Becoming a parent … to your parent

Learning to parent my parent stirs a mixture of emotions for someone like me who has never been a mom.

I proudly claim the title of “best” aunt with my niece, four nephews and two great nieces. Afterall, I can spoil them rotten and then send them home.

It’s not the same with my 82-year-old single mother.

She’s always been a fiercely independent, outspoken woman with strong beliefs and an aversion to expressing her emotions.

“We’re just not a huggy, kissy kind a family,” she admits.

Her retirement activities include having coffee every morning with a group of seniors at a local fast-food restaurant, gardening, telling long stories, watching westerns on television, napping and managing a small portfolio of rental properties. 

Her companion, a feisty chihuahua/Min Pin dog named Rosie, is constantly at her side.

Mom decided this summer would be her last for the garden. She has difficulty walking or bending and lacks the strength it requires. However, she’s not ready to give up her riding lawn mower, her four-wheel utility vehicle, car or truck.

She insists she will know when it’s time to turn over the keys. After all, she reminded us, she passed her recent driver’s exam. My three siblings and I are not so sure. Ask my sister who rode shotgun recently on an early afternoon errand to a town 20 miles away. Although she denies it vehemently, Mom’s tendency to slightly drift in her lane is obvious. She was insulted when the police officer who pulled her over and asked if she had been drinking.

We sat her down and gave her the same speech she gave us when we were learning to drive. What if you crash and hurt yourself? Or worse, what if you hit someone else?

She understood, and her self-imposed restrictions now allow her to only drive in her small town during daylight hours.

Teaching her how to navigate the world of electronic devices is an entirely different challenge. 

As a consumer, Mom would be considered a laggard. She saw no need to learn how to use a computer of any kind. All she needed to know was how to use the microwave and the remote to change television channels, or so she thought.

Telephone technology baffled her. She was content with her land line until about a year ago when her hearing began to slip and the phone line itself became antiquated.

The combination left us frustrated, and no amount of cajoling could convince her to try a smartphone until we threatened to take her phone away for good.

So, the lessons began for someone who spent more than 30 years of her career teaching sixth-grade math, now in the student’s seat. Mom was apprehensive and reluctantly listened as my sister and I walked her through the steps of answering and making a call.

Selecting a “button” proved to be a difficult task. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t “press” right. I would show her how easy it was, but it just didn’t work for her. Baffling. 

I remember when Mom taught me to tie my shoes, making the loops with ease. Not for me.

I placed my hand over Mom’s gnarled right hand and attempted to guide her index finger as I explained how to scroll through her contacts to select someone to call.

This was the same hand she used to sand cabinets at a nearby factory where she worked a second job to pay for my college education.

It finally dawned on me that I was assuming Mom understood the jargon we don’t think twice about using today. It took some explaining, but Mom finally understood that scrolling up on the screen rolled the list down and scrolling down rolled the list up.

She now understands “contacts” is a list of people and their telephone numbers and her “favorites” are the people she calls most often.

Most importantly she knows to just touch an icon, a.k.a. the little picture, on the screen. Previously when we told her to select or push something, she literally thought there was a button, and she just wasn’t pushing hard enough.

She was so excited when she finally made a call without needing assistance. I was truly happy for her and for me, who was growing a little impatient.

Mom seemed a little embarrassed too. Having difficulty learning something new doesn’t equate with being dumb, I explained.

I reminded her of her two great-granddaughters who are amazed by rotary telephones and had to ask how a clothespin worked.

We had a good laugh.

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Vanessa E. Curry is a journalist with nearly 35 years of experience as a writer, editor and instructor. She earned a B.S. degree in Mass Communication from Illinois State University and a MSIS degree from The University of Texas at Tyler with emphasis on journalism, political science and criminal justice. She has worked newspaper in Marlin, Henderson, Tyler and Jacksonville, Texas as well as in Columbia Tennessee. Vanessa also was a journalism instructor at the UT-Tyler and Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has been recognized by the State Bar of Texas, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Dallas Press Club, and Tennessee Press Association. She currently is working on publishing two books: "Lies and Consequences: The Trials of Kerry Max Cook," and "A Gold Medal Man, A biography of Kenneth L. "Tug" Wilson.