A good day: I arise at a time I chose. Maybe I lie in bed for awhile listening to NPR, or maybe I get right up. It was a cool night, so the window is open, and a fresh breeze blows through the room. I go to the bathroom, the usual morning ablutions with toothbrush etc., and then I take a nice shower, wash my hair. The soap is scented cucumber-melon - I got it at the farmer's market last week. Out of the shower, I towel myself off and dry my hair. Then I run down the stairs and out the front porch to scoop up the morning paper. Back inside, make a pot of coffee - it smells so nice brewing. What to have for breakfast today - do I want to spend the time it takes to make a fried egg or a small frittata, or just have some yogurt with nuts and berries? Or maybe some oatmeal? I pour the coffee in my favorite mug, carry it with the paper and my breakfast to the dining room table. The morning sun comes through the bay window, and the rhododendron bush moves a little in the breeze. I like this table, an old oak beauty I found in an antique store and bought for far less than it was worth. It reminds me of my mother's table, though no table can ever hold a candle to that one. I peruse the paper and have a second cup of coffee. One of the cats is at my side, purring, begging for a spot on my lap, and I make room. I start to think about what I might like to cook for dinner in the evening.
I'm aware that the autonomy I enjoy is a luxury that results from my living in the U.S., from not being poor, and from having had no trouble getting a "good" mortgage to purchase a nice house in a "good" neighborhood (e.g., intersection of race and class privilege). But the type of luxurious autonomy I am thinking of today stems from another source, and that is the privilege of age and (relative) good health.
I try not to take mornings like this for granted, but of course I can't help it. It's difficult to be constantly aware of how precious it is, to be able to walk into your own kitchen and pour yourself a cup of your favorite kind of coffee, in your favorite mug, whenever you want. Usually I try not to think about the time that may come, if I live long enough, when the cup of coffee will be poured for me, a weak brew in a plastic mug, and set down next to the breakfast I neither chose nor prepared, at a table without cats but with other people. The breakfast will not have been preceded by a shower, but by a sponge bath from a pan of water in my room, brought to me after I was awakened by someone at the usual early hour. (I will be efficiently showered in the evening while seated in a chair, twice a week.) I will walk slowly from that room to the communal dining room, with the aid of a walker, or perhaps be wheeled there in a chair if it is not a good day. The newspaper will have to wait for the mail delivery later on, and for someone to bring it to me, unless they forget and give it to another person by mistake. The window will not be open, because climate control is important. If it is a nice day, and if someone has time, maybe they will take me outside to feel the breeze for an hour or so.
I will no longer be on my schedule, but on theirs. I will be dependent upon their help, and I will have to ask for or be given nearly all the things I used to do for myself. And all this will be only if I am fortunate enough to have the resources to pay for such assistance.
It is possible I will not live into old age. Or, I will live into a robust old age and not require the services of assisted living or nursing homes. But I cannot escape feeling much like Chuck Ross, whose blog Life With Father I just discovered via The New Old Age blog, when he says:
Maybe it’s a middle-age crisis, but, at almost 52, the 38-year age difference between Dad and me just doesn’t seem all that substantial anymore. And I find the possibility that he could just be me, aged Hollywood-style, simply terrifying. It makes me want to run, get away to that place of simple, oblivious living that is such a luxury to those who aren’t looking mortality in the face every day.
If I had kids, I might be wondering - will they come to see me? Will they call? Will they write? How often? If I must ask them to do something for me, if I need something - will they attend to my needs and wishes? Or will they put me off, because their own lives are so busy, so much more interesting, so much less frightening? What if I can't express myself to them as well as I used to - will they know how to listen to me? Will they understand how my loss of autonomy makes me need them so much, but because I am Mommy, I am Daddy, it's so hard to ask, I don't want to be a burden? Will my asking make me weak in their eyes, and will my need make them angry, resentful? Will they know how to help me, and help me hold on to as much of my autonomy as I can?
But I don't have kids. So I just wonder: what happens if my mother is just me, aged Hollywood-style? Because I'm pretty sure there won't be enough money.