My mother celebrated her 90th birthday about 9 months ago. It was a terrific day! My brother and sister-in-law came down from upstate New York and several cousins and friends came. The joy of having a bar/restaurant downstairs is that it is easy to plan something. The bar regularly serves Sunday brunch, so that’s when we celebrated. The chef made two amazing cakes: a chocolate Pimlico cake and a carrot cake.
Everyone really had a great time and enjoyed the day … especially Mom. She was in rare form for her birthday and kept everyone entertained. After brunch, she was exhausted, so we took a break and relaxed. One of the nice things about having people around is that I can “stand down” a bit. There are others to tell stories and listen to Mom’s tales. I am called upon to explain or restate if something is unclear.
One of the most interesting things is that ever since my mother’s birthday, she has taken to saying (on an almost daily basis) some variation on: “I’m 90 years old!” I understand that this is quite a milestone and am happy that she knows how old she is. However, there comes a point where I just don’t want to hear it anymore. She is driving me crazy … sometimes … other times it just makes me chuckle.
But, I completely understand – I did the same thing when I turned 50! I think most of us probably have a certain birthday that sends us into a spiral. The “how did I get here” birthday or the “I’m old” birthday. It usually ends in a “0” and everyone else thinks we’ve gone off the deep end with our shock and dismay. Of course, we later realize that it’s not so bad and that we really aren’t any different than the day before the birthday of doom.
So, on one hand, that’s where she is. The problem is that rather than the “that’s not so old” responses one receives in the pre-90 years, this one gets people’s attention. One of the things that bothers me is that when she says this to other people, there is often a response along the lines of isn’t “that great, dear” or “congratulations, dear”. There’s usually something in the tone that just irks me. It’s like patting my mother on the head. I understand that people are trying to be kind and supportive, but … grrrr.
There’s a certain point where we start to infantilize older people. In some ways, it’s not surprising. They’re not able to make as many decisions they used to, they have a hard time getting around on their own, and they need more attention, someone to keep an eye on them. But elderly people are not children. They do not need our condescension.
One place where the age repetition was funny was, oddly enough, at the doctor’s office. My mother sees a nurse practitioner as her primary care provider. He is terrific and she really gets along with him very well. At the most recent visit, we were completing the MOLST form – Maryland’s medical end-care instructions – and every sentence started, “I’m 90 years old, I don’t need …” At first, I’m not sure she realized that he was just filling out a form because she was astonished at the questions he was asking! Eventually, she got it, but the responses continued to be prefaced with “I’m 90 years old …”. Anyway, we all were chuckling by the end of the form. I think the process is supposed to take about 2 minutes to complete – it took us about 20 minutes.
So, I’ll grin and bear it as Mom states her age for all to hear and hope for the best in terms of responses.