A Place For Who?

Perhaps you have seen the advertisements on television for A Place for Mom, “the nation’s largest FREE elder care referral service.” According to its website, A Place for Mom can direct you to elder care resources and living arrangements in your area. Despite its title, A Place for Mom is a service for anyone who is elderly and needs help – it’s not just for elderly moms.

It’s rather interesting that the company’s title singles out moms. Why not mention dads? Maybe they’re just cutting to the chase and saying, “Listen, we all know that mom is the most important, and no one really cares where dad goes,” so they decided to name the website solely after the matriarch of the family.

Who on earth was their marketing consultant? A place for mom. It sounds like they are trying to find a spot for chipped China dishes or old sneakers they’re not quite ready to throw away. I envision the company’s title stemming from three squabbling siblings, sitting around a computer arguing over what to do with their ailing mother.

“I’m not taking her! Hell no. I had her for the past five Christmases and you know how THAT turned out.”

“Well, she can’t live with us! I simply don’t have the room now that Jake moved back home and converted his bedroom into a studio so he and his rock band can practice.”

“Someone has to take her.  Here, hand me your laptop. Let me Google ‘where to put your mom’ and see what happens. There has to be someplace for her to go.”

“A place for her to go … hmm… a place for mom. You know, that kind of has a nice ring to it.”

While my stint in medical social work was fairly brief, I can tell you with full certainty that the elderly do not like moving into  assisted living facilities. It means losing their last shred of independence; it’s the final step before the big NH (nursing home). Now picture the situation being made worse by referring to a company called  A Place For Mom.

“Uncle Tom, you know it’s no longer safe for you to live home alone. Karen and I are worried about you, especially since the last kitchen fire. We really think it’s time for you to move into a facility where you will be cared for.”

“I’m not moving into any nursing home. Those are for old people.”

“Now Uncle Tom, it’s not a nursing home. Karen and I used the services of A Place For Mom and we found the best -”

“A place for Tom? It’s named after me?”

“Not a place for Tom. It was called A Place For MOM. Not TOM. MOM.”

Mom? I’m not a woman! Why are you putting me in a ladies place?”

Need I go on?

In reality, the company’s intention may not have been to exclude dads or other people. The original name could very well have been A Place for Mom, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Crotchety Neighbors and Elderly Family Friends. Or A Place for Mom, Dad, et al. I suppose they also  figured So They Don’t Have To Live With You would not only be crass, but equally wordy.  End result? The name A Place for Mom was chosen.


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Growing Old

All I could see was the top of her silvery-blue hair. She was creeping her boat of a car inch by inch into the parking spot, like a barge navigating its way on a canal. I sighed and glanced at the time. So far she had been working on this arduous task for three minutes. Several cars had lined up behind mine.

In true New York fashion, someone laid on their horn. Silvery-Blue Hair’s car came to an abrupt halt and she looked in her rear view mirror, confused. I should have given her an encouraging smile, but I too am a New Yorker, so all I did was raise my eyebrows hoping she could read my thoughts of, “C’mon lady!”

Silvery-Blue Hair faced forward. The car moved a millimeter. Progress was being made! I could almost fit my car around hers if she would just –

Wait! Oh no! What was she doing? Why were her reverse lights on? It doesn’t need to be straight honey! Just. Park. Your. Car.

The jerk laid on his horn a second time. Someone else joined in. This time, Silvery-Blue Hair was not daunted. She was too focused – too determined – to get her Buick Lesabre in the spot. Her little hands were putting the car’s power steering to the test. Suddenly, the car lurched forward and she turned off the engine.

Hurray! I stepped on the gas and sped past her, only to stop behind another car.  This time an elderly man was reversing out of a spot.  Where was I? On the set of Cocoon? Painstakingly, the gentleman eased his car backwards. He looked straight ahead, as though he was assuming – trusting- other drivers to give him the right of way. We did of course, but not without groaning, throwing our arms up in the air, or banging our foreheads on our steering wheels.

At last, he was out of his spot and gliding ahead. He looked ridiculously small in such a huge car, his hands positioned at ten and two. I was now able to drive around him, and I did so deftly. Wasn’t I just the coolest, spunkiest driver ever?

Then it struck me. Decades ago, Silvery-Blue Hair could have been me: impatient, patronizing in thought, in a hurry to run to the grocery store before having to shuttle her children to an activity. Likewise, the elderly man could have been just like my husband: working long hours to provide for his family, young, strong and handsome, driving a sporty car with ease.

All this meant, of course, that someday we would be them: frail, uncertain, and slow. In a few decades, I could be trying to maneuver my car (a car that used to be easier to drive) into parking spots that now seemed much too small – while irritable, young drivers like myself beeped their horns and rolled their eyes. I was ashamed.

Feeling sentimental, later that day I asked my ten year old daughter if she would take care of me when I was old.  Suddenly, the idea of growing old seemed very near and real.  I pictured my daughter as she is now, only taller, cradling my arm as she eases me into the passenger seat of her car.

My daughter was quiet for a moment before answering.

“I’ll be too busy with my own family to take care of you,” she said, “but don’t worry. I’ll visit you in the nursing home … as long as we’re not on vacation.”

Move over Silvery-Blue Hair lady, I just may need a ride.

The Last Dance

She was a Prima Ballerina during the 1950s – captivating audiences with her grace, precision and artistry. Now, some 50 years later, she walks stiffly on arthritic feet. Her knees are rigid from decades of dancing on stage. Even though ballet was brutal on her joints, her love for the dance is no less. She continues to give ballet lessons out of her home despite her age and diminished mobility.

Her ballet studio is in her family’s 1800 era mansion that was once the height of elegance. Now it shows signs of disrepair and neglect. The cost of maintaining the mansion is too much for an elderly woman on a fixed income. A sign reading “Hillard School of Dance” is leaning to the side, shrouded by overgrown hedges. Decades ago the street was known for its mansions, but now it is known for crime that occurs when night arrives.

There are no fancy recitals at Mrs. Hillard’s School Of Dance. Instead, Mrs. Hillard invites the parents to watch their children perform.  A cassette and record player provide music for the students. We wait patiently for Mrs. Hillard to rewind and fast forward the tapes. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, as are unruly younger siblings.

Class is about to start when Mrs. Hillard turns the front parlor lamp on. Five little girls clad in pink leotards step over the trash littering the sidewalk, and scurry up the front steps of the mansion. Their parents follow closely behind, more concerned with being late than the menacing looking thug approaching. We know Mrs. Hillard demands punctuality and, truth be told, we are all a little intimidated by her. In the winter, we know to close the front door quickly behind us lest warm air escapes. When it is raining out, we mustn’t step off the rugs because our wet shoes could make puddles.

Mrs. Hillard enters the studio and smiles at her ballet students. Her white hair is pulled back into a bun – a pink bow fastened above it. She wears a pink or light blue sweater with black pants. On her feet are ballet flats. Because of her stiff joints, Mrs. Hillard is unable to demonstrate the ballet steps for her students. To compensate, she has two older students show the girls the foot positions and how to pirouette and plie. After class, each little girl curtsies, says, “Thank you teacher,” and Mrs. Hillard hands them a dum dum lollipop. This excites my daughter the most.

“Mommy,” my daughter says on the way home from ballet one Saturday morning, “Ballet is getting boring. It’s not challenging enough. We never learn anything new.”

“I know it’s not very exciting,” I reasoned, “But Mrs. Hillard was a famous ballerina! She is teaching you very important steps.”

My daughter is silent, and I feel a pang of guilt. I would find the ballet class boring too, yet I don’t want her to take lessons anywhere else.

The usual response I hear when people learn we use Mrs. Hillard is, “She’s still alive? How old is she? I took ballet lessons from her when I was a kid and I’m approaching sixty!” I feel an obligation towards Mrs. Hillard. Leaving her class would feel disloyal – like we don’t acknowledge the talented lady she is. Secretly, I wish Mrs. Hillard would retire, releasing us without our having to stop lessons on our own.

After three years of ballet, my daughter qualifies for a level of gymnastics that will involve several hours a week of practice. This is our out from ballet. My daughter does not flinch when I tell her we are no longer continuing ballet lessons.  She seems relieved.

I delay calling Mrs. Hillard, mentally practicing how I will tell her we are leaving. Finally, I pick up the phone, take a deep breath, and dial her number.

“But she’s so talented!” Mrs. Hillard says after I explain my daughter won’t be returning in September.

I apologize profusely. I can hear Mrs. Hillard’s voice waiver ever so slightly.

“I just don’t know what I am going to do,” she continues, “Everyone is leaving. Now I only have four girls left.”

It suddenly dawns on me. Mrs. Hillard doesn’t realize why her classes have not only failed to grow, but are declining. Her love for ballet, her skills in teaching, have not aged. But her body has. Most parents want a younger teacher – one who can still dance herself. Understandably, they want an instructor who teaches more ballet moves than the handful our daughter’s class has learned the past three years. But Mrs. Hillard still sees herself as a New York City Ballet Prima Ballerina.

“I tell everyone about you,” I say.

This is true, and people’s response is never one of interest. It’s not only Mrs. Hillard’s age that is a deterrent, it’s also the location of her studio. People would rather avoid the area altogether.

I apologize more and Mrs. Hillard tells me how my daughter is built for ballet and to please reconsider. I feel torn, but my daughter isn’t interested in ballet anymore. I find I am more concerned about Mrs. Hillard’s feelings than my daughter’s and – as much as I admire and appreciate Mrs. Hillard’s dedication to ballet – I know I can not send my daughter out of guilt. We end the conversation, and I join the rest who have left Mrs. Hillard’s School of Dance.

Old Men Making The Moves 101

Perseverance is an admirable attribute. Monarch butterflies migrate over 3,000 miles on their fragile wings – persevering through harsh elements and predators – to warmer climates. Men and women serving in the military persevere through long separations from their families. Cancer victims persevere through treatments that often make them feel worse than the cancer itself. And some old men persevere, despite the odds, at the pursuit of younger women.

Whether these men think they’re still desirable, or they just want to give it one last shot, remains a mystery. But their tenacity is commendable and the methods they use to seduce their prey are rather intriguing. The wooing tactics old men commonly utilize can be narrowed down to three approaches: creative, debonair and reckless.

The debonair approach is considered the most commonly used method by old men in their pursuit of younger ladies. The debonair approach tends to include an invitation of some sort; such as dinner or a cup of coffee. The debonair approach also handles any rejection with dignity. While grocery shopping one hot August day, my mother was approached by an old man wearing galoshes and a raincoat (it was sunny out). He asked my mom if she would like to return to his apartment after she had finished shopping. When my mother declined, the old man shrugged and said, “Figured it was worth a shot” before walking away.

Other old men are not quite as bold and use a more flattering technique. A friend of mine was recently in the cafeteria of the hospital where she works when an elderly gentleman greeted her.  “Excuse me,” he said, “But do you ever get tired of old men telling you how pretty you are? Because you are prettier than free fried chicken.” In this incidence the creative approach was utilized. Other analogies that have been used in the creative approach are “prettier than Ava Gardner”, “prettier than Niagara Falls” and “prettier than a car hop.” The problem with the creative approach is that along with it sounding a bit odd, it also tends to date the individual.

Some old men throw caution to the wind and make their move with gusto. This can be defined as the reckless approach. The reckless approach is the most disturbing for the female because it often involves physical contact. An example of the reckless approach is when I was a medical social worker and an elderly patient grabbed my arm and attempted to pull me in for a smooch. After I wrenched myself free, the patient proceeded to purse his lips and make kissing noises. The fact that I was clearly disgusted meant nothing to him.  Typically, those who resort to the reckless approach do so out of desperation (or dementia), caring only about the end result and not so much as how they arrive there.

While the perseverance of old men pursuing young women isn’t as noble as, say, medical school or Navy Seal training – their efforts must be commended. As Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.”

You’re Not So Different From Your Car

Unlike an aged cheddar or bottle of Balvenie, people and automobiles generally don’t improve with age. As my husband once said after visiting my great aunt in a nursing home, 

“There is nothing glamorous about growing old.”

While attending graduate school, I drove an ancient Honda Accord that was held together by a lot of prayer and encouragement. The cassette player would run even when the car was turned off. Rain would get trapped in the moonroof and proceed to gush onto my lap when I put the car in reverse – soaking me to the point where I would have to go inside and change. It also seemed that as soon as I had one of its parts replaced, another would decide to break.

How I hated phone calls from my mechanic! As soon as the phone would ring I would squeeze my eyes shut and brace myself. He always started the conversation with,

“Hullo, it’s Karl, I’ve got some bad news. Your  _____ is shot.”

Your front wheel axle is shot. Your alternator is shot. Your motor mounts are shot. Your master cylinder is shot. Shot. Shot. Shot.

As I age, I have noticed how people are not so different from cars. Our body parts eventually become “shot” – just like my old Honda.  Arthritis is the human form of rust and corrosion. Our hearts – the fuel pump of the human body – stop pumping efficiently. Unless we can afford the services of a cosmetic surgeon (auto body shop) our exteriors become dented, scratched, and faded. Akin to transmission fluid leaking, we need to use the bathroom frequently during the night.

Some men tend to upgrade their cars – going from a practical Ford to a speedy red Porsche. Similarly, some men have the nerve trade in their wife for a newer version. One who doesn’t have dents or scratches. One who is younger, sleeker, and peppier. One who is fresh off the lot.

Ambulances are the human version of flatbed tow trucks. The mechanic – or car doctor – uses terminology we don’t understand. Similar to CAT scans and MRIs, your mechanic will run diagnostic testing that costs a bundle. A new car warranty is the automobile version of health insurance.

Food is our gasoline. The cost of filling a car’s gas tank can be equated to the expense of a large grocery order. Opening the refrigerator and seeing its bare shelves has the same feeling of frustration as noticing your gas light is on.

Cars are also like people in that there are big ones and small ones. Black ones and white ones. There are high maintenance, complicated people (Mercedes) and low maintenance, easy going people (Toyotas). There are people born in this country (Ford, GM) and people who immigrate from Europe (BMW, Lamborghini) and Asia (Mazda). Lastly, some people would rather avoid the snow (front-wheel drive cars) while others enjoy winter sports (the 4×4).

Thankfully,  that is where our similarities end. When a car reaches the end of its lifespan, it is sent to a scrapyard and crushed. When we reach the end of our lifespan, we are put in an overpriced box and buried in the ground.

It is unfortunate that cars and people don’t age as gracefully as say, a bottle of wine or a Redwood tree. But a bottle of wine and Redwood tree won’t drive your family on vacation or share the memories of their childhood.