Why it is so much more fun to be a grandmother (than a mother)

I heard a simple quote years ago, but back then didn’t understand the meaning. I had to look it up to check.

In fact, I remembered it wrong. I thought it was Groucho Marx who said “The best reason to have children is in order to have grandchildren.” But nope, it seems to have been Gore Vidal, who wrote, “Never have children – just grandchildren!”

And Lois Wyse, a prolific American author, wrote, “If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I’d have had them first!”

If you’re a grandmother, you probably really ‘get’ these quotes.

Being a Mother or a Grandmother

When you have grandchildren, especially if you see them fairly frequently, you are likely to develop a special bond with them. Not inevitably, but it is a very common experience.

And you may begin to wonder why being a grandmother is so much easier and fun than it ever was being a mother.

I think there are a lot of answers.

Handing Them Back

Grandmothers themselves often comment on how nice it is to have children around, but how good it is to be able to hand them back at the end of a long day.

Yes, hooray to that. Long days with small children are tiring at any age, but especially as we grow older. All you want is to lie down or take a bath or pour yourself a glass of wine. Perhaps all three.

But, as frequent an explanation this is, I don’t really think it is the main story.

Spoiling Them

Others say that the real reason grandchildren are so enjoyable is that you can spoil them – give them that extra piece of cake or let them do what they want a bit longer.

You would never have done that for your own children, because you felt responsible for giving them the right attitudes and self-discipline.

And, indeed, discipline is the other side of the coin. You were always on the alert to teach your children, whether the consequences of their actions or thoughtfulness or even just good manners and much more. If they did not behave as you thought they should, it was down to you to set it right.

As grandparents, we don’t feel this need so strongly. Some of us may want to teach good values and attitudes to our grandchildren, but we know it is not our responsibility. We may well try to fit in with the values of the parents, but for the most part we can relax.

I do think this may be part of the explanation, but again not the whole of the story.

We Are Older and Wiser

Yes, we are certainly older and like to feel that we are wiser. And we probably are. Because we are often retired, we are not so beset with other demands, such as work to be done in the house or elsewhere. We can relax.

And, of course, if you are relaxed, you can stop and enjoy children to the fullest. Some of us did so the first time around with our children, but many of us did not succeed. I know I didn’t.

So, what is going on?

A Different Relationship

I think grandparenting is a very complex ‘virtuous circle’ that improves over time (i.e., the opposite of a ‘vicious circle’, where things go wrong and get worse).

In the early days, grandparents are usually excited to have a baby or small children in the house again. They are often more relaxed anyway, being older and under fewer pressures, and want to please the grandchildren in any way they can.

In addition, it is not uncommon for grandparents – either consciously or unconsciously – to want to ‘make up’ for their faults as parents. They may have been too sharp with their own children or too quick to judge them and now is the chance to do it all better.

At the same time, the grandchildren come to the grandparents with their good manners (we instinctively know we should behave at our best in other people’s houses). They sense the love and the welcome.

This makes for a great start. Both want to please the other, while both feel the other is ‘special’ because they are family. And because both sides are so easy and comfortable with each other, it just carries on that way, strengthened further by the presence of love.

Everyone at their Best

They see us at our best and we see them at their best. What could be better?

And there is little or none of the tensions that can quickly develop when things are going wrong at home, whether between the parents or, indeed, between them and the children.

As the children grow and develop, they bring their new accomplishments to the grandparents with great pride. And we grandparents respond accordingly. A natural bond is readily sealed by all this love and time.

Even ­when – or perhaps I should say ‘especially when’ – the grandchildren become teenagers and tend to rebel against their parents, our house can be a place of calm. They have no wish to rebel against us.

Some Exceptions

Of course, relationships will be different where you see the grandchildren infrequently, for there is so much less time for this bond to develop.

It will also be different where grandparents are raising their grandchildren full time, for instance, due to sickness, divorce or other problems in the middle generation.

Here, grandparents are acting in the role of parents and lack the opportunity to be grandparents in the way described.

The View from Below

I have frequently heard my children commenting, “My goodness, he behaves so differently in your house,” or, “I wish he would act like this at home.” We smile and feel innocent, and they wonder how we do it.

And long may it last.

 

Read more about being a grandmother in my book, Celebrating Grandmothers.

 

This was initially published on sixtyandme.com. See Sixtyandme.com/why-being-a-grandmother-is-easier-than-being-a-mother/

Why “Wise Before their Time”?

Nearly thirty years ago, when HIV/AIDS was rampant, I became close friends with a young man diagnosed with the disease. He was very active in the AIDS world and was organising an international conference of people with HIV and AIDS, to be held in London.

These were the dark days when most people with HIV/AIDS were young (mostly gay men and drug dependent, but there were others, too) – and to be diagnosed was to be given a death sentence.

My friend told me that he had asked everyone attending the conference to send in ‘their story’ with their application.

I was immediately struck by the potentially fascinating nature of such stories and he agreed that I could compile them into a book, a task with which he would like to help. I subsequently arranged for two interviewers to come to the conference (held over five days) to talk with participants about their lives. We managed to interview over 20 attendees from all over the world

Wise Before their Time was the result of these two sorts of contributions, published initially by HarperCollins in 1992 and subsequently re-published by Glenmore Press in 2017 with a new introduction.

But why the title? Despite being young, the people we interviewed seemed wise beyond their years. Something happened in the course of their learning how to cope with the many physical manifestations of their disease, along with the huge stigma attached to it by everyone (including many doctors).

Much like very old people, they realised that they did not have long to live, but needed to live wisely and well. They readily separated the important from the unimportant aspects of life and became deep, impressive men and women.

I was very pleased when Sir Ian McKellen agreed to write a Foreword, in which he stated that these true stories were “as powerful as any great classic of fiction”.

The title emerged from my thinking about their situation and their qualities. It may not convey much to the potential readership (which makes it a poor title). but it was my way of honouring the wonderful people who contributed to the book. I was never able to follow them up (this was long before the days of email and mobile telephones), but wherever I tried to do so, they had died within a year or two.

My friend died six months before the book was published. He, too, was wise before his time.

This book is only of historical interest, as it does not describe the experiences of people with AIDS now. But it is immensely moving – indeed uplifting – and is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Why not buy now and see for yourself?

Why ‘Celebrating Grandmothers’?

A few years ago, I wrote a book called ‘Celebrating Grandmothers’. Some people wonder what the title was all about. Was it a good title or, in retrospect, should I have given it a different one?

The purpose of a book title

Book titles are supposed to catch the reader’s eye. But they are also supposed to give that reader the flavour of a book and a sense of what is inside. I found this difficult because the underlying messages of this book are rich and complex – and hard to communicate in a catchy title.

The working title (what you call a book during the writing process) was Being a Grandmother, but that sounds exceedingly boring. Out come all the clichés – old, grey, dull! And very static.

So, what to do? An American journalist, who subsequently published a not dissimilar but very successful book, called her book Becoming Grandma. That, rather cleverly, communicates a sense movement. I wish I had thought of that.

Communicating enthusiasm

I wanted something positive – but not too much so. Most grandmothers light up when you ask them about their grandchildren – they genuinely sparkle. How to communicate that fact without going over the top? I thought the word ‘celebrating’ would provide a sense of enthusiasm.

But not all grandmothers are happy with their lot. I also had to manage the complexity of family situations. Some grandmothers live far away from their families and ache with longing to see them. Some have difficult family relationships. I didn’t want these to feel excluded from the book, as they are very well covered in it.

Is this a good title?

Like many other things in life, the answer is complicated.

I had liked the ambiguity of the title. Is ‘celebrating’ a verb or an adjective? Is it the act of celebrating grandmothers or is it about grandmothers who are celebrating something? In fact, no one has ever asked.

But it really doesn’t convey very much. One might think the whole book is in praise of grandmothers, which it really isn’t. You wouldn’t guess from the title that it conveys the inner thoughts of a wide range of women about many aspects of grandmotherdom – the image, the difficulties and the many joys.

Fortunately, the sub-title conveys what the book is about – grandmothers talk about their lives – but I sometimes think there should have been something more up front.

Yet the best aspect of the title is that it is a nice one to give as a present – many women have found that it makes a perfect gift, in part because of the title.  How nice, in short, to give  your mother a book called ‘Celebrating Grandmothers’.  In fact, I never thought of that at the time.

Are you a grandmother? Read and find out what you think.

Celebrating Grandmothers can be purchased as a paperback from Amazon and from bookstores, distributed by Ingram. It is also available as an e-book from Amazon and other e-book providers, such as Apple, Kobo and others.

 

Would you like to be young again?

As we move into our ‘senior years’, a whole lot of new questions begin to emerge in our day-to-day thinking. Some of us may look into the future and begin to worry about coping with long term illness or, indeed, dying.

Others, in contrast, may begin to think about the past. Were we happier then? Was it easier then? Would we, in short, prefer to be young again? And, if so, how young?

Start with Childhood

Some people say that childhood represents the happiest years, when we were completely carefree and responsible for nothing much at all.

Circumstances differ, of course, but for most people, it was a time when we simply had to get up in the morning, get ourselves to school, play with our friends and, perhaps, do the odd chore.

Personally, I think childhood is greatly over-rated. Certainly, for some it was an easy and enjoyable time, but others will remember it as a time of great stress. You don’t understand the world, you don’t know where you are going in life, your ‘friends’ can be difficult and sometimes even bullies.

Worst of all, you don’t understand yourself – neither your strengths nor your weaknesses.

Some people look back and see only the positive. But I had problems in my own childhood and then watched both my children experience problems and now my grandchildren as well.

I would not go back to childhood for the world.

Teenage Years

Becoming a teenager is undoubtedly exciting, as you begin to explore the wider world and its possibilities. But it is a time of such angst that it is hard to think anyone would ever want to repeat it.

Is there anyone who would want to be a teenager again? In my view, this is a question that answers itself.

20s and 30s

Once you are past the worst of adolescence, it does seem to me that life becomes a little easier. You have begun to settle into a profession or job of some kind. You are exploring personal relationships, perhaps choosing a partner and having children.

Yes, it is exciting. A lot of new joys. A new partner or husband! A new baby or two! Learning new responsibilities at work. Beginning to get a sense of yourself.

But as I look back, I also see a lot of problems.

The period of one’s twenties is particularly problematic. You are officially an adult, but frequently don’t feel or act like one. It’s not easy to find a permanent place to live and, indeed, many young people these days continue to live with their parents.

More difficult still, a lot of people feel the pressures of not really knowing where they are heading in terms of a career. If they have chosen something, they wonder whether they will be good enough. Some may also question whether their chosen partner is, in fact, the right one.

Perhaps it all becomes easier in your thirties. Some issues have clarified themselves for good or ill. But you see yourself approaching the big 40 and wonder whether you have done well enough.

Everyone is busy and pulled in many directions – the search for promotion, the needs of the partner and kids.

Often, you find that even your friends are too busy to talk.

Is that so great?

Midlife and Beyond

At least by the time you are in your ‘middle years’ you know yourself reasonably well. You have learned how to pursue your strengths and how to live with your own limitations.

You have finished having all the kids you will ever have, which may be seen as a joy or a relief or the source of considerable unhappiness. But you know where you are in this respect.

You may also be coping with menopausal symptoms, which may be no difficulty at all or be the cause of major problems.

And you may be coping with the famous twin pressures of adolescent children and ageing parents, both of whom need your attention. For some, this can be the most stressful period of their lives.

Looking Back

These are all very personal thoughts, which undoubtedly depend on the trajectory of your life and that of those around you.

In my own view, the older you get, the better it gets. Not everyone will agree. A lot of it will depend on the simple issue of health.

A friend of mine, for instance, who found himself quite ill and tired at the age of 70, asked me whether I would prefer the normal spread of ages or to be age 65 all my life. He said he preferred the latter. I was not so sure.

Perhaps, like me, you are glad you went through all those stages but are happy to be where you are. Or not.

Of course, if you could be all those earlier ages with the confidence and wisdom you have now, perhaps the answers would be different. But that would be cheating!

 

This was first published on sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/would-you-like-to-be-young-again/)

VOLUNTEERING IN A HOSPICE

A friend asked me recently whether she should take on the role of volunteer in a cause she believed in and for an organisation she trusted. My immediate reaction, based on my own experience, was “Yes, go for it.”

Being a volunteer is likely to present a whole new series of challenges from anything you have seen before. You will be faced with new problems and will search inside yourself for new ways of coping.

As we age, we need such challenges to feel young and vital. It keeps us on our toes. I believe that research I’d read somewhere suggested that new experiences of this kind are good for our long-term health.

Volunteering After 60

There are many types of volunteer work. Some will involve the use of skills, such as teaching children to read, or driving old or disabled people to medical appointments and the like.

Other tasks will involve helping organisations with their paperwork. Or sorting clothing or other donations to charity shops.

To me, it is most satisfying to work directly with people – visiting lonely old people in their homes or helping out in care homes. In my case, I worked in a hospice and gained enormously from it.

The benefits from such work are surprising – both in the sense that they are likely to be more than you thought and in the sense that they are unexpected.

Thrown into the Deep End

If anyone had told me beforehand that I would want to make tea for dying people, I would have doubted their rationality. Yet that is exactly what happened to me. Doing it and wanting to do it.

The first time I ever walked into a hospice, I did so with some trepidation, concerned about what horrible things I would likely see. Yet all I saw was an incredible peace and tranquillity that very much drew me in. I can still remember it vividly. I wanted to be part of the place.

And so I applied to a local hospice and was taken on. The ‘volunteers manager’ interviewed me briefly and said OK. No background check. No training. Just thrown in at the deep end.

That was 20 years ago. These days, there is doubtless a great deal of bureaucracy required to obtain such a role.

My Involvement with the Hospice

I spent roughly four hours in the hospice every Saturday afternoon, week after week, unless I was away.

The institution was very small – 16 beds – but almost always full. People were admitted much earlier than they would be now. All were dying, but some of them lived for some months in the hospice prior to leaving this world.

Somehow, it felt important just to be there, just to help at this very intimate moment in people’s lives. If anything I could do would lessen the burden of patients or their families, I was very pleased.

My job was to talk to patients, especially those with no visitors, make them tea, and discuss the menu for the next day. When I started, it felt very daunting just to do these small things.

After a few weeks, however, I got used to it and became adept at making what seemed like appropriate small conversation. Visits generally went smoothly.

Difficult Moments

But now and again, I would be faced with something that gave me pause, but also taught me the skills I could muster when necessary. Here are a couple of examples.

The hospice had a chef who went to some trouble to make the food appetising. One week, around the time of Mad Cow Disease, there was beef on the menu. People all over the country were often uneasy about eating beef, although it was said that it took 20 years for infected beef to have any effect.

But yes, one patient studied the menu and asked, “Do you think I dare to eat the beef?” I said I thought it would be ok, trying not to smile. I do not have a natural poker face and this was not easy for me.

A more difficult situation was that of a father who had travelled from the south of France to see his son, who was dying of AIDS. The man clearly had not known his son was gay nor that he was ill, so it was a lot for him to take in.

I felt very sorry for him, suddenly so far from home, dealing with this delicate situation, and no English. I mentioned to someone that I spoke some French. What I had not taken into account was this man’s thick Provencal accent – famously difficult for anyone to decipher.

He began to pour out his heart. I understood exactly what was going on, but it was a strain to get the particulars. I realised I was out on a limb ­– with little I could do.

I decided to answer when I could, but otherwise, to repeat, with as sympathetic air as I could muster, “C’est tres difficile” (“It’s very difficult”). I have never forgotten that man’s pain.

Special Moments

And there were also special moments. A young man dying from AIDS, who loved opera and had a CD player, asked if I would sit with him and listen to an aria from the Pearl Fishers. Sun was streaming in from the window. It was memorable.

There was also an older man with motor neurone disease, a former architect whose mind was clear as mine, but he had no physical movement. He communicated via a board with letters, directing me to them one by one.

One day, he asked for an ice cream, which I needed to feed to him very slowly. When it was gone, he had a big smile on his face. I said casually, “You liked that, would you like another?” and he signalled “yes.” Another half hour spent, another special moment gained.

Volunteer Work

Yes, volunteering can be so rewarding; you owe it to yourself to make possible such experiences. I would be very surprised if it was not found to be enormously satisfying. Sometimes, even a privilege to be there.

I worked at the hospice for four years. I had to stop because my husband and I had decided to travel a lot. I could no longer guarantee to be there every week. Even volunteers need to be dependable.

But I found the experience so interesting that I wrote a book based on interviews I conducted with hospice staff, Life in a Hospice. In the book, nurses, doctors, and many other people – even a very reflective chef – talk about the joys and challenges of such work and its impact on their lives.

It may not be for everyone, but you might find it moving.

This was initially published on sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/having-free-time-after-60-can-be-so-rewarding-as-a-volunteer)

SEMI CARERS (OR CAREGIVERS)

In recent years, we have all become conscious of the hidden army of people known as ‘carers’ (‘caregivers’ in the US).

These are the people who look after a frail (or confused) family member or friend. They may be daughters (or sons) looking after an elderly parent or, perhaps, a sibling. Or they may be spouses looking after one another.

Parents of disabled children are also described in this light. These are frequently older women, but they can be of any age or either gender. Even children under 18 sometimes find themselves in this role.

You may well know someone in this circumstance, or it may be you. We all feel for them, as caregiving is a difficult situation. It can take over one’s entire life, especially if the carer is living with the person they care for and get little respite.

The Carer I Knew Best

I became aware of the existence of carers when I was relatively young, because my husband’s favourite aunt was one. She had found herself in the traditional role (in England) of the youngest daughter who never married but stayed home to look after her increasingly frail mother.

She was not relieved of those responsibilities until her mother died, when she was already in her late 40s and rather worn down.

In her case, perhaps unusually, she blossomed soon after. She married a very nice older widower and began to substitute regular visits to church to equally regular visits to the pub.

They moved to a new house and she had a good life for many years until he suffered a stroke and she became a carer all over again.

Semi-Carers

But there is another category of people who are not the principal carer and so are almost completely overlooked – namely, what I would call ‘semi-’ or ‘supplementary’ carers. These are an even larger group of people whose lives are affected by someone who is physically or mentally ill or disabled.

Despite my familiarity with the pressures of being a principal carer, it never occurred to me that many other people can also be caught up in the web created by illness and disability.

This awakening came when my daughter-in-law was diagnosed with cancer not long after her baby son was born. (I hasten to say she is fine now.)

Of course, my son had to take on all sorts of responsibilities not normally expected of a young husband and father. But so, too, did many other family members.

My husband and I became very active baby-sitters and general helpers-out. We set up our house with all the accoutrements of babyhood – baby bed, highchair, baby clothes and so forth, so that he could come to us on short notice.

It was tiring and affected all sorts of decisions, such as whether to travel far from home. When I mentioned it to my doctor, he said immediately, “Yes, cancer affects the whole family – that is well known.”

In retrospect, it was not difficult to provide the help that we did, but it was difficult never knowing when we could be needed. Whatever our plans for the day, a phone call could arrive at any time asking us to come now. Your own life gets put slightly ’on hold’.

Indeed, I am not asking for sympathy, as being required to help to look after a small baby is a mixed blessing. Yes, it put pressures on us that had not existed before, but it also brought the pleasures of caring for a baby again. And it made us much closer to that grandchild, which has lasted over the years.

The Wide Impact of Illness

But my experience made me stop and think about how many people are so affected. Not simply by cancer, but by any form of long-lasting illness or disability.

Perhaps there is a need to provide food for a family, where the mother can no longer cook, or take on the role of driving the ill person to hospital appointments.

There can be a need to keep the household going in all sorts of ways, such as general provisioning or sorting out bills. Not to mention helping with the children, including the simple problem of getting them to school.

There is no ‘system’ to sort out these issues. Some countries provide more state help than others, such as paid carers who come in to help with washing and dressing. But when you remove one person from the equation of running a family, you immediately set up needs for all kinds of help.

Older Women

In these situations, there are always some family members (or friends) who are more willing to step in to help than others. Indeed, it is common for people to assume that where someone competent is on the case, there is no need to offer more help.

This, of course, puts more pressure on those who are willing to help and can be the source of considerable family tensions.

And it is often we, older women, who find ourselves doing what we can. Perhaps it is because we have more time and fewer responsibilities of our own, especially if our children are grown up and we are no longer working.

But what starts as ‘just helping out a bit’ can easily escalate into doing more and more. And we do have other things we want to do.

Does this all sound familiar? If you had such a request, are you someone who says, “Yes, of course,” without even thinking about it? These are fundamental issues, concerning how we feel about ourselves and our role in our families.

Semi-carers are not put upon in heavy ways. It is just normal, day-to-day activities that need to be factored into whatever plans there were before.

I would not go so far as to say they deserve some form of recognition, but if you have friends in this circumstance, I would urge you to acknowledge their contribution.

 

This was first published on sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/celebrating-the-important-role-of-semi-caregivers/)

Feeling happy in your own skin

 

An old friend and I were chatting recently via email. She had sent me a photograph she had taken of me earlier that day. I replied that it made me notice how very white my hair is and that I needed a haircut. It also reminded me that I am not as slender as I used to be.

She replied immediately to say I was “beautiful.” Which I am definitely not. I suddenly realised that she thought I was one of those women who don’t much like their own body and was seeking to reassure me.

I wrote back to say I have never felt ugly nor beautiful, but “pretty enough,” and it was not an issue for me. And she replied, “A rare and precious quality – being happy in your own skin.”

This stopped me in my tracks. Am I truly “comfortable in my own skin”? Do I feel happy about myself? Is it, indeed, a rare quality?

Of course, this has many meanings, but let us start with the physical one.

Physical Appearance

For as long as I can remember, it never occurred to me to feel that my face or body were not good enough. Yes, I was very short, but that couldn’t be altered (aside from wearing high heels).

Yet I didn’t feel the need to “fix” my body in some way. I never even liked wearing makeup and, after a few inelegant efforts, gave that up. I was – and have remained – a walking WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get).

It was only when I got into my 20s or so that I discovered this was not the case for all women. Many seem to feel their breasts are too large or too small, their backsides are too big, their noses are not the right shape, and so forth and so on.

And so, of course, the business of makeup was born (going back to Egyptian times, if not earlier) and, more recently, plastic surgery.

Much is the advice given about how to alter your physical appearance – dying your hair the right colour, doing the odd nip or tuck, and certainly applying loads of stuff to your face. Even the right colours to wear for you.

But does it make you happier, or indeed, more “comfortable in your own skin”? I honestly don’t know. That is certainly the intention.

Deeper Issues

But feeling happy, or simply comfortable, with yourself is grounded in much more than your physical appearance. Do you like yourself? Do you think people like you? Do you feel you have done enough to meet your early expectations of yourself?

Our initial view of ourselves must come from somewhere. This may be what our parents told us or how we compared to our siblings. Much labelling goes on within families “he’s the sporty one” or “she’s good with people” and this must rub off.

On the other hand, it may not be fully accurate. I was the middle child of three, with the other two being outstandingly clever. Despite reasonable grades in school, it took me years to realise I was really quite bright as well. It hadn’t seemed so, by comparison, in my formative years.

Our view also comes from our classmates, not only in those many years of school, but also if we go to university and beyond. We may get a reputation for studying or partying or being good at politics. We may have loads of friends or very few.

We try somehow to work out who we are and what we are good at. And how much do certain qualities and skills matter – to us or anyone else?

And many a novel has been written about the rest of life! It has a way of throwing you a hand-up or pushing you down. An abusive partner is very likely to flatten self-confidence, just as a quiet but admiring one will do the opposite. Success in work is much the same.

I cannot do justice to the issue here, but it is all part of the process of learning.

 

This post was first published by sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/how-happy-do-you-feel-in-your-own-skin-growing-old-may-have-something-to-do-with-it/)

SEX IN OLD AGE

 

Shot of an elderly couple hugging and kissing

People everywhere are fascinated by sex. I am not the first to say so. We wonder what other people do and when and what it means to them. And some wonder how long it continues.

When I was in my 20s, I naively thought that sex was only for the young. It simply did not occur to me that people over 40 continued with such activities.

This was nothing to do with any connection to child-bearing, but simply to the assumption that only the young had an appetite for – or interest in – sexual relationships.

As we age, we learn more – about this as well as everything else. There is, of course, much more research now.

Surveys will tell you about the extent of sexual activity at different ages. But few of these involve people over 70. And we are often reluctant to raise the issue with people we know.

The Story of My Parents

Of all the stories I tell about my family, the one which always gains immediate attention is one about my father.

My parents lived in an independent apartment in a retirement community in central Pennsylvania. They moved in when they were both roughly 80 and died within three months of each other, 10 years later. That was nearly 20 years ago.

After about five years, my mother developed vascular dementia. This is, of course, every married person’s worst fear. The husband or wife is no longer what they once were, but you are still married. And it is harder and harder to cope with the sheer physical demands.

My mother remained in the family apartment for well over a year, with a caretaker having been hired to help with her daily needs.

But eventually, it was too much for my father to manage and it was agreed that she would move to the Assisted Living section of the community. She was looked after, but he could pop in several times a day to see her.

He rarely complained, at least to me. It was just something that had happened.

An Affair Begins at 90

In the meantime, his eyesight had worsened, and he was losing one of his great pleasures – reading. He listened to a lot of audiobooks (and complained that there was no easy way to find the place where you fell asleep).

He had a friend, a somewhat younger woman, who came in to read to him. He was terribly pleased about this and talked about it – and her – quite frequently in our regular phone calls.

I should have seen it coming. When a man starts mentioning a woman (or vice versa) quite often, it tends to mean that something more than friendship is involved. But it just didn’t occur to me.

My daughter suggested that it was a possibility and I thought, no, that is unlikely. Not because the thought upset me, but they just seemed too old.

I went to visit around the time of his 90th birthday, when we were holding a party for him. Soon after I arrived, he sat down and clearly wanted to communicate something to me.

He had never sought very intimate discussions, but this time was different. He mentioned the name of the woman, who I had not yet met, and said he wanted me to know that they had become ‘an item’. I remember thinking the word was odd.

He was very clear. This was not ‘simply kissing and cuddling’, it was the real thing. Indeed, he said his doctor thought it was terrific for his health. There was no mention of love, but that did not seem important. The key thing was that he was happy. And he was. He was then 90 and she was 83.

I was surprised, but also delighted. Whatever my views about fidelity in marriage, they do not extend to the time when one partner is effectively no longer there. I made this very clear and could see him visibly relax.

He had wanted me to know but had been frightened of my reaction. He said his worst fear was that some other resident would tell my mother, but it did not look like that had happened. He still continued to visit her as before.

My father and his lady friend never moved in together, although perhaps they stayed in each other’s apartments when I was not there. I did not press for such details.

She continued to be a regular presence in his life until he died. Indeed, the night he died, she went to the hospital and sat with his body for a long time.

When Do People Stop Having Sex?

I don’t know when – and if – people stop having sex. I suspect there is a lot of it about. Certainly, in the retirement community, it was common for couples to spring up quite quickly after the death of a partner.

But I do know about my father. And when I tell this story, I have never heard a reaction other than “what a wonderful story” or “so, there’s hope then”. I’m sure he would be delighted for you to know.

 

This post was originally published with a different title on sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/the-taboo-topic-of-older-people-having-sex-lets-not-hide-from-the-facts)

MEMORY PROBLEMS

It is a well-known fact that we begin to lose our memories as we age. I’m not talking about serious conditions like dementia, but just day-to-day problems of bringing something to mind. Much of it isn’t too important, but occasionally it is.

Conversations with No Helpful Details

My conversations with my husband often go something like this:

“I saw that nice guy just now in the supermarket and said hello.”

“What guy?”

“You know, the one we met last summer on a boat – he was tall and very nice. Had a wife with red hair and I think there was a small dog.”

“Oh, yes, that guy. He was very nice. Are they living near here now?”

Or

“Shall we go see that film that is on down the road?”

“What film?”

“You know, the one that was made by the same guy as that terrific film that had really good American actress in it. We really liked it.”

“Oh, yes, good idea. What time is it on?”

How many conversations take place among older couples that sound something like that? Never a name in sight – or any that really help. Anyone from outside would be really baffled. Yet we often know what we are talking about.

These conversations can be annoying, as we don’t always get the connection we want. They can, of course, go on a lot longer, but you get the idea.

But they are not the real problem.

Remembering the Vital Details

What really bothers me is when I can’t remember the really important facts that I should have at my fingertips. I am not talking about who was President in 1953 or what is the capital of Switzerland.

No, it is all those little personal facts that you ought to remember – but can’t. It can get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.

When we were younger, our friends had husbands and children and you could generally remember their names. You met them, after all, and knew something about them. You could picture them in your mind.

How Are the Grandchildren?

But now they have grandchildren who you’ve never met. They’ve talked loads about them, of course, but your memory isn’t what it was, and you lack the visual framework.

It is so hard to keep up. How many did they have? From which children? And wasn’t there one with a problem, but which one and what was the issue?

You meet for the occasional chat and try to re-make contact. Didn’t this friend have a daughter with twin boys? Or was that someone else? Were they born a long time ago or are they still small? Time goes so fast they are probably older than you think.

Well, you can usually find a way of saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t remember the names of your grandchildren,” which gives leeway for age, sex, and number. And which child had what children when. Sorting that out will get you back on track.

How Are the Children?

But it gets harder, especially about those near and dear to them. Take their grownup children, whose lives you have heard a lot about over the years. You haven’t seen them for ages or, perhaps, ever.

You have a vague memory that there was some problem in the past that you were told about. Was there a son with a messy marital problem – did they get divorced or sort it out? Or was it the daughter? You should know, but it has completely gone from your head.

Or was it a work problem? Did they get fired or made redundant? Little details can be very important. It looks thoughtless to have forgotten.

Perhaps you can get by with “How is that son of yours getting on?” and hope that covers all contingencies. With luck, you won’t have to reveal your forgetfulness.

The Parents

But then comes the killer. You are friends with an older couple who you don’t see often, and you cannot for the life of you remember whose parents are still alive.

You can’t say “How’s your father doing?” if he died two years ago in difficult circumstances. But you don’t want to offer condolences if the man is in rude health.

Two people means four parents. Oh dear. And this does matter to them. It’s not like the names of their grandchildren.

This happens more often than I like. I’ve never found a good solution, aside from keeping the conversation going long enough and hoping it comes up naturally. Sometimes, a friend will say, “After my father died….” And I breathe a big sigh of relief.

What Seems Like a Good Solution

One should probably keep a notebook for all such information – little lists of children, grandchildren, and what they are all up to. And – definitely – the deaths of parents. It would make conversations a whole lot easier.

But, if it is any consolation, remember there is a good chance that your friends have the same problem as you do.

This post was initially published on Sixtyandme.com (see https://sixtyandme.com/losing-your-memory-in-the-details/)

DEALING WITH FUSSY EATERS

Keeping up with children’s food preferences – or should I say prejudices – is a job in itself. It was hard enough when we were mothers and handled it every day.

But it is harder as a grandmother since we have to remember who will eat what, while we don’t see the kids as often to keep ourselves up-to-date. It is so easy to get mixed up.

Fussy eaters

Both my grandchildren have been fussy eaters at times. My daughter’s son is older and was fussy at first. There were only a limited number of foods he would tolerate as a small child, and I would check with my daughter before they came for the day.

My second grandson, my son’s son, started out eating anything and everything. We have odd tastes ourselves (we prefer cold meat and salads to a cooked meal), and he was fine with that.

“More prosciutto!” he would demand, long before he had much vocabulary at all. Or, “More Muenster cheese!” My daughter was envious that her son was not so ready for these strange foods, although we did always cater to his wishes as well.

Yet the situation changed after a couple of years. The older one slowly began to experiment with the food his parents ate, and, after a while, he welcomed – more or less – anything you put in front of him. No problem there. Good for him.

At the same time, the younger one grew fussier and fussier. He only liked sausages, eaten after peas and before pasta. Each in their own plate or bowl. No putting them all together into one.

It was not worth the fuss if we digressed from the allotted routine. We knew it was lazy, but it was always easier to take the accepted option, rather than argue on a brief visit.

Keeping up with the changing grandchildren

But the real problem for grandparents is keeping track. Both children like ice cream and jelly, so we have these available when they visit. The older one likes them both together in a bowl, with lots of sprinkles. The younger one does not want them to touch. Not even a little.

And I just forgot which was which. After a good meal, the younger grandchild asked if he could have both – half the normal portion of ice cream and half the normal jelly.

Fine. I put them both in a bowl, side by side. I called out to ask if he wanted sprinkles, but he was in the middle of a movie and didn’t reply. I made a guess.

Oh dear – I got it all wrong! They were not to be in the same bowl. He didn’t want sprinkles. I offered him a separate bowl of each, but all was spoiled. He concentrated on his movie in a slightly bad mood.

Changing Perspectives

When I was younger, this kind of behaviour would have made me very cross. I never made my children eat something they didn’t like, but such antics were of a different order. And it was dessert!

As we age, however, our perspective changes. Suddenly, the whole situation seemed funny. Instead of getting angry, my biggest problem was to keep from laughing.

You just wonder what it is about the human condition that someone could make such a fuss about such a small matter.

But with age we gain the wisdom to evaluate each situation from a distance. So, as a grandmother and someone who has lived long enough, I am glad I have learned to tell the important from the unimportant.

Other grandmothers have said much the same, as can be seen in my book about the joys and challenges of being a grandmother. It makes life much more relaxing.

Not everything about ageing is better, but some things definitely are.

 

This was first published on SixtyandMe.com (https://sixtyandme.com/the-lesson-i-learned-from-dealing-with-my-grandchildrens-fussy-eating-habits/)