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Aging Parents: Who is This Woman and Where is My Mother?

Last weekend, I attended a family event on Long Island—or LawnGiland as I called it when I lived there. (I sound like a true Midwesterner now, except when I say sneakers, soda, or wait “on” line instead of in line.) With all of us coming from across the nation to be together for about 24 hours, these weekends are priceless—exhausting, but priceless.

As we drove across the turnpike, I found myself thinking more about my aging parents. My dad is 80. EIGHTY. He looks about 65, but his birth certificate says otherwise. My mom, nine years his junior, also seems quite young. They are definitely not the “old” grandparents I had when I was young. My dad still works and attends classes; Mom plays bridge, mahjong, exercises and volunteers for a million things. She needs the pin that says, “Someone please stop me from volunteering again.”

Mom and Dad lived a simple, happy life. They had a lot of friends, but they weren’t partiers, smokers, or living the high life. They worked and raised their kids.

I Don’t Recognize These People who are My Parents

Back to the weekend… a lavish New York affair with the usual barrage of food and drink. At the event, I ordered my usual Cosmo. My mom walked by and eyed my hot pink drink. I held it toward her, knowing she wouldn’t even take a sip.

“Hey, that’s yummy,” she said before I’d even realized that she’d actually tried it.

We sat down to dinner, and I heard my mother order the duck. Duck? My mother? This is the woman who made the same five meals growing up, one of them hot dogs made in the Robeson Hot Dog Cooker we got in 1976 when they switched their banks (for the fifth time) to “trade up” in appliances. Incidentally, that’s also how we got our West Bend Popcorn Maker. After the duck was duly recorded, the waitperson then set a Cosmo down in front of her.

Was this a mistake?

I wandered around the room to see what my kids were doing. My eight-year-old crawled on my lap—four hours past her bedtime and nearing mine, she slept on me as I made myself one with the couch. Something made me look up at the bandstand at the head of the dance floor. I heard the beginning of Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi and spotted my mother and her sister belting out the lyrics and dancing. OMG.

WHO IS THIS WOMAN AND WHAT DID SHE DO WITH MY MOTHER?

Seriously? This is the woman who was so square growing up. This is the woman who never gave us a curfew because she couldn’t even imagine why kids would need one (as in, what could they possibly be doing?). This is the woman who made sure everything was equal between my siblings and me. Yet, this is the woman who was now singing, “Whoooahh, we’re halfway there, whoooah, livin’ on a prayer,” and I am the woman yawning incessantly with a child asleep on my lap. How did I get here, and how did she get there?

The next morning, I woke up and turned to my husband. “Was my mom…?“ He cut me off and nodded. I didn’t have to verbalize it; I finally understood it. My mother had arrived.

My mom no longer has to worry about being The Mom. She doesn’t have to parent my siblings or me. She doesn’t have to get dinner on the table, get ready for work, dole out punishments or, check the homework. My mother can just be herself.

The roles have reversed and left me awestruck. I swelled with a sort of pride at my mom’s accomplishments, not my children’s, but it sure felt the same. To quote my mom’s new favorite song:

We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got

Cause it doesn’t make a difference If we make it or not

We’ve got each other and that’s a lot

For love—we’ll give it a shot.

Stephanie Silverman

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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