As an African American woman, I’ve pretty much seen it all when it comes to subtle forms of discrimination. You know what I’m talking about, those quiet little nasties that only the dishee and the disher are likely to notice. Such as the mommies who suddenly needed to grab their kids and scurry off when my son entered the sandbox with their children, or the server who lost his vision as my family waited to be served in an empty restaurant, I could go on, but that would sully the point of this story. What I’m talking about here spans all races. I’m talking about the rude, dismissive and opportunistic treatment of the elderly.
I first noticed a problem when my normally confident and incredibly talkative 77 year old mom was unable to answer any questions after her medical appointment with a particular doctor. Knowing that leaving a medial appointment without a thorough understanding of what was said was completely unlike my mom, I decided to accompany her and dad to her next appointment.
The folks were in the exam room with the doctor when I arrived, and I will never forget the look of sheer relief on their faces, when I walked into that room. The doctor was hurriedly spewing medical terms at them until mom asked him to slow down and explain things in laymen terms. The doctor became visibly irritated. He slowed down, but he also adopted a tone that left no room for doubt; my mom was the most stupid patient he’d ever encountered.
I saw my dad deal with a similar situation when he took his truck to a local repair shop due to an ungodly clunking noise it made every time he drove it. The mechanic told dad it would cost $200 dollars for a diagnostic test and someone would contact him the following morning with the test results and the repair price. A week went by with no call from the mechanic. Dad called the mechanic on the second week and was told that nothing wrong with his truck; however, just to make sure, the mechanic wanted to take the truck home for the weekend. Another week went by and no call from the repair shop. Finally, dad demanded his truck. The mechanic told him no problem, his truck had been ready for days and he could come anytime. Dad’s pride slid down to his toes as he drove his loudly clunking truck home and parked it in the drive way.
These are just the 2 most recent events that I’m aware of with my parents. Unfortunately, there have been many situations that have raised my suspicions. Such as the expensive data plan mom was talked into even though dad does not have a smart phone and she’s never used an entire gig on her iPhone, and the lady at the deli counter who helped the harried young mother ahead of mom, despite the fact that mom had been standing in line for ten minutes prior to the woman’s arrival. And let’s not forget the constant phone calls and emails they receive requesting their personal information so their home can be sold, (it’s not for sale) or they can be rescued from an assortment of computer hackers, credit card thiefs, and Panamanian drug lords.
My parents’ generation are proud, determined and fiercely independent people. They came from sharecroppers, factory workers and housekeepers and pushed their way into the front door of the American dream. For many of them, asking for help with daily tasks is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who are all to willing use the pride of the elderly as a tool to take advantage of them.
The moment I saw my parents faces at the doctor’s office, I realized that our roles had officially shifted. The real challenge is learning to listen to what my parents don’t say, because in their silence often lie the signals that help is needed or that they are scared.
Please don’t get me wrong, being a sandwich person is not easy and I’m no saint. My parents, just like my teenager, frequently drive me nuts, but I’m immensely grateful to have both of them still with me. I just wish the world treated them with more compassion, patience and some plain old fashioned respect.
If you’re a sandwich person – raising kids, while caring for elderly parents, I’d love to read your stories!