all of the selves we Have ever been
Some people are memorable
no matter the passage of time.
A dear neighbor was such a person for me.
The woman’s name proved difficult for my toddler-son to pronounce, and soon she became known in our household as “Mrs. Wiggly,” a moniker suitable for a fairy tale character. It was a perfect name for our petite, kind, and good-natured neighbor who had all the time in the world for little children. Her fairy tale stature was enhanced by the treats she sometimes magically produced from the pockets of her white cotton shorts.
A narrow, grassy slope separated Mrs. Wiggly’s driveway from ours. The children adored her and watched from the large living room window for Mrs. Wiggly to make an appearance. The kids then scrambled down the slope to take a seat beside Mrs. Wiggly in one of the plaid folding lawn chairs that decorated her narrow front porch.
I enjoyed spending time with Mrs.Wiggly too. We could easily find topics for conversation even if we had spoken two or three times earlier in the day. One morning, I noticed that Mrs. Wiggly was sitting on her porch wiping tears from her eyes with a wad of tissue. When I inquired about the reason for her crying, Mrs. Wiggly sobbed, “My baby signed up for Medicare today.”
Not what I expected. As a mother of two young children, I was busy filling baby books with memories of all the “firsts.” This one had never entered my mind—one day my children will apply for Medicare. Better save a blank page. Will I be equally impacted by my children achieving official senior citizen status, I wondered. And what other firsts have I failed to consider?
While I was experiencing new motherhood and measuring the ages of my children in pounds and inches, number of teeth, vaccinations, and school years, I was presented with the reality of a future in which my children would be not just grown up…but grown old. In Mrs. Wiggly there was a new kind of reckoning, a great sense of loss. Like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, Medicare reached out on behalf of old age and threatened, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little girl, too!”
We are accustomed to being older than our children and seeming ancient to them. Is it possible that we will ever see them as old? How will it be to have a parent-child relationship in which we share the same gerontologist? When we go for our heart caths together? Both sit out a grandchild’s wedding dance due to arthritis? Wear each other’s silver sneakers?
At some point our children will begin to keep a book about us—doctor’s names, appointment times, medication schedules, unexplained symptoms, the name of our accountant, and where we keep our passwords. Instead of the tiny envelopes I keep that hold a lock of their hair, a baby tooth, they will have notes about where I keep my wig and the cup for my dentures.
Today, I see my children as young adults. They are busy with life, so healthy, competent, and confident. It is hard to imagine a day when they will sign up for Medicare. And do they see a day when they will be keeping that book about me?
That is too big for my brain to comprehend. I’ll see if I can make it to Medicare myself…
For now, I am going to stick to the path in my fairy tale forest and make believe that my children will always be young.