My Blog

October 24, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Independence

“Why can’t you trust me to do what I say I will?”

“Mom, you just need a little help. You sometimes forget.”

She looks angry and aggrieved as I insist that she needs a caregiver.

The bright blue antibiotic pill remains on the table beside the container of chicken salad sandwich, chips and a cookie which she hasn’t touched. She is supposed to take the pill with food three times a day. Since she no longer knows when meals are, she frequently forgets to eat. Hence, no pill.

I’ve been searching for Caregivers for Mom now that we are moving her back to the trailer next week. Whether Mom accepts it or not, she needs someone with her, at least while she is awake. At night, she seems to sleep pretty well so we won’t get someone to just sit all night.  The move is imminent and the needs are critical NOW.

I thought I had one young woman lined up. She was 19 and her aunt, who has cleaned house for us for years, assured me that she was trustworthy and hard working. The girl began making excuses almost immediately. Sure enough, I got a lengthy text message explaining that she was going to start school and wouldn’t be able to work. When I told her aunt, I received another lengthy text apologizing and promising to help. Nope.

I began scrambling for others. Fortunately, a dear friend has trained Nurses Aides for years and has a stable full of Hispanic women available. Or at least available if they don’t already have a job. I finally got two older women set up to work. We’ll meet next Sunday when I move Mom back to the trailer. I hope.

Other people are having similar troubles with caregivers. One friend and her husband are both laid up, she with a broken leg, he with Parkinson’s. They spend over $10,000 a month on caregivers from an agency. According to my friend, the girls sent by the agency spend their time sitting around texting their friends instead of looking for something to do. She finally called the agency and demanded they send someone with more initiative.

Another friend has faced a revolving door of Caregivers. Each one, usually young, stays briefly, just long enough to learn the routine, then leaves for parts unknown. The frustration of finding yet another helper, who isn’t already working, is overwhelming.

I think initiative is the problem. It is dreadful to dump on the Millenials, but there does seem to be an indifference to finding something to do that needs doing. They will do what they are told, but to take the initiative to seek out a task is beyond their ability. Their minds and flying fingers are concentrating on the text messages on the phone, or God forbid, the tweets.

Perhaps I am prejudiced by having been brought up with Mexican maids. I find that the Hispanic women, at least the older ones who haven’t been corrupted by the Anglo society, are dedicated and hard working.  They don’t know texting or tweeting, although they are learning far too rapidly. They look for things to do—and then actually DO them. They haven’t been zombieized into sitting mesmerized in front of the TV set doing nothing. At least not yet.

I remember Mom saying, I think seriously, that one of the reasons she went to Mexico with my father after they married was to have maids to care for us kids. Finding a good maid in Mexico was a frantic race to grab up a good one before the rest of the pack of American ex-pats could get to her. Departing ladies left their maids, much like leaving a bequest of a fortune, to a specific friend.

It took years to train a maid. Well-trained ones were worth their weight in gold. They still are. I know it sounds disparaging, or, heaven forbid, racist, but when the young Indian or Mestizo girls came in from the country, they often had no idea what a blender was or how to use an oven, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster, a pressure cooker, let alone a fancy Keurig coffee maker. They had to learn how to use all these modern conveniences, without breaking them.

Once they knew how to use all the up-to-the-minute machinery, they also had to get used to the demands of the family. I remember a picture of our maid standing with my sister’s hand in hers in the early morning waiting for the school bus. The maid was also the one who saved my sister when a tulle cape tied around her neck caught fire from a candle while we were playing princess in a tent. The maids, as anyone in Mexico will tell you, became family.

Recommendations and rumors flew about the “girls.” Their personalities were discussed and dissected over coffee or at bridge club. The lives of the maids, what little they had of it in the few hours left to them after working all day and into the night, became the subject of intense gossip. The “patrona” knew everything, or nearly everything, going on in the maids’ lives and shared it with her friends, in part as protection from hiring a maid with similar problems or in part as warning to other employers.

Years ago in Mexico, when the daughter of one of our maids got pregnant, I remember Daddy calling in the putative father to discuss when they would be married and how the man planned to take care of the girl. Like the Italian Godfather, it was the duty of the employer’s family to step in and protect the girls from financial ruin or medical disasters.

I brought this tradition with me to the U.S. When the Salvadorean woman who has cleaned our house for the last fifteen years got into trouble, she came to us for help. She is not a “maid” in the full sense of the word. She doesn’t do more than clean every two weeks. But I had no hesitation in paying to hire a lawyer to help her son out of a run-in with the law. She had become family. She is loyal to us and we are loyal to her.

So, I don’t have to depend on Anglo Millenials with texts and tweets. My Salvadorean maid is going to help me move Mom and she will be one of Mom’s caregivers. I feel lucky to have her. Now, if the others will work out as well, we’ll be in business.

About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!

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