long-sleeves, dark colors, well-below-the-knee hem lines and close collars. And I, on the other hand, was rooted in ‘Victoria Principal’ fashions – short skirts, pointy bras, plunging necklines, etc. Surprisingly, this was one of my biggest difficulties that left me so scarred that even now clothes are far more important to me than they should be.

But at the same time, the rules that younger parents normally prioritize about chores, personal care and responsibility fell by the wayside. My parents having passed the competitive stage of life were now in the reflective stage. And so for them practical and material stuff were unimportant. More important – the soul-saving stuff.

And so that meant that instead of cleaning my room, doing dishes, washing floors, I was dogged about going to church and not wearing slacks, make-up, or earrings. I couldn’t go to dances, shave my legs or armpits, or even cut my hair. Of course, I still did a lot of these things in secret. I even managed, with the help of the minister’s wife, to break down the rule of ‘no slacks’. Unfortunately, what my parents didn’t realize, was that regardless of all their endeavors, one fact remains. ‘Kids will do what kids will do’, so the encumbrance of their spiritual rigidity led me (or should I say ‘forced me’) to tell more lies than I preferred to tell or would have told in a more tolerant clime.

And so the downside of their parenting philosophy was the lies, the limited socializing and lukewarm tea. I still find no easy comfort in crowds. And although there was encouragement to do my schoolwork, there was no discussion of where these efforts would lead me. No discussion about after-grad plans, money-making careers or money-making anything. The be-all and end-all was to sustain a strong core of spirituality and the rest was just supposed to magically happen by chance or through God’s blessing with no planning on my part. I guess with my parents fast approaching their sunset years, life was in the present day, the present time, with a real possibility that tomorrow might not come. And that adage was solidly passed on to me. Even now, ‘Plan’ remains a dirty four-letter-word that I never use.

But now I come to the upside. The pride I have in that which my elderly parents bequeathed to me. In retrospect, it is surprising that even without envisioning the future in a practical sense, they had a bigger global picture than most. One that encompassed, albeit by default, not only earth life, but all life. And for that I am grateful because it works far more efficiently than anything else I know of to surmount insurmountable obstacles and to encourage rather harsh auditing of self-serving determinations.

So despite the flaws, I credit my parents for some hidden thing in my subconscious mind that has always made me think that Hub and I could make it even when we were as separate in our thinking as the Arctic is from the Antarctic. And I credit them with giving me a deeper level of contemplation that goes beyond what society terms “success”. I credit them for my imagination. I credit my Mother, despite her biased way of thinking, with my ability to question other’s views enough to understand them and find acceptance in them. I even credit her with giving me the ability to give up long held beliefs (after all, she did eventually grant me permission to wear slacks).

And to those that would ask, “Can elderly parents be there for a child when he/she needs them?” Yes, they can. Mine were not there to drive me to extra-curricular activities when I was in school. I had to figure out a way to do that myself. But I never once came home from school to an empty house – ever! And always I had more than my share of emotional support. The sad part of it is that my own children were too young when my parents passed away to know them or remember them.

So in conclusion, let me assure you that this rant is not to suggest that children of younger parents are not fully encouraged to be humble, modest, and spiritual. But at the same time, we know that each life has a fixed portion of earth time. And the more of that earth time that is dedicated to scrambling to the top of the ant pile, competing, making money, finding ‘success’, material comforts, the less of that fixed time is dedicated to modesty, humility, and spiritual reflection. It’s not a foregone conclusion. It’s just something elusive that comes from serving lukewarm tea.


Anonymous Anne said...

I could read your words all day my dear, and that's no exaggeration. Delightful sentiments and thoughtful observance.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

anne, I'm chuckling while reading that you could read my words all day. That truly is no exaggeration because sometimes reading my rant takes all day. ;D

Seriously though, thank you for the great comment. I think readers sometimes see evidence of my discouragement between the lines of what I write though I try desperately to hide it. But I'm freed up to write with such ease when I get a comment like the one you have written. Thanks a whole bunch.

12:13 AM  
Anonymous joared said...

Appreciated your sharing this story, and thoughts with us.

Am reminded of a friend, all set to undertake at 40, special training for a long desired career, with her youngest now in high school. However, another unexpected child was in the offing. Her high schooler was appalled to learn of this turn of events; very embarrassing to have an "older" mother "that way." Of course, was fine in the end.

Guess there are advantages and disadvantages whether the parents are younger or older which we each would have to determine for ourselves, as you so effectively discussed.

I arrived late in my mother's life and I was past my 20's when our family expanded. Worked out well.

At school, there were two other sets of parents "older" like us. Their kids and ours noted the age difference with all the other classmates parents though all of our children seemed unbothered by it. We parents noticed the difference, too, at back-to-school events but wasn't a problem.

I, personally, don't think I would have been doing any child a favor by subjecting them to my parenting at 50, much less 60 or more. But think there are some of those 50+ ones who are marvelous. I can only admire them. To each his own.

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

I was hurriedly clicking my way through a couple blogs and was directed to yours by Anne of Before reading, I scrolled down to see how long his blog would be. Hmmph. Too long to take time to read. I just finished. Thank you for making me slow down long enough to have some lukewarm tea with you.

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

I was hurriedly clicking my way through a couple blogs and was directed to yours by Anne of Before reading, I scrolled down to see how long this blog would be. Hmmph. Too long to take time to read. I just finished. Thank you for making me slow down long enough to have some lukewarm tea with you.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

sandy, so thrilled to have you. Thank you for your reading patience and your pleasantness despite the lukewarm tea. :D

3:13 PM  
Blogger Julie Oakley said...

As a mother who had a delightful surprise extra baby at the age of 45, it was fascinating to read this post. However, when I feel completely wrung out at the end of the day and think that the lady doctor went to the lengths of undergoing fertility treatment to have her latest baby and she's nearly 20 years older - I think she's stark staring bonkers!

6:30 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

julie oakley, I agree with you except for one minor wrinkle. I know she had children earlier in life and maybe they chose to be childless. To not have any grandchildren is such a downer. I have grandchildren, but if I didn't, there is a real possibility that I might have even been driven to steal a child or have one through medical assistance. All this purely speculation but it could indeed be.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Esther said...

It's funny how your parents look different at different stages in your own life. When I was growing up, I was always comparing my mom to my friends' moms who seemed to be more organized, civic minded, etc. "Gee, Mom why can't we have a chore chart?" or "Why aren't you in the PTA?" (As if having 5 kids in 9 years was not enough to keep her busy).

Now my kids compare me with their friends' moms and again well, it was always something somebody else's mom was doing that I should be doing...too!

So I was touched when on this Mother's Day my youngest daughter wrote, "Thank-you for all you've done, seeing other families makes me realize that I couldn't have a better mom that you".

When I asked her how she came to this conclusion, she said, "Shana called her mom to see what she was doing on Mother's Day and she said she was busy (all ready made plans to be with her boyfriend). ......

Ouch!...A mom who would rather be with her boyfriend than her own daughter on Mother's Day. This mom is rather young, so I guess age has little to do with how good or bad a parent you can be.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Esther, a touching thought expressed by your daughter for Mother's Day. And yes, I would certainly agree, that priorities for that other mother should be re-examined. Children may eat less cause they are small, may run slower cause their legs are short, but when it comes to inside hurts, they are as big, if not bigger, than adult hurts and often longer lasting.

11:53 AM  

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