Dear Impatient Adult Child, Shopping With Your Elderly Mother: Give Her a Minute

I was perusing my grocery store’s summer clearance-sale stuff when my attention was jolted by the tone – loud, sharp, impatient – that accompanied the words.

“Mom! Come on!”

The speaker was a nicely dressed woman about my age, with a man – maybe her husband – standing nearby. The woman turned to the man. “This is why I hate to take her shopping!”

I followed the couple’s glare and looked toward the source of their angst, far down the greeting-card aisle, to the only person there, a white-haired, stooped-shoulder woman who stood barely more than 5 feet tall, intently studying the cards.

Either the elderly woman didn’t hear, “Mom! Come on!” or she ignored it. She carefully picked up a card, looked at it, then returned it to its slot. She slowly picked up another card, looked at it, then returned it to its slot.

I left the aisle feeling angry at the couple, and protective of the little white-haired woman carefully picking out a $5.99 greeting card for Lord knows who, maybe even for one of those impatient adult kids who’d grudgingly taken her shopping. Maybe she was looking for a thank-you card to express her gratitude for the grand shopping imposition. I don’t know.

I do know there’s so much I’d like to have said to that couple, words that would have taken more minutes for me to say than it would have taken that older woman to pick out a year’s worth of greeting cards for her entire family and her remaining living friends.

I’d ask why it was such a profound hardship for them to allow their mom to take her sweet ever-lovin’ time choosing cards. Did they have a kidney on standby? Were they on the verge of missing a train, plane or appointment with the Pope? I’d have pointed out that if that elderly woman was a typical American mother, she’d invested countless minutes over the lifetime of that impatient brat of a grown-up kid.

Would it kill them to just let the woman look at cards until she was ready to go? And how disrespectful of them to actually holler to this woman from the end of the aisle, not even having the courtesy to walk up to her and speak politely, with love.

Hey, Mom? I know you’re thoroughly enjoying looking through cards, but I just got a call from the transplant headquarters and they finally found a kidney for me. No worries. Take your time.

Clearly, unfortunately, the older woman was dependent upon the bratty adult kids for a ride to the store where she could select greeting cards. It got me wondering how many hours that elderly mom had spent schlepping her disrespectful kids around in their youth, back when that woman was a young mother. It made me think that surely they must have forgotten all the minutes she’d invested in motherhood. They must have forgotten or they would have never spoken to her that way.

“Mom! Come on!”

In case the adult kids were suffering from amnesia, I’m here to offer examples of common mother endeavors that might jog their selfish memories, things that took scores of minutes from that older woman’s life, starting from when she was a young woman. Let’s use some mothering math, shall we? Let’s assume that elderly woman was probably in full-on mother mode for about 18 years per kid,  so if her twilight needy years lasted as long as it took her to raise a typical kid, then it’s only fair that her impatient kids invest a fraction of the minutes in giving to the woman as she gave and gave and gave of herself.

To justify my math, I’ve made a list of sample motherly activities that elderly woman might have done many years ago, back when her children were babies, kids and teens; back when they relied upon her to grow and learn and become a functioning member of society.

This is an incomplete list, not in any particular order. Of course, much of this list could apply to foster parents, adoptive parents, guardians, custodial grandparents and fathers, too. But today, I’m thinking of the typical mother in general, and that older woman in the card aisle in particular. Feel free to add your own in the comments section if I’ve forgotten any.

Many Mothering Minutes

• Minutes spent hosting enduring sleepovers for her kids and their friends.

• Minutes spent writing invitations and planning kids’ birthday parties.

• Minutes spent taking photos of the kids and their childhood experiences. (On a related note, if there seems an absence of mother and child photos, it’s probably because she was the family photographer.)

• Minutes spent teaching children to talk.

• Minutes spent removing splinters, wiping noses, and applying BandAids.

• Minutes spent making sure children’s teeth were brushed and bodies were bathed and hair was washed.

• Minutes spent cooking family meals and cleaning up afterward.

• Minutes spent allowing kids to have a pet, even if she wasn’t a fan of dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles and/or rodents. Additional minutes spent taking care of the animals 80 percent of the time, even after the kids promised they’d do it.

• Minutes spent thoughtfully choosing the perfect cards and gifts and surprises for her kids.

• Minutes spent taking kids shopping for friends’ birthdays, and for kids’ teachers, coaches and relatives.

• Minutes spent holiday shopping and wrapping.

• Minutes spent playing the part of Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.

• Minutes spent cleaning, doing family laundry, sewing and ironing.

• Minutes spent teaching teens to drive.

• Minutes spent lying awake waiting for teens to return home at night.

• Minutes spent in emergency rooms.

• Minutes spent making birthday cakes.

• Minutes spent making a childhood’s worth of Halloween costumes.

• Minutes spent trick-or-treating, waiting on the sidewalk in the dark.

• Minutes spent carving Halloween pumpkins.

• Minutes spent welcoming kids’ friends into her home.

• Minutes spent driving kids to sports, friends’ homes, summer camp, school, doctor and dentist appointments.

• Minutes spent taking kids shopping for school clothes, shoes and supplies.

• Minutes spent signing her children up for swimming lessons, and then extra minutes sitting and waiting in the heat while her kids learned to swim, starting with blowing bubbles, all the way until they could dive and swim.

• Minutes spent taking kids to the library, the park, the roller rink, the mall, on picnics, to play dates, the pet store, the petting zoo, plays, concerts and movies.

• Minutes spent in parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings.

• Minutes spent making sure her kids had breakfast, lunch and dinner.

• Minutes spent signing kids up for soccer, baseball, dance, basketball, boy scouts, girl scouts and all kinds of classes: art, music, karate, whatever. And then, once there, the minutes spent waiting and waiting until those things were over.

• Minutes spent volunteering as room mother, den mother, brownie leader, chaperone and car-pooler.

• Minutes spent helping with homework, including dioramas and science projects.

• Minutes spent reading to her kids.

• Minutes spent offering praise, comfort and encouragement.

• Minutes spent hugging, kissing and cuddling her kids.

• Minutes spent dealing with head lice, pin worms, teething, ring work, cradle cap, thrush, diarrhea, projectile vomiting and bloody noses.

• Minutes spent teaching numbers, ABC’s, colors, shapes and animal sounds.

• Minutes spent singing to her children and reciting nursery rhymes.

• Minutes spent holding her kids during nightmares, or thunder, or while getting a shot.

• Minutes spent teaching manners; to say “please” and “thank you” and how to write a proper thank-you note.

• Minutes spent showing how to tie shoes.

• Minutes spent showing how to hold a spoon and use a knife and fork.

• Minutes spent teaching how to ride a bike.

• Minutes spent worrying and wondering if her kids were OK.

• Minutes spent slathering on sunscreen and misting kids with insect spray, and insisting upon helmets, knee pads and mouth guards.

• Minutes spent making her kids favorite foods and treats.

• Minutes spent caring for her kids when they were sick.

• Minutes spent packing lunches or making sure her kids had lunch money.

• Minutes spent writing notes to tuck inside lunchboxes and/or coat pockets.

• Minutes spent proudly displaying kids’ artwork on the refrigerator.

• Minutes spent loudly cheering and applauding for her kids at sporting events, concerts, plays and graduations.

• Minutes spent making sure her kids’ hair was cut and their nails were clean and clipped, especially for school picture day.

• Minutes spent attending school open houses, rehearsals and recitals.

• Minutes spent double checking to make sure her kids were where they said they’d be.

• Minutes spent insisting she meet her kids’ friends’ parents.

• Minutes spent volunteering in classrooms and on field trips.

• Minutes spent ensuring her children had current immunizations and dental checkups.

• Minutes spent, after her kids grew up and left home, sending care packages, birthday cards and gifts, no matter where they were, or how far away they’d moved.

• Minutes spent, after her kids had flown the nest, to welcome them back for meals, celebrations and a place to do laundry and get advice.

• Minutes of lost sleep staying up with infants. Extra credit for colicky babies.

• Minutes spent changing diapers, bathing and dressing babies and toddlers.

• Minutes spent changing sheets after nighttime accidents.

• Minutes spent potty training.

• Minutes spent, long after she ceased being a young mother, showing up bearing gifts for milestone events: graduations, weddings, holidays and for her children and grandchildren’s special celebrations.

• Minutes spent being a supportive, loving grandmother to her children’s children.

• Minutes spent buying decades’ worth of grocery-store greeting cards to express all kinds of sentiments: happy birthday, congratulations, and sympathy.

So many minutes!

What’s that you say? What if those impatient adults in the grocery store aisle were rightfully pissed at that elderly woman who slowly selected greeting cards because she was actually a lousy mother who didn’t do any of those things I mentioned above? What if she was, in fact, an absent mother; a dysfunctional, emotionally unavailable mother who’d never be a candidate for Mother of the Year, even on her best day?

If that’s the case, my heart goes out to those adult children. I’m sorry they can’t relate to my list of motherly minutes.

Even so, they’re still not entirely off the hook, because I saved the best for last; the No. 1 thing she did for which she deserves some credit: She carried her child inside her body, and she gave that baby life. (And for adopted kids, that’s yet another level of significant motherly minutes.)

And that’s my No. 1 reason — oh rude and petulant adult child, yelling down a grocery store aisle — why it won’t kill you to be a cheerful giver and spend a few extra minutes to allow your mom to select as many greeting cards to her heart’s content.

Besides, there will come a day when she’s gone, and the impatient adult child will take her place and become the stooped-over person in the grocery store aisle, trying to hurry, but dependent upon a ride, and just a few more minutes.

“Mom! Come on!”

For now, just give her a minute. She’s earned it.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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