It’s the time of life when responsibilities reverse and the parents who raised us now need our care and consideration. For many this means either moving one or both parents into a home of one of their children, or finding a suitable retirement or assisted living situation for them.
My family’s chosen another solution. Dad, at 92, is still quite hale and hearty, but the three-story family home with the extensive landscaping—all designed and maintained by him and my mother for the past 50-odd years—is getting to be a bit too much for him to handle alone. He has hired occasional cleaning and gardening help, but since the passing of my mother last year, he’s lonely as well. He learned to cook late in life as my mother began fading, but still takes out or eats out most of his meals.
Meanwhile, my long-term rental recently was sold, and I’ve found rents in the area to be so high now I can’t afford to live in a place that isn’t falling down or smells of mold and mildew. So after quite a bit of discussion among my siblings and with my father, Dad and I agreed that I would move back home, taking over the bottom floor of the split-level house.
We’re still negotiating how this will work. Some of the old furniture is being deployed out to other family members or Habitat for Humanity or the local thrift shop to make room for my own furniture. Shelves have been ruthlessly culled by both of us so that my extensive DVD collection can go in the loft bookcase, and my own kitchen and camping gear, as well as my Christmas decorations, now reside in two plastic garden sheds that fit nicely on one side of the two-car garage. (My ancient Subaru is accustomed to living outdoors.)
Dad has struggled a bit as he watches the house he’s lived in for over half his life change under my influence, especially when I alter something he associates with my mother. When I told him I wanted to tone down the bright-yellow paint in the room I’ve taken as my bedroom (a color picked, I suspect, when cataracts were dulling her sight), he resisted. But he finally agreed to let me stipple an off-white paint over the yellow when I told him the result would look Italian; my mother loved anything Italian, and so he felt that I was honoring her spirit still.
The biggest issue for me has been one of boundaries. I am a freelance writer who works from home most of the time. I’m also introverted and need a lot of alone time. Dad, on the other hand, is gregarious and loves to talk. These days he’s walking memory lane a lot, coming back with many stories from his stint in the Navy near the close of World War II and his life before that, as well as many stories about our mother. Setting rules with one’s father about “when my door is shut, do not disturb me” feels a bit like returning to adolescence. So instead I go away to a favorite cafe to write.
I brought a kitten with me, and Dad’s old-lady cat was not at all sure about sharing her home with such an obnoxious upstart. But they’ve reached an accord now; she even invites him to play sometimes. Dad and I are managing . without any hissing or snarling, and I think we’ll all, humans and cats, figure out how to share this space in a way that works for everyone.
Jody Gentian Bower