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Thursday, November 03, 2005


It’s Thursday, and I haven’t written all week because my mother has needed more help. It’s hard to watch her getting weaker while still clinging to her independence the way she clings to the refrigerator edge when walking in the kitchen. It’s also hard to know what to do when she is being stubborn about accepting more help. Last week she told me she was ready to hire a nurse’s aid to come at dinner. After I spent a long time on the phone with the agency recommended by the hospice social worker, set up a meeting, arranged my schedule, then rescheduled the meeting on my mom’s request, after all that, she decided she didn’t like their brochure and didn’t want to meet with them at all. I said I would look around at different agencies. After several more phone calls, I learned that the most frequently recommended agency was the one whose brochure mom didn’t like. Frankly, I think she just doesn’t like the idea of needing help.

Teaching a class on South Africa this term has got me reflecting on cultural differences, such as the various ways people look at help. For example, in Botswana (where I was in the Peace Corps) people never hesitated to ask for help. If a Motswana was cooking dinner and realized she was out of onions, she asked her neighbor for an onion. In contrast, most of the westerners I knew in Botswana would put on their sun hats and walk a mile in the scorching heat to the village store. When I finally caught on and started relying on my African neighbors, they were delighted. Asking for help was a way to invite relationship, and relationship is more highly valued in African culture than independence. Although there is no distinction in the Tswana language between borrowing and lending, it seemed the times I borrowed something from a neighbor did more to build our relationship than the times I lent something. Especially as a white person in southern Africa, I needed to be willing to make myself vulnerable in order to build relationships.

This is part of what makes me sad about my mom, the difference between us—the fact that I value relationships and emotions more than she does. Other than me, my husband, and our children, she doesn’t want friends of family to visit her, even though they will probably feel bad that they never got the chance to say goodbye. “Why bother?” is her answer to anything that seems sentimental to her.

In one way, I admire her strength and spunk. I doubt a body as weak as hers could keep going it alone if it didn’t have such a strong will driving it. On the other hand, I wish for her sake she could rest, relax, and stop working so hard. I wish she could trust. It’s also something I wish for my daughter, who I think is like my mom in certain ways.

Yesterday, when I got frustrated at my mother’s change of heart about the nurse’s aid, she said, “You just aren’t as patient with me as you are with the kids.” That’s probably true, though as my husband pointed out, one hopes one’s parent will act like a grown up, not a child. To me, the whole struggle brings up the difficult negotiations between mothers and daughters and the ways we disappoint each other.


Blogger Mrs. Coulter said...

It might help to remember that the decline of age makes one helpless like a child. It's a hard thing to accept for both parent and adult child...

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Phil Jones said...

Your blog is the second in my Bloglines list that I checked today; the first is one written by a classmate of Andrew's at GFS, who's taking a year off from college to learn Arabic in Syria. His post today describes the demonstration in Syria last week in response to the UN report alleging Syrian involvement in a Lebanese assassination. As soon as I read your post today, especially the part about borrowing from and lending to your neighbors in Botswana, I put a link to it into a comment to Richard. There is a strong common thread in what you both observe about living in another culture, and I'm sure there's a way we can make that link about our interactions with our own culture too. So if you have a minute (ha!), you might visit Richard Cozzens' blog, An American in Syria to see if you're similarly struck.

(BTW, I found it funny that Brazilian Portuguese makes no distinction between "scratch" and "itch." Go figure.)

1:09 PM  

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