A few weeks before his dad died, my husband said, ''The only mistake Dad made was marrying a woman only five years younger than he was.'
Dad died a year ago at 90. Dad belonged in a nursing home. Despite mountains of laundry, though, and the near impossibility of keeping him clean and fed and monitored, he was still at home.
It came out of his wife's hide. By the time she broke her leg and their lives blew apart, she was down to 67 pounds.
But this was a joke my spouse was making. Supposedly.
''You know, one reason I married you is that you're 10 years younger,'' he said. ''I'm counting on you to be around to change my diapers.''
We had a good laugh. No, dear, I said, I won't be doing that.
I look to the future and see: diapers. By the time my kids are asking me to provide 50 hours a week of infant day-care so they can pursue their fabulous careers, my old man really will be an old man. Maybe diapers on both ends. Of the spectrum, I mean.
How simple was my thinking a year ago, when the in-law crisis broke. The two of them were living in Birmingham, Ala., in their perilous split-level house.
My husband is the only child.
I thought, if only they would have listened and moved up here, we would have been able to take proper care of them. Then his mother wouldn't have gotten away with this everything's-just-fine front, keeping Dad's true condition a secret. Which she did. And prides herself on. (It has to be a generational difference.)
Well, Dad died. She's up here, in an assisted living apartment. Would this, then, be proper care? She must be lonely.
And she doesn't like the food, either.
So she's 20 minutes away. I still can't get there and sit for a nice visit, as would be proper. I still have three kids and a job, and that was excessive to begin with.
Her son, though, does get there, besides taking care of all her business. How many visits a week would be right? Whatever the number, I'm sure we fall short.
I'm the one home during the day. So she gets stuck with me. I take her to her appointments. Which is frightening. She's tiny. She's in pain and winces. She's always just about to fall down.
Last week we went to the dentist. She lacked the strength that day to lift the walker an inch to get it over the threshold. Distracted, I didn't notice immediately. She didn't say she needed a hand. We muddle like this.
When I say she's ''stuck with me,'' I mean it. We are opposites. She is reserved. I have a big mouth. She scrubbed her bathrooms in Birmingham with a toothbrush. Now she's riding around town in a station wagon on which some kid wrote ''WASH ME.''
She's a trouper, though: ''I'm a tough old bird.'' So she is. An elegant one, too -- she dresses and accessorizes to go to the doctor's.
We also are from very different generations. Her personal psychology is from the 19th century -- she's 86. I'm a baby boomer.
This sent me back to ''Another Country'' by Mary Pipher, the Nebraska psychologist who got labeled a ''lifestyle guru'' after the success of her book ''Reviving Ophelia.'' ''Another Country'' argues we are not at all set up to take good care of the elderly. Pipher writes of her work with families:
''From both generations I hear stories of conflict, frustration, guilt, and anger. While the old often feel abandoned and misunderstood, their younger relatives often feel unappreciated, stressed, and guilty. Hurt feelings often come from taking personally problems that are cultural or developmental. As a nation, we are not organized in a way that makes aging easy.''
Tomorrow we are due for another outing -- back to the doctor. I will take her home and feel like we should be doing more, but not have the resources to do much of anything about it. She probably feels neglected and wonders why I can't manage to make it over to relieve her boredom.
She is slow. I'm always racing, often toward the next extra-large cup of Zimbabwe, with room for milk.
But here we are, stuck with each other.
E-mail the writer: kochakian(at)courant.com
Distributed by the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service
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