Childless or not, expect to take care of yourself

Lately I’ve been living a double life. On March 25, my 95-year-old father broke his upper leg, the same leg with the artificial hip from when he broke it in 2014. He wasn’t doing anything special, just washing dishes when the bone came apart and he fell on the floor, banging his head so hard on the wall he left a layer of hair behind. He was alone, just like he was with the hip. Luckily, he had his cell phone in his pocket.

Since then, I have been traveling back and forth between Oregon and California, trying to do as much as I can to help. I was there when Dad moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, when he left there for a nursing home, and when he went back to his own house last week. In the last four months, I have spent 34 days sleeping in my childhood bedroom and hanging out with Dad.

But I’m not there now. A paid caregiver ($27 an hour) is there for three hours in the morning and three hours around suppertime. Sometimes people visit. My brother Mike drives seven hours every weekend to help him, but mostly he’s alone. My father has two children in their 60s, two grandchildren in their 30s, and three great-grandchildren under the age of 4. None of us are there. We live far away. We have jobs to do and lives to lead. And Dad wants it that way. When I suggested that maybe my dog and I should just move in, he said no.

Those of us without children worry about being alone in old age. I’m alone most of the time. It’s scary. But the truth is that for most families, even when there are children, there’s no guarantee they will be on call 24/7 to help. I do know people who devote their lives to caring for their elderly parents, but for most of us it’s a juggling act. If you have children of your own, you need to take care of them, too. Even you don’t have kids, you have other responsibilities.

You can’t be everywhere at once. Last week when I was moving Dad back to his house, my brother was in the middle of a wildfire disaster at his home near Yosemite. With fire all around them, his family was ordered to evacuate. From Merced, they watched the news and prayed their home and their town would still be standing when they went back. They were among the lucky ones. Their house and their town survived, and they were allowed to return after nearly a week. But during that time, Mike was not about to run to San Jose to load Dad’s wheelchair into the car.

People are always telling me about how having children does not assure that you won’t wind up alone. It’s true. Granted, my brother and I have done a lot for our father. We have paid his bills, mowed his lawn, and interacted with doctors, social workers, and nursing home staff. We arranged his transitions from one institution to another, and I sat with him at each of his appointments with the orthopedic surgeon. If there’s another crisis, we’ll get there as soon as we can.

I have no children. What will I do when it’s my turn? What will you do? So far, friends have helped me when I needed surgery or was stuck on crutches with a sprained ankle. I already have my legal paperwork in order in case someone else needs to make decisions for me. But I know I need to make more formal arrangements for the future. If I don’t acquire a new husband or a housemate, I plan to move into some kind of group living situation so there will be people around to help. I don’t want to live alone forever.

If I had children, would I want them to give up their lives to take care of me? No.

Ultimately we are all on our own. So let’s figure it out. Who will you call if you get hurt? Who will handle your bills if you can’t do it? Who will make phone calls and talk to the doctors? If you do end up having children, that’s a bonus. They’ll be glad you got yourself organized.

What do you think about aging with kids? Have you made any plans? Please comment.

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Step-parenting is No Fourth of July Picnic

Dear Readers,

I have been on the road again this week helping my father. He is 95 years old, and he broke his upper leg very badly in March. He went from the hospital to a terrible nursing home to a somewhat better one.

On Tuesday, we saw the orthopedic surgeon again. After three months, the leg still isn’t healing much, but the doctor believes the hardware he installed around the bones will hold him up. He says Dad can start walking with a walker AND he says Dad can go home. This young ortho expert doesn’t know what he’s saying. Dad lives alone. His will is strong, but his body is fragile. My brother and I both live far away. This situation is wearing us out. We’ll both be doing some commuting while we figure out how to get things organized. Moving Dad from his three-bedroom house in suburbia to some kind of senior residence would be much easier on us, but it’s Dad’s life, and he has the right to live it the way he wants to. He wants to go home.

I arrived in the middle of a heat wave. Driving Dad’s car through the horrible traffic in San Jose, sweating, tired and hungry, I told myself taking care of Dad–and my dog Annie, who just had knee surgery three weeks ago–is my job now. Perhaps I was denied motherhood so I could devote myself to caregiving for my husband and our parents. It’s not really what I want to do, but it’s the job God has given me. I would so much rather focus on my writing and music and maybe take an actual vacation. Someday.

Meanwhile, it’s that time of year when we’re forced to look at pictures of everybody’s kids in graduation gowns or on vacation. Babies seem to be everywhere. Right? And, those of us who have stepchildren may suddenly find them arriving for extended visits, disrupting our usually childless lives.

A 2012 post, “Stepchildren Add Stress to Childless Marriages,” has drawn a barrage of comments this week. You might want to read them and join the conversation. Step-parenting is tough, and folks who think they’re a perfect substitute for having your own kids are wrong. It’s the not the same.

What do you think? What’s bugging you these days? Thanks for being here.

Sue