Don’t become a big baby in your old age
by Aging in Place: Claudette Hollenbeck
May 28, 2017 | 3533 views | 0 0 comments | 188 188 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I want to write in this article about how much we stay the same from birth through old age and I am starting with a story. When I was working as a social worker I had my first job running a school program for pregnant teenage girls. The program was housed at the local hospital because the school board did not want “those girls” on the regular high school campus. (Interestingly, some years later the daughter of the school board chair, a very outspoken leader of the “those girls” theory, found herself in our program).

The kids were mostly, though not entirely, black and from the poorer part of town. The hospital made admitting privileges to the hospital contingent on the 100% white, old, male obstetricians treating these girls for free. They did not like that at all, and a few of them took it out on the kids, making them give birth without anesthesia and generally being rough with them. So the school hired a mature white nurse to accompany the kids to their clinic appointments and I started going to the maternity unit in the middle of the night so that there would be a white adult present during labor and delivery. This is the long back story about how I witnessed the emergence into the world of a whole lot of babies, white and black, over two years.

Training as a therapist in those days was largely focused on the power of nurture to offset the effects of nature. Those babies very quickly turned my head around on that premise. We kept the girls and their babies in a two-year-long after school program to teach parenting skills and normal child development, so I saw most of those babies grow into little persons and personalities. It was scary to realize that the way they popped into the world and their behaviors in the delivery room were highly predictive of the kinds of temperament they exhibited two years later. Of course, nurture plays its part in everyone’s lives. But those babies were little people from hour one of their lives.

So, what does this have to do with aging in place? Well, some people say that the older we get, the more like our baby selves we again become. We regress somewhat to that which is our core person and personality. We get slack about putting on a public face and conforming to whatever the world wants us to be in order to fit in. I certainly see that in myself, my oldest friends, and relatives. Sometimes it is not especially pretty. A 75-year-old cranky, fussy baby is not an attractive sight. Whatever they used to say about you as a baby and as a child is likely to turn up again as you age and stop putting energy into getting along in the world. The early word on me was that I was standoffish, not a cuddly child, would not sit on anyone’s laps, and was very independent. Well, I think I am back to that kind of behavior much of the time now.

I have taken to calling my college roommate “Cassandra” or sometimes “Chicken Little.” She sees something unpleasant on every horizon these days and frets and frets constantly. When we were in our late teens and early 20s she was a real iconoclast, the first person to be an adventurer and a rule breaker. In those days she was very much the pampered only child born late in life to a doctor and his wife. She was riding the crest of popularity and independence, largely propped up by indulgence and affluence. Now, at almost 80, she responds to her world like a fretful baby with a wet diaper and no bottle forthcoming. I am sure you all know people who have reverted like that. Invalids and very ill folks do it all the time.

So, is there anything we can do as we age to hang onto the behaviors we learned, probably the hard way, as we moved out of babyhood and our core, basic self? Babies have no life experiences yet to learn from. They are the center of their own little universe and “me first” is a perfectly natural mindset at that stage of life.

After you have lived many decades, been in and out of relationships, how can you use what you have learned (perhaps painfully) to remain an adult in your old age – to not expect every single whim or wish must be expressed and solved, to grant others the kind of awareness and respect they deserve, and not knee-jerk expect that just because you might be experiencing discomfort, the whole world is supposed to stop in its tracks and meet your/our needs?

When one is ill, old, and vulnerable, it can be very hard to cling to our mature and adult selves and not become aged babies. Please, somebody give this to me to read when I reach that point!

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