To all intents and purposes, I left home at eighteen when I went off to university, although at the time none of us realised it. I came back during vacations, but never really lived at home after that. I remember a conversation with my father, who thought I was too immature to get married (he was right, of course) when I pointed out that fledglings have to fly the nest. He retorted that they usually had more sense than to throw themselves out before their wings were working.
Fast forward fifty years and suddenly I’m living back home. Like most of the events with far-reaching consequences in my life, this has happened by accident, with no deliberate careful planning on my part. I came to England for 3 months, with my return ticket in my purse, intending to get my mothers situation sorted here, and go home to my regular life in Switzerland. Circumstances and the way things work in the UK turned out to be very different from what I expected, and more than 2 years later I’m still here, living in the house where I was born, with my mother. It is her house, and although she is rapidly approaching 98, and no longer quite the capable woman she was, she is still in charge.
It’s a strange feeling, after fifty years of independence, suddenly finding myself in the daughter role again: and sometimes, as far as my mother is concerned, I am still the ten-year-old who needs a firm hand and a good scolding. “Oh, do go out and play!” still rings in my ears. She accepts that I am here to help her, though she is not so secretly convinced that she really could manage quite well on her own, as she did till she was 95. We provide reciprocal support. I have had more to do with doctors and the hospital in the past 2 years than she has in the whole of her life, so she still sees her purpose as looking after me, too. It’s an interesting evolution in our relationship, which has always been good: not exactly a reversal of roles, but a more fluid exchange of responsibilities.
No, I haven’t come in and taken over: that wouldn’t work with a self-reliant person like my mother. She is certainly no tyrant or domineering matriarch, but she was used to being the decision-maker in all household matters for 75 years or more, and that fact cannot be disregarded. One of the saddest things I notice about people dealing with elderly people is a lack of respect: it irritates me intensely when I hear that patronising tone from someone talking to my mother as if she were a semi-imbecile, just because her thought processes are no longer as rapid as they were. I am not of a diplomatic nature, and have to be very cautious about treading on sensitive toes. Yes, she has passed the reins to me in certain areas, but woe betide me if I overstep the mark! Pardon me for changing my metaphors yet again, but she is still the Captain of this ship and I am no more than First Mate!