Growing Up in a Nursing Home

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Has anyone ever had their grandmother live with them? Has anyone ever had someone else’s grandmother live with them? Because I have. 23 years ago my mom decided to leave her life of luxury, housekeeping at the opryland hotel, and open her own business: cedar haven.  This is my origin story. When my mom was on maternity leave with my sister she met someone who cared for elderly people in her home. Since my mom was also trying to keep our family off government assistance, she decided this could be worth a shot. My dad was a patrolman for the local police department, which doesn’t really pay the bills. As a small town cop he didn’t have to worry about terrorist attacks or serial killers but it was highly likely he was going to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time when a meth lab exploded.

There are pros and cons to having your house be a nursing home.  There are now four kids in my family, none except me have any memories of daycare or babysitters.  We always had a warm home to come to and a snack waiting on the table after school.  Home cooked meals and a clean house.  No latch key kids here.  Sounds like a dream come true, but of course there is a downside. 

Mainly, someone always had to be at our house with the elderly person.  The “patient” had their own living quarters, bathroom and private entrance but was still a part of our household.  Most elderly people can’t be alone in case they fall or there is an emergency.  This meant we could never go anywhere together as a complete family unit.  If we wanted to go out to eat or on vacation or even to a school function, we had to hire a sitter, which we couldn’t afford for the majority of my childhood.  Me being the oldest and dad on duty at night, I was usually called upon to stay home while mom ran errands, picked up dinner or went grocery shopping.  I liked having a quiet house free squabbling siblings.  One year I decided to use my Christmas money to buy hamsters.  Anyone who was anyone in fifth grade had hamsters.  I was pumped to watch them burrow through their little tunnels and run on their exercise wheel.  I had to stay home while mom went to the local pet shop which meant I didn’t get to pick them out myself.  I decided to just be a good hamster mom and be happy with whatever came back and love them like my own.  What mom came home with was two hamsters; one male and one female (check), food (check), accessories (check), and a birdcage.  Even though I had given her very specific instructions, the person at the pet shop assured her it would work.  Except instead of having tunnels and slides to play on they had a perch and ladder.  I learned to deal with disappointment early on. 

It was also hard to get rides places, ballet, cheerleading practice, piano lessons, basketball, girl scouts, I was usually dropped off and picked up in a police car.  Have you ever been dropped off for a school play, in costume in the back of a squad car? It’s not exactly the red carpet attention you hope for.  If we were in route and my dad got a call, I would have to ride along.  Guess I can’t watch the Simpsons tonight, gotta swing by the jail to help book an inmate.  I don’t know who was more surprised, me watching my dad slam a smelly drunk guy into the back seat, or the inebriated perp looking up to see a toe headed munchkin in a brownie uniform.  What are you in for? Trafficking Thin Mints? I put a hit on another troop’s leader.  Insider trading of achievement badges. 

Once my dad was taking me and my friend to school in his police car.  Since there were two of us we both rode in the back.  Dad ran inside the station to clock in.  Several minutes later we were still sitting there.  Finally another officer noticed us and let us out.  My dad had gotten carried away in the break room and forgot all about us.  Of course we were late to school, but they don’t ask a lot of questions when you roll up with lights and sirens blazing. 

I spent a lot of time at the police station waiting for rides to places.  They had a TV and weight room, and usually stuff to snack on.  You never saw anyone so happy to get their driver’s license than me.  Actually, you never saw someone so crushed when they failed their driver’s test the first time.  PS – to prepare for the second time around, I also had a random police officer take me along the DMV route. 

The worst part of growing up in a Nursing home is explaining it to people.  I choose to just avoid topics I’m uncomfortable with so I would just wait until a friend came over for the first time and let them bring it up.  Which they always did. 

“Who is that old lady?”

“Who?”

“The one watching Billy Graham on your couch.”

“Oh, her,”

“Is that your grandmother?”

“Ummm, no.”

“Then who is it?”

“She lives here.”

“What do you mean?”

“My mom takes care of her.”

“Why did she just pull one of your Beanie Babies out of her bra?”

“Those are hers now.”

I know what you’re thinking about this point.  It’s the question everyone has.  Yes, people have died in my house, and yes it’s super haunted.  It’s just yet another thing you learn to deal with when you grow up in a nursing home. 

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