At what point do we cease to be our parents’ children and start mothering them? If the various sociologists are to be believed, the cycle of life takes one from baby, to child, to teen, and eventually to adulthood, but somewhere along the way, the adults start retrogressing; mid-life crisis is very similar to the teens. Eventually our parents act more and more like children.
Whose responsibility is it to take care of them at that point? Being African, the automatic answer would be that the children should take care of the ageing parents. However, what happens where there are 4 children? Or even worse, none?
The other day, I paid my mum a visit and I was shocked to find that she had aged. I have said it severally that she needs to realise that she is growing old and stop behaving like she has not, but now I realise that I was saying this from a purely academic perspective. Now I know she is growing old and I am scared.
Not because I need her to mother me, but because I am not too sure I know how to mother her. I can stand on mountain tops and scream at the world and tell them how wrong my mother was in how she brought me up, but fact is, I am who I am today because of her. She nurtured me, taught me things, disciplined me, shaped my fashion sense and greatly influenced my taste in men.
I think every woman secretly fears becoming her mother and we stop in shock when we hear her in our voice, when a friend notices a similarity of expression, when we look at old pictures and wonder whether the young woman in the photo is her or me.
Her ageing is forcing me to accept my own mortality and my own fallibility. Will my daughter one day be in the same position I am; faced with an ageing mother, who has memories of all the great things she could have done, but having instead to deal with the reality of not being able to do even half of them. In that situation, what will my daughter’s instinct be? Will it be to run for the hills; distance herself as much as she can from this person her mother has become? Or will she find it in herself to show compassion and love?
I think back to all the great things we shared with my mum: playing ‘blada’ with store bought elastic because we lived in an area that had no bicycle repair men; learning to use the sewing machine; learning to cook many a dish; taking rides on our bikes and grabbing some fresh maize from a shamba (not necessarily ours) to go and roast; playing Scrabble to the highest possible total. I remember watching her in awe as she got ready for a party and thinking that I had the most beautiful mother in the world and when I saw her pictures, I had proof.
I saw her host and entertain guests with dishes she had learnt to make only a week back and carry herself with great aplomb where I now know she must have felt completely out of depth.
And now, here I am. Scared to see her age. Scared to know that this woman who is the reason I am who I am is no longer the woman she used to be. I know I have to step up to the plate and do some serious batting as far as her care and well-being is concerned. However, I must admit that I feel lost.
You see, as a mother, you grow into the position. You carry a baby in your womb for some 9 odd months; you watch that wrinkled mass turn into a walking, talking bundle of amazement; you watch your child learn to do stuff that makes you both proud and embarassed in equal measure; then your child is not quite a child anymore, but starts to grow her wings and becomes more and more independent every day.
However, as a child, you assume that your mother is all powerful, ever knowing, almost god-like…then suddenly she is not.
It scares me!