My parents are both in their mid-80s.

My father lives in Illinois. He is having difficulties.

My mother, long widowed from her second husband, lives in an active retirement community about five miles from me. She is having difficulties.

I have a patience problem.

I’m sure that by mid-life, everybody can easily complain about their parents. But when my father was in the hospital not long ago, I, who didn’t know the severity of his problem, began to assume the worst, considering his age.  Al and I lay in bed that night and reviewed my father’s parental report card. Only this time, instead of kvetching about him (as my siblings and I are prone to do), we discussed every subject where he was getting an A. It was an eye-opening experience. He got many A’s, and a few A+’s. How come my siblings and I don’t talk about those?

I did talk about those with my brother when he was here last month. It was a good, illuminating, emotional discussion. And then we discussed my mother’s A’s.

Since I’m geographically closer to my mother, she provides me with more opportunities to exercise patience (or my shameful lack thereof). The other night a friend sat me down and said: If you were to write a job description for the mother of a 13-year-old, what items would be on it? I gave him a list of about ten things. Then we did the same exercise, itemizing the job description for the mother of a 56-year-old woman. That had only about six things on it. Then he had me rate my mother’s performance on each item, on a scale of 1 to 5.

I was amazed at how this simple thing changed my view of my mother. Our family was in turmoil when I was thirteen, and yet she met all her obligations as well as she was able. She has no real obligations at this stage, except to be appreciative and a cheerleader, and she does those things very well, too.

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t just visualize my elderly parents from a different point of view without a little help.  But two simple exercises made all the difference for me, and I’m glad that happened before they die.

My mother is coming to dinner tonight, and I hope to have a few A’s on my report card when the evening is over.


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