For the Rest of Your Life

My mother patted my hand as we sat in the Park Avenue neurologist's office. I was grateful, surprised and impressed that such a doctor accepted a senior's less than top-notch health insurance. That's nearly impossible to find. My mother and I had found a moment of tranquility in the turbulent storm of dementia: a prettily lit office that looked like the study of an old college professor and lacked any hint of dreary medical paraphernalia.

"Thank you for doing this for me," she said. She was referring to her general sense of being cared for by her child. She didn't know what type of office we were in or why we were there, but over the last two years we've developed a routine of paperwork and offices and hand-patting and and she remembers that I spend a fair amount of time escorting her to doctors and having conversation with them for her.

I checked all the boxes: angina, no, high blood pressure, yes, allergies, no, muscle pain, yes,  tingling of the right toe when the radio goes on and it's the wrong station, yes. We still had lots of time on our hands. We chatted idly. My mother asked about her beautiful granddaughter and then asked what her name was again. An elderly woman with a walker stared at us for the duration of our near hour wait. I didn't know what she was thinking, but I knew she was alone and my mother was accompanied. I strongly suspected it was the companionship that made her stare in fascination.

"A son is a son 'til he gets himself a wife, but a daughter's a daughter for the rest of your life," my mother said, out of nowhere. At first I did what you do when you have a bone to pick with your dementia-addled mother: I smiled and nodded. And then I did what I inevitably do: let my blood get up and opened my mouth.

"Mom, you don't have a son, how do you know?"
"How do I know what?"
"That a son wouldn't take you to a doctor?"
"Oh, well, it's an expression. But you know, daughters are different. You don't need to have a son to know that. They're made of different stuff."

It's one of those things that sounds like a compliment but is actually a burden. I don't mind the burden part of having a sick parent (well, not most days) but I do mind that girls are expected, assumed and conditioned to bear the brunt of it.

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