Parenting in reverse #1: my “discomfort” with mom

woman touching forehead

Ever get this niggling feeling at the back of your mind? Like there’s something you need to do or ponder?

Maybe it’s a message you keep putting off writing cos you don’t know what to say or what it’s all about?

Or you feel it’s still too soon to say it, yet it keeps bugging you each day you delay it?

Or maybe you just don’t wanna touch it, though it pursues you like an adorable but annoying pet!

No? How nice for you. I, on the other hand, feel at times like I have tons of those and I wish they could all go away. Like this horrid, needless war big bully Russia’s now waging on small barely-holding-on Ukraine.

Yet sometimes all it takes is a nudge; like an irritating tag behind your collar or a pebble in your shoe.

For me, that came this week in the form of a letter I received about my mom.

My mom scored an “A” instead of a “D”!

joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Last Tuesday, my mom had a review at the hospital.

From that came a doctor’s memo containing a brief update of her current medical condition. Certain lines in that memo leapt out at me in ways that rankled.

It started with the first line, which highlighted that my mom was “an 86-year-old lady with a history of severe Alzheimer (sic) disease.”

I could be wrong, but I think it’s the first time I have heard the “A” word associated with my mom’s condition. For the longest time, I had her down as someone with dementia; which was her initial prognosis some years ago. There’s no reasonable explanation for it but somehow for me, the “A” word had a greater finality in tone compared to the “D” word.

The memo then went on to say that several years ago, my mom “used to have significant BPSD (behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia), but in recent 1+ years she no longer has BPSD.”


Until I came to the end of the memo, which said that there was no need to “add on further cognitive enhancers (medicine) in future, given limited benefits.”

The “A” word and “limited benefits”.

Those declarations made me feel like someone had just rung Hemingway’s proverbial bells. In this case, I know without a shadow of a doubt for whom those bells tolled!

Straight up or Tilted?

Source: Writer’s camera

Since coming to live with us in October 2019, I’ve had to adjust to being the “parent” now as my mom depends on me and my family for her daily needs. How that plays out is best illustrated by one daily ritual my mom and I share (though maybe only I recognise it as our ritual).

In the above picture, you can see the cup my kids use whenever they brush their teeth; and the transparent plastic container (plus lid) my mom uses to keep her dentures.

Now each time she’s done with her toilette, my mom would position the items one on top of the other (left of picture). But each time I see her do that, I would wait till she’s out of sight and reconfigure them side by side instead (right).

This ritual plays out at least once a day. Every. Single. Day.

I don’t know why my mom stacks them straight up, but I know my ’tilted’ arrangement stands a better chance of making sure everything will air-dry nicely. This is my objective (to dry them) but probably not hers; she probably just wants everything Jenga-compliant!

But for some reason, I never once asked her to explain her “purpose” for stacking things that way. Nor have I ever ‘approved’ of her “position”.

Nor do I understand why something this infinitesimally small bothers me as it does. Every. Single. Day.

Which more or less sums up our parent-child relationship.

Our parent-child relationship is at best “uncomfortable”

person holding a stress ball
Photo by Matthias Zomer on

I have a confession to make, one likely to make me Public Enemy Number 1!

Old people make me uncomfortable.

I still remember the time I was in primary school and my teachers organised a field trip for us to visit an old folk’s home.

Throughout that visit, I felt so out of place and squeamish at the sight of so many elderlies looking listless and bored, like they would rather be left alone than visited by a bunch of noisy school kids. The only bright spark was a lady who looked like the youngest of the lot. She entertained us with songs and sang beautifully, making me feel we were the beneficiaries of that day’s outing, instead of the other way around.

Perhaps we were. After all, such visits were meant to inculcate in kids the values of respect and reverence for the aged.

But I suspect that lesson was wasted on me.

I’m not proud to say that old people seemed to me to be put on this earth as daily reminders of my mortality. Try as I might, I find myself often thinking how old age robs us of what we’ve always been able to do when we were youths. How it robs us of our dignity to do even the littlest of things exactly how we want to do them.

Like stacking that cup and container.

And no, in case you’re wondering, the irony that I’m now into my 50s (and counting), and steadily marching towards the world of geriatrics, isn’t lost on me!

So why then do I feel so uncomfortable around old people?

Why am I so uncomfortable around my mom?

I don’t know.

But here’s a theme I might do well to unpack before its expiration date hits!

2 thoughts on “Parenting in reverse #1: my “discomfort” with mom

  1. The stoics advise us to keep a memento mori, a token that reminds us every day of our mortality. Didn’t know yours could be actual people, lol. But it’s great to be reminded—your uneasiness with old people aside—that we don’t have much time here on Earth, as good or as sucky as our days may be. May we make the most out of the day, regardless of our unique situations.

    In fact, thank YOU for this reminder, Kelvin.

  2. This resonated with me on so many levels and I can certainly understand the frustration! It’s harder when the person you’re having to care for was a person who used to care for you at one point. Suddenly, you can’t call Mom when something’s wrong because Mom is now looking to you when something goes wrong. It’s a tough pill for anyone to swallow.

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