The day of my dissertation defense, I was a mess. I felt under prepared and feared that the talk would not go well. I also knew--I just knew--that I'd answer every question from the audience incorrectly and that afterward, when my committee grilled me on everything and anything dystrophy-related, I'd cave and the committee members would see me for the sham that I was. I have no idea what the committee really thought of me. All I know is that, in the end, they decided I'd done enough to pass. I've said this before, but what I really think they wanted to do was just get me out of school. I had a ton of data and twin nine-month-old girls at home. Shoo-fly, they said. And I flew.
I think back to those days now because in order for me to even finish my degree, I had to move in with my parents for eight weeks. Yes, I moved back home for an eight-week span, during which time I'd furiously write behind a curtain so that the girls didn't think I was there. I'd pop my head into the kitchen from time to time to chat with them, or help them with lunch or snacks, and I'd be sure to put the girls to bed at night. But for much of that eight-week time frame, Mom took care of the girls. She, in effect, put her life on hold for eight weeks.
I wonder how long I'm willing to put my life on hold for my parents.
I already feel like I'm at the end of my rope. I'm starting to become grumpy and annoyed; I find myself rolling my eyes when I hear another refusal from Mom or Dad, a refusal that means they aren't listening to me and my sisters. I'm longing to escape for my vacation because then I won't have to listen to them grumble or tell me that they're happy and healthy just where they are. You might think you're happy, but the only reason you're even partly healthy is because I've put my life on hold. Because Gina and Tara have put their lives on hold. I've told them those exact words, by the way. And I didn't feel bad about it.
But I guess that's what we do with family. No matter how inconvenient it might be, we put our lives on hold when we have to. I don't mind putting off writing, painting, play dates for the kids--my children are, after all, getting more cousin time than they've had in years. But I have to consider that because of my age and stage in life, I'm not just putting my life on hold. I'm putting four children and a husband into a holding tank as well. How fair is that to them?
Fair or not, I also have to ask if what we're doing--helping my parents get back to good health (in the case of Dad) and trying to get Mom to understand she needs help--will serve them well in the future. Each time they fall, literally or figuratively, should we rush to help them? Should we let them sink or swim, as they used to say to us? Maybe it's time to pull out the tough love and walk away--another tactic my parents often used. Maybe it's time to give them a taste of their own medicine.