Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

I Take Care of Three People

I take care of three people on a daily basis who are mean to me.


I take care of my 91- year -old mother, who six years ago was still working as a judge in Connecticut, driving a car and living independently with my dad, her beloved husband of 65 years.

When she was 85, she fell and broke her tailbone, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and never drove or worked again.  My dad was still hail and hearty and functioned as her caregiver and partner.  My dad died in October of 2016 and in November of 2016 I moved her out to be near me, to live in a community for the elderly 10 minutes from my house.

It is a familiar story.  We all made the best decision we could.  That said, my mother is a stranger in a strange land.  No husband, no profession, no friends from New England, a place she dearly loves.

She gets grouchy.

She says: “You never come to see me.”  (I see her 2 to 3 times a week.)

She says” “I should have stayed in Connecticut.  Everyone else has family here.”  (I clear my throat.  I live here, I say, plus your son- in -law and two grandchildren.  You, in fact, have family here.)

She says, “The terrible thing about my disease (Parkinsons) is that it doesn’t kill you.  (I answer, “…or the good thing?”)

It is what it is. Of course, she is grouchy and she has every right to be.  I am her one contact, her one family member nearby, and her safest place to unload.

 I take care of her every day, and she is mean to me.


I take care of my 16-year old daughter.

I call her to dinner.  She says, “Shut up!  I’m not done with my homework!!”  She yells, but I am not allowed to.  I say sweetly (kind), “Figure out a better tone, honey.”

She says, “I don’t want to live here!  I want to live with my boyfriend!”

She says, “I am NOT going to talk to my friends, they are ANNYOING me!”

She then dissolves into tears and I feed her thoughts and feelings.  It’s hard, I say, being in high school.  I know how much you love your boyfriend, I know you wish you were with him all the time…. I coo and calm and she quiets.  Then the next morning she yells at me again.

It is what it is.  Of course she is grouchy and she has every right to be.  I am her closest contact, her mother and her safest place to unload.

 I take care of her every day, and she is mean to me.


I take care of my 12-year –son.

He says, “You are doing it WRONG mom!” about everything I do.

He says, “Oh, look at the old person trying to learn new technology!”

He says, “MOM!  You are so embarrassing!” about, like, me in general.


Then he falls asleep on the coach and wants me to carry him to bed, which I do, gladly.  We canoodle the dogs (a safe place for cuddles) and use the baby voices for them, which only we can do.  He opens his vast heart to me in private, and it’s clear to me how hard it is to be an open-hearted 12-year-old boy, how this mask of bravura is a necessary tool.

It is what it is.  Of course he is grouchy and he has every right to be.  I one of his closest contacts, his mother and his safest place to unload.

I take care of him every day, and he is mean to me.


What helps?  My friends who are all in the same boat.  The sandwiched adults with the many arms of the Hindu goddess:  caretaking, humoring, protecting ourselves and trying not to burn out.  What helps is remembering my own mother working all day, visiting her mom in a home and then coming home to make dinner for my brothers and me.   All sullen.  All ungrateful.  All mean to her.

This sticky wicket of individuating, of pushing our loved ones away because we have to – out of self- preservation or in the case of my children, psychologically leaving the nest — is rough trade, but it’s necessary, natural and we caregivers in the middle take long cleansing breaths as we get very little gratitude for all we do. 


That’s not entirely true.

The gratitude is my mother on the phone saying, “I appreciate all you do more than I can say” before unloading the next zinger.  The gratitude is my daughter’s soft sob as she doesn’t interrupt my attempts to calm her, letting me in, not shutting me up.  The gratitude is my son’s heavy weight on my back as I give him a piggy- back ride up to bed.  Our interconnectedness is beyond conventional words.