Last week I wrote about having to embrace reality — the actual reality, not the one I had tried to create for myself — in buying a motorized scooter for my father. He seems to be enjoying it. It’s a mix of being liberated from being immobile and fulfilled by overcoming logistical challenges. How to open his door, and keep it open, so that he can exit his apartment. How to navigate entering and exiting the elevators. How to handle chance hallway meetings with other scooters. How to get back into his apartment. You get the idea.
For me, the best part of the scooter experience is that it’s over.
That is, when you have an elderly parent who orders something complicated, it is your responsibility to make it work. If you’re lucky, that is — because sometimes it also includes the responsibility to return it later.
My father, who is an Apple TV addict (more on this next week), decided he really wanted to upgrade to the very newest version. Apple decided to make the user interface and remote a lot more sophisticated, which I tried to tell him he didn’t want. He didn’t listen. So, I bought the new version and installed it for him, only to have him decide that he didn’t want it. Which I told him would happen.
That of course made it my responsibility to return it, which smacked right into Apple’s 14 day return policy. A 30 minute chat session later I convinced them to take the unit back, which earned me the right to box it off and drop it off for UPS. As a sandwich generation father, I am not drowning in free time, meaning that throughout the process I felt awash in resentment and frustration.
I thought of this episode during my third trip to get the scooter operational. For the first, I plugged in the charger, which seemed suspiciously quiet. For the second, I unfastened the seat and pulled off the motor cover so that I could attach the battery leads to the battery. Now the charger made a happy humming noise, so I felt pretty confident that the second time was the charm. The following morning, my father informed me that the unit wouldn’t move. Having read the directions, I knew that there was a simple lever he had to release.
But increasingly my father is not willing to listen to directions I give him, or get other people involved, or believe that someone else might have the answer. Instead he decided to send me a never-ending series of emails about how we might troubleshoot the problem. Finally on the third trip I found the lever — all the while ignoring his unhelpful kibitzing about calling the manufacturer and complaining — and released it. He looked at the fully functional scooter for a few seconds. Then, he progressed to move back to the rest of the list of to-do’s that he had compiled for me.
This lengthy narrative, I hope, sets up what I really want to write about: gratitude.
What makes times with my father so frustrating sometimes is that I feel a distinct lack of appreciation. Which, on its face, is pretty absurd. If the measure of success of being a parent or a caregiver were the count of “thank you’s”, we’d all have given up the effort a long time ago. And an act of kindness is cheapened by expecting praise for doing it. If selflessness is its own reward, by definition you can’t be thanked for it.
It is also absurd because recently he actually has been saying thank you. He has started to tell me that I picked a great place for him to live, which a year ago he attribute to luck. Only this weekend, he sent me an email that reads:
“Peterkem this weekend started on the wrong foot. As of today became a super weekend, thanks to you. Million thanks again, I am very proud of you”
Which in turn got me thinking about whether he doesn’t show appreciation, or I don’t absorb it. This happened with my kids’ B’not Mitzvah too. I likely drove them close to not appreciating the event by passive-aggressively demanding appreciation for the event. I looked for signs in their actions that would belie the thanks in their words.
Being a sandwich generation parent means that you get feedback from both sides, both spoken and unspoken. You have to look to the unspoken sometimes to understand what is really happening, whether in a developing child or an adapting parent. This reaction, at some level, is impossible to avoid. That doesn’t mean it’s always right. Sometimes you have to overlook the unspoken so that you really hear what’s actually being said.