When did my mom age?

Physicists contend that time passes faster in the mountains than in the plains. Did something similar happen to my mother when I was away working in another country?

A few years back, I returned to Kolkata after working for over 20 years in different cities and different countries, with the lofty idea of starting an elder care company in India. When back, I was glad to spend time with my mother but at the same time I started viewing my mother, not just as my mother, but as an elderly person living largely alone in Kolkata. She was the perfect ‘specimen’ on whom I could base my service delivery model on. Her role got extended, mother, friend, well-wisher, Hindi teacher… and now my lab rat. (I just hope that her failing eyesight doesn’t allow her to read past the sentence before this). She was the crucible I based my business proposition on. When I visited her, I became the fly on the wall, observing her, seeing how she unlocks the door, does her laundry, manages her life. And the first thing that hit me, a slap on the face actually, was that I didn’t know that my mother had aged so much. During the time I was trying to make a mark for myself in the professional world, and caring for my family, my mother had developed hearing issues, her walk had slowed and she was forgetting things. My mother was 75 years old.

How did an active, independent woman become a person who needed help to get into the car?

And the answer is simple. We do not need physicists and sociology experts to tell us what the reasons are. People age. Period.

But the question remains. Why did it seem to me that she had aged so quickly? And for that I decided to do some reading and some digging. Digging into my own life.

Psychologists say that time goes faster as we age. It’s a combination of having fewer first time experiences later in life and the blur of activities in our daily routine.

Further our perception of time is based on the quantum of memories that we build up. Ever met your young niece or nephew after a span of 2 years and then get amazed by his/her growth spurt. When did the gawky 14-year-old become this elegant young lady? Two memories a few years apart, and you miss out the time in between. I call this the Snapshot Effect.

Could the Snapshot Effect be the reason of me feeling that my mother had aged so quickly? This seemed a likely hypothesis and I set out to get some facts and figures to understand whether the Snapshot Effect was indeed the reason.

Quantity and quality of time spent together:

Apparently, 90+ percent of all the time a person ever spends with his parents is in the first 18 years of his life. And the balance 10% of the time with them will be spent over the next 40 odd years… Crazy right? I thought so too. And so, I decided to calculate it for myself using as an experimental guinea pig – me. See the box, and you may want to just glance at the lines in bold, if you find the details of my life too tedious.

The calculations are startling. Of all the time I spent with my parents, 90% and 70% is the time I spent before the age of 18 with my father and mother respectively. In other words, after my first 18 years, the time I spent with my father and mother was just 10% and 30% respectively. And if I spent less time with my parents, it also means that memories with them are fewer now – a lot fewer.

Now to look at the qualitative aspects. And yet again, for the sake of this research, I decided to use my own experience to see how the evidence stacks up.

While in our childhood, our parents are the most important people in our lives. As we get to our teens, and we all know what teenagers are like, there are other more pressing matters interesting people, new activities. And so, while we may be living with our parents at home, it may be in another planet for that matter. It was no different for me.

College in a different town was another story. Not only did I have so many new friends, learned so many new concepts, had so many new activities, my parent were ‘out of sight out of mind’. They got relegated to the once a week phone call, asking how they were doing, or to find out about the health of my ailing grandmother, who well past the age of seventy-five, would keep aside a little of her pension money for my birthday. The phone calls to my parents were largely a duty, to make sure that they didn’t get alarmed about my safety. It was also a time to gently find out when the monthly bank transfer was scheduled. When I did come home for holidays, I spent more time with my friends, than with them. Only once in the 4 years of college, when I came back home, I wanted nothing more than my mother’s home cooked food and some TLC. I was down with jaundice.

After graduation, my job was what kept me going. Ambition, self-imposed 60 hours week work schedule, friends, marriage, baby, new cities, new jobs, new cars, new home, vacations… I had time for everything. Kolkata and my mother were such a long way off. But I called, once a week without fail. And I visited, once a year for 2 weeks. I was the good, dutiful and responsible child – the hallmark of a good Indian kid.

What I realize now is that as I got older – Preteen to teen. Teen to Adult, I spent lesser and lesser quality time with my parents. Needless to say, the memories became fewer and of lesser impact – especially when newer memories such as kids, work and holidays take over your life.

Fewer memories at a periodic interval. The Snapshot Effect is evident. My mom got older very quickly – as I was busy leading my life elsewhere

So slow down. Time flies and parents get older. Find your own way to increase your time and memories with them.

This is a two-part blog that deals with caring for your parents. This is Part 1.

Part 1/Part 2

Table: Time Spent with Mom and Dad (Detailed workings)
Time spent with my Dad

• First 18 years I was with them at home all the time, till I moved to a college in a different city: 18 years * 365 days/years = 6570 days
• Next 6 years during college/university, I was with him only during holidays for about 4 months a year = 6 years * 4 months/years * 30 days per month = 720 days
• Thereafter, my job took me to a different city and so visited only about 20 days in a year. Unfortunately, my father died 4 years after I started working: 4 years * 20 days = 80 days

Total days spent with my Dad= 7,370 days
% of days spent in the first 18 years = 89%

Time spent with my Mom

• The time I spent with my Dad, was the same time I spent with my mom, and the days mentioned above holds. But my mother got a lot more of me, and whether it’s good or bad is for my mother to say. I returned back to Kolkata when my father died and lived in the same house with her for 4 years = 4 years * 365 days/year = 1460
• I moved out again, now to a different country and visited only 15 days a year for about 12: 12 years * 15days= 180 days
• I have now come back to Kolkata and visit her about 7 days a month = 4 years * 5 days a month * 12 months = 240 days
Total days spent with my mom so far = 9250

% of days spent with my mother so far is 71%...
hmm, mom is so much luckier than my Dad 😊

Part 2: When do you become a carer?