An excerpt from the book, Life With Pop: Lessons On Caring For An Aging Parent, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., with Michael Spring.
January 5, 2002
Seven-ten, Saturday morning. The phone rings. It’s Pop.
“I can’t find my watch,” he declares. “The girl must have taken it. What’s her number?”
I can hear the anxiety in his voice. The “girl” is Ann, his caretaker — the devoted nanny who comes in weekday mornings for an hour to get him up and running. She’s a responsible, intelligent woman in her midthirties, with a warm olive complexion that rivals Halle Berry’s. If Ann is dishonest, then Dad is a 007 agent.
Poor Dad, getting so worked up about a watch straight from a Delray Beach flea market with a faux-lizard band. It’s an ailment endemic to the elderly — blaming others for their own absentmindedness. I suppose it’s easier for Dad to fault a black aide from Jamaica than the real villain — old age.
What to do? He’s visibly agitated, and I want to soothe him, but I can’t validate his reality at Ann’s expense. It’s not fair to her. And we can’t afford to lose her.
“Dad,” I say gently, “I’m sure the watch is around. Maybe you could call Ann and ask her to help you find it.”
I give him her number. At noon he calls back. “Jan, I’ve got a problem. I called what’s-her-name. She said, ‘Do you want me to come over?’ I asked, ‘Are you in the neighborhood?’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘but I’m happy to help.’”
Oy. An hour’s drive on her day off.
Dad continues, “She walked in, went under my bed, and pulled out the watch. Just like that. How did she know it was there? Do you think she stole it?”
“Dad, is this your twelve-dollar watch or your good watch?”
A moment passes. “My five-dollar watch,” he jokes.
“Pop, this is what happens when you get old. You think everyone is stealing from you. Ann has done nothing but nice things for you.”
“I know,” he admits. “I don’t trust anyone anymore. So what do I say when I see her tomorrow? Do I ask her how come she knew where to look for the watch?”
“No, Pop. You thank her for coming over Saturday to help you.”
“Okay,” he replies, like a kid. “That’s why I called. That’s why you’re a psychologist. I knew you’d have the answer. Good night.” And he hangs up.
I take a deep breath and imagine what lies ahead for both of us. Is there any question that, one day soon, I too will be on his list of offenders? That before long he won’t realize that it’s his mind, not his watch, that has been stolen?
JANIS ABRAHMS SPRING, PH.D is an award-winning author and board-certified clinical psychologist in private practice for 36 years. Dr. Spring is a recipient of the Connecticut Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Practice of Psychology, a former clinical supervisor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University, and a media guest on programs such as NPR and Good Morning America. She and her husband live in Westport, CT. For more information go to: www.janisaspring.com. Copyright 2009.