I had a pleasant lunch with my mother-in-law on Saturday. She called Wednesday evening to confirm not only our lunch, but that the three of us were going out. At my husband’s prompting, I reminded her that her original idea was that just the two of us would have lunch, as she and I seldom see each other. She acquiesced after small pushback, and lunch was just the two of us.

After returning home, and briefly pondering, I realized that all of my moms are in the same kinda place (my mom being so when she was living independently)… They are all widowed, lonely, isolated, somewhere on the ditzy scale (my mom-in-law at the very, very beginning, my former mom-in-law walking on the path, and my mom well down the road), and all three of them spend the majority of any conversation I have with them talking about why they do things the way they do: Politics, medications, cooking, relations to others, why they can’t possibly get to Z until X and Y are complete (and ALL of the things in the way of getting to X and Y), their routines, etc. Even in the middle of sharing a story with any of them in such a way as to engage and entertain, they will still segue into one of their conversational loops rather than be in the moment. At lunch I told my MIL about finally ridding both houses of all prescription and expired meds, after bottles mysteriously kept appearing in drawers I’d checked at least five times. I was trying to be humorous, and she suddenly said, “I only take one prescription, and have to return another. I can’t take anything because I suffer ALL the side effects!” I kept rolling with my story, but my former MIL makes the SAME assertion! My question is: why is it necessary to bring up their medication aversion in the middle of a story someone else is telling? Lest you think I’m dissing my MILs, former or current, or my own mom for that matter, I’m not. I’m sadly observing that these ladies, aged 78-95, don’t seem to be able to simply enjoy a conversation without making it about themselves, interjecting what they have/need to do (repeatedly) in their daily lives, or by being competitive.

All three had challenging relationships with their own mothers. My mom and MIL were both told they couldn’t go to college, and had to fight battles over making their mother cease and desist perming their hair. Both were devalued. Both earned full-ride scholarships to the same prestigious  university.

All three moms find a need to compete, or be right about any topic they engage in. I’ve had incredible conversations with my mom and MIL. In some chats they were the subject matter experts, or had greater experiences to share (a natural given the age difference), and in some, I was the dispenser of information. There used to be lots of good back and forth. This seems to have diminished to 20% of any of our discourse. Yes, with my mom that’s understandable. My former-MIL has been doing this since way before we began to worry about her mental functioning, and my MIL has been doing this with me, at some level, for 20 years. It’s morphed from being an 87% competitive thing (asserting why her way is the correct way) to, I think, being widowed, lonely, isolated, and getting forgetful.

This summer, my MIL forewent seeing Adam because she was planning a trip back east to see family and friends. She couldn’t encompass running to the coast for three days, 2-weeks ahead of her trip to visit with a friend of 60+-years. Adam is in the country every-other year. They are 78 and 85 respectively. I was quietly flabbergasted. This is not a statement about their relationship, but an observation of how my MIL is doing.

I hope my MIL will do more to get out and engaged, yet she has to get through X and Y in order to address Z. Once Z is attended to, maybe, possibly, she’ll venture out a little more.

All of this makes me very, very sad. I do not want to enter my dotage unable to relish what my kids and grand kids are up to, unable to be present as they tell me about their lives, days and adventures, or needing to bring my relevance into their stories… My husband and I made a pact this afternoon to remain outward focused when we mosey into our senior years.

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