Our home isn’t the same anymore. Since dad died, mum has been living with me and my husband. It’s school holidays and my grandsons, Liam and Connor, are staying for a week. I made up the bunks in the spare room, but they insist on camping in the backyard.
‘It’s going to rain,’ I say.
That might be true, there’s a fifty percent chance of rain. But I’m just not bothered with all the extra work. The hassle putting up the tent, blowing up mattresses, sleeping bags, pillows, extra blankets. Then it has to be all put away again, and the kids are never around to do that bit.
‘Please,’ they beg.
They’re gorgeous boys, look like their dad, my eldest son.
‘Okay,’ I say.
‘They’ll get all wet and cold,’ mum says.
I ignore her because the oven timer has gone off and I’m putting two hot trays of chocolate chip muffins on the bench.
‘Can we have one now?’ Connor asks.
‘Yes,’ I say.
‘They won’t eat their dinner,’ mum says.
I ignore her again, this time because I’m tired. Really tired.
It’s been nearly forty years since mum and I lived together. I’ve set her up in the main guest bedroom with a fifty-five-inch plasma and comfortable chair. Photos of family are all around. I wish she’d stay in there more, but I know I shouldn’t think like that because my mother is amazing.
Once she could’ve won the world record for putting a delicious homemade meal for six on the dinner table faster than anyone else. She used to bottle fruit, sew our clothes, and ran the school tuck shop for fifteen years. She was on the sidelines, cheering me on whenever I played basketball. She taught me how to drive. The list goes on forever. Before her knees gave way to arthritis, she used to do a silly tap dance for no other reason than to make us laugh.
These days her blood pressure is too high and the doctor keeps switching medications trying to find the one that will work. She could have a stroke. I need to be kind to her.
‘Want a cup of tea, mum?’
‘Yes, I’ll have it in my room,’ she says, pushing her walker out of the kitchen into the hall.
I’ve decided she rarely says ‘thank you’, because she either forgets, or she resents me for her old age and dependency, as if she’s got to blame someone. I’m thankful every morning when my husband goes to his office. He hates her bad manners.
The kettle boils. I make the tea weak and milky, just how she likes it.
My phone rings.
Jess, my daughter.
‘I’ve been called in for a shift.’
She’s a paramedic. Her partner works long hours to help pay off their obscene mortgage. Before she asks, I know she wants me to mind Charlotte, her seven-month old baby.
I sigh, with the weight of what that means. Nappies, bottles, a disrupted night’s sleep. Charlotte has just started to crawl and is into everything.
I can’t say no.
‘Can you pick her up?’ Jess asks.
And there’s mum standing at the kitchen door. ‘Where’s that cup of tea?’ she says, ‘and I’d like one of those muffins.’
You’d think my family don’t know I’m a writer, that I’ve got a deadline to meet by the end of the month. I’m working on a new novel, and it’s enthralling. I love it and it’s all I want to do.
‘You’ll have to bring her here,’ I say to Jess, and I hear the silence, her disapproval that I’ve just made it hard for her.
‘Okay. I’ll be there for dinner,’ she says.
Then Liam and Connor are standing in front of me, grinning.
‘Can we have a camp fire?’
‘They’ll burn the place down,’ mum says.
Footnote: This is a work of fiction based on imagined and real experiences. Glenna Thomson is representative of many women of her generation who are sandwiched between the generation above, and the ones below. She’s sixty-two and married with three grown up children, and five grandchildren. Her mother recently relocated from a country town to live with her and her husband while waiting for a room in a nearby Aged Care facility.
In Australia approximately one in ten elderly parents live with their adult children, becoming reliant on the very people they once cared for. This shift in relationship, from carer to dependant, can be difficult to navigate. Stella and Margie is a piercingly insightful novel about how both parent and child can feel when these roles are reversed.
How do you care for an elderly parent who resents this role reversal? What about the demands of your young children who are also dependent on you? These relationships are the core to many families yet those individuals who find themselves trapped between the demands of elderly parents and children can feel pressure from all sides.
Stella and Margie perfectly encapsulates the feelings of those caught in the ‘sandwich generation’ (Generation Xers and Baby Boomers), trapped between the demands of elderly parents and children.
Glenna Thomson lives on a cattle property and vividly portrays her experiences on the farm, and in her extensive garden, in her writing. Before moving to the country she developed a career in overseas aid and business. Stella and Margie is her second novel.