Many times while I was Millie’s caregiver did I wish for her to heal and evolve back into the brilliant and resilient woman I grew up knowing. I watched her study an object and hoped the words would come to her: the phrase, the meaning, the anything. Seeing her mind dim and fade will always be one of the greatest tragedies that I have ever witnessed. And yet I know I am so lucky to have been by her side, holding her hand, stroking her hair, offering a peaceful smile.
Four and a half years into parenting and four years away from the world of twenty-four seven caregiving and I can see so many overlaps of my life. Amusingly, I feel like being an assistant to a demanding film director in Hollywood prepared me to take care of my grandmother. Being Millie’s caregiver prepared me for parenting. She showed me the kind of mother that I wanted to be.
I saw how well Millie responded to constant affirmations of love and affection. I saw how I could set the tone for a good day just by hugging her before breakfast. While I was told plenty of times that I was loved growing up, and I certainly never wondered or doubted, I tell W the way that I told Millie. I tell W I love him a million times a day in a million different ways and before breakfast he is hugged.
The bizarre part of parenting vs caregiving is the similarity of how I am finding myself wishing W would linger longer in this stage. I watched Millie decline so rapidly and now W is growing so rapidly. Every day he is inching away from being this small boy and towards being a really big kid. I’m thrilled to see him thrive, but I suspect, like many parents, I just want to savor all the good stuff.
My mother has this great phrase she says when things are really good. “Put hairspray on it!” Right now W is so very clever and so very kind and so very emotional and so very thoughtful and so very silly. He has made some great progress in school with his teachers and with the therapists who come in for the things he needs to work on. He is exactly the child I dreamed of parenting.
I am realizing now that one of the things I appreciated about caregiving was being needed. I liked that Millie could count on me and I was always there for her. As W grows he needs me less and less. In fact much of his growing up right now is about showing me how little he needs me. He can do things all by himself. I am just an observer and not so much a participant. It’s probably more of an emotional transition for me than anything, but as I am making it I thought of Millie. I wish I could thank her for how well she prepared me. And I wish she could see how big this boy is now!