Would I live with my children in my old age? You are kidding me, right? I mean, with a name like Cybernag and a reputation to match, can it even be contemplated? And don’t forget the L&M, who still believes he is the Lord and Master!
It is not just the nagging. There are a million and one things to consider-both by me and my kids. We literally inhabit different worlds with different body and real-time clocks. Let us take the sleep schedule for instance. I start the day when they are winding up and going to bed. Once I had found the elder one eating his dinner at 4 am — dinner, for heaven’s sake! He said he had been working one something and missed it!
Having woken up, one needs the morning cuppa and while at it, if a spoon clatters to the ground and jolts the kids awake, can it be helped? The chanting and kapalbhati of the L&M can wake up not just the kids but neighbours too. I have a playlist of shlokas for every day of the week and often chant along. And though I play it softly, it can be loud in the stillness of the morning.
And the food: We tell the kids, ‘Don’t worry about us, we will eat what you do.’ And we do, both of us being fond of all kinds of food. We eat and enjoy it all too – from pav bhaji to pasta, to waffles to momos. But a few meals later the stomach whines for rasam and curd rice. The spirit (and tongue) is willing but the stomach has a mind of its own, you see!
Jokes apart, there are some points that I would like to share here about getting older and the changes that accompany the process – both physical and emotional. I had penned a long series on growing old and the accompanying problems and issues. It had been a well-researched series with possible solutions to current scenarios and individual problems, but all through the series the invisible strand that ran was our own personal predicaments. I was conveying a message to my own family and kids about the impending changes in our lives. (Do read the series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Coming back to the current post, with vastly different routines and sometimes lifestyles – especially if they already have separate homes – it is impractical to expect the two generations to live under one roof. Added to the cramped urban spaces and paucity of time, the members literally get in each other’s way if not actually underfoot, and soon begin getting on each other’s nerves. Let us be frank, while it is important to let go of adult children to live their own lives, offering advice or suggestions only when asked, living close makes it very difficult. Most parents have learnt to pull away from the day-to-day lives of their children over the years, but sometimes even normal parental concern can be seen as interference, causing stress. I wouldn’t blame either generation for this situation.
Lucky are those who can afford to live in their separate homes, but when financial constraints necessitate them to live under the same roof, the onus falls mostly on the older generation to make the major adjustments and compromise needed for harmonious living. The best thing is to leave the decision to individual families to work out the ideal solution of eldercare.
I firmly believe that relationships like plants, flourish best when there is some space for them to breathe and grow.
That said, elders need to develop and sustain some hobby or activity even while in their youth or middle age, so that it is easy to keep themselves occupied physically, mentally and spiritually as they age. In the absence of any such activity, parents usually begin to look to their children and grandchildren for emotional sustenance, making them the sole focus of their attention. That is when the problem begins: the youngsters feel pressured and shy away, which makes the elders feel rejected. This is one thing that can be blamed solely on the elders.
We might not be so dedicated as Padma awardee Salumarada Thimmakka — over 100-yrs-old — who has planted thousands of banyan trees till date or Kame Gowda, who till his 84th year had dug 42 ponds and is still continuing! Nor is it necessary to take up an outlandish hobby like rock-climbing or para-jumping in one’s old age to prove one’s ‘youth’ to the world. Normal activities like cooking, teaching the underprivileged children (like the L&M has been doing for several years now), attending satsangs, doing puja-path, joining yoga or meditation groups or taking up an old hobby one had to give up during the busy years of raising kids and holding down a job – can all work fine.
Reading is one eternal hobby which anyone can take up at any age. Add writing to it, as one can share one’s experiences with the world and if one is a professional, even better. Writing a book has never been easier what with a plethora of editing and marketing services to get one’s work out in print! I remember reading a book called ‘From Age-ing to Sage-ing,’ by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Ronald S. Miller, which explains the wonderful concept of turning into an ‘elder’ to guide the younger generations.
But most important of all things, is to have some form of regular physical exercise, be it walking, yoga or both, to keep mentally and physically fit. But what if illnesses plague one in old age? Well, in such cases, the individual family in consultation with the elder has to take the right decision for their care, as I have detailed in my series.
Me? Well, Independence is my middle name and I would like to be independent as long as I can. I lost vision in one eye about a decade and a half ago, after making the ‘pilgrimages’ to all major eye hospitals in the country for years. With the vision in the other eye not being too good either, I still wouldn’t allow my family to become over-protective or to restrict my movements. I am proud to say that I have undertaken international travel alone, at a time when I had to use a magnifying glass to read even the boarding gate number! I must say that I have managed pretty well, working around the problem, asking for help whenever I need it without self-consciousness.
It is not that we don’t love spending time with our children and their families and cherish our time with our granddaughter. But we prefer our own place, routines, activities and space. Of course, I will be there if my children need my help at any given time, which would require living with them on a prolonged basis. I try to follow most of the points I have discussed above, so that makes it easier for me. I am blessed with a variety of interests, chiefly, writing and reading. And there are my shloka chanting and pooja routines as well to sustain me spiritually.
I pray to God to keep me on my feet and active as long as I am alive. And towards that end, I will go on cutting my coat according to the cloth, as I age.
A version of this post was first published here