Trading Places: Becoming My Mother's Mother
By Sandra Bullock Smith
Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother is one woman’s heartfelt memoir about the role reversal she experienced while looking after her aging mother.
Author Sandra Bullock Smith spent ten years caring for her mother as her health declined. And all too often, she found herself in the midst of experiences that mirrored similar events from her own childhood. This book looks at the trials and tribulations of that decade and offers powerful insight and encouragement for anyone entering into a similar period of life. Smith’s touching stories share the heartbreaking, and sometimes comical, moments she experienced while providing assistance to her aging parent
In a very real sense, the two women traded places. Smith found herself uttering phrases she heard all too often as a child, such as, “Don’t give your food to the dog” and, “You’ve had enough sugar today.” Smith began jotting down the things she said, and thus this charming book was born.
Filled with respect, compassion, and love, this uplifting and amusing memoir is for anyone involved in elder care, caregiving or who may face the role in the future.
Sandra Bullock Smith is a retired human resources executive who currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband, Mike, and their mongrel pups. She grew up in Florida, and then spent 20+ years in the colorful gumbo of south Louisiana. A world traveler, angler, adventure junkie, and storyteller, she also works as a crew chief for several endurance running and cycling athletes.
One of her greatest challenges in life was the ten-year period during which she and her siblings cared for their aging mother. This experience led her to pen her first book, Trading Places: Becoming My Mother's Mother. She hopes it offers insight and encouragement to anyone involved in a similar labor of love.
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BRIEF EXCERPT FROM BOOK
“Tell me a story.”
We loved my parents’ stories. They both grew up in interesting times and in interesting places. My mother in particular had great stories from growing up in the mountains of north Georgia. In addition to standard children’s stories, we got stories such as the time she came across her cousin’s moonshine still while they were out hiking. My dad was in the Air Force and had traveled to exotic places. We visited many places and exciting times through my parents’ stories.
I remember Mom talking about her college days, telling me she went to college without ever having attended classes beyond the sixth grade. Mom attended elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse. When she was in sixth grade, many of the local men left for the war. Women were called upon to take over jobs vacated by the departing soldiers. The teacher of her one-room schoolhouse left for one of those jobs. There was no one left in their community to teach grades 1-6 at the rural school.
The school superintendent offered the job to my mom. She was the best sixth grade student so he felt she could teach grades 1-6. Mom was excited about the possibility of teaching, but she was certain her father would not permit it. Her father believed that women only needed a little bit of education. Mom would be needed on the farm.
The superintendent visited my grandfather and told him that Mom would be compensated for teaching and would be able to help the family farm by having an income. Grandpa agreed and Mom’s teaching career began. By the time the regular teacher returned, Mom was almost old enough to have graduated from high school. The superintendent told her that if she would study and get her high school equivalent, he would get her a college scholarship. Mom went on to obtain her GED, a college scholarship, and a college degree.
So Mom went to college, graduated, and had a long teaching career, all without being formally schooled herself after the age of twelve. I wondered what other stories she had that I didn’t know about. I found a book called The Story of a Lifetime, which contains questions about your life. We spent many fun hours working through these questions so I could discover and document the rich stories of her lifetime.
When she reached her nineties, she seemed to have problems holding a conversation. It was as if she couldn’t think of anything to talk about. I pulled out The Story of a Lifetime and used its many diverse questions to get Mom talking and keep her engaged. I found out so many things I didn’t know about my mom. One day we were on a roll and she was really enjoying answering the questions I posed. So, I decided to ad-lib and put my own question out there.
“Mom,” I said. “Were you afraid of having sex for the first time?”
She stopped and thought for a moment, then with a grin said, “I think your daddy and I both were, but we got over it.”
I love telling stories and I love a good adventure. Adventures and stories go hand in hand. Mom didn’t have to ask me to tell her a story. I usually had a variety of tales from wherever my recent travels had taken me.
The funny thing about telling Mom stories is that she didn’t always hear what I say. If she didn’t hear me, she usually asked me to repeat myself (see “Don’t say ‘Huh’.”). One night, I was telling her about hiking in bear country and having to carry bear spray. She said to me, “I just don’t understand how hairspray can stop a bear.”
“Not hairspray, Mom, bear spray,” I told her.
“Well, what the heck is bear spray?”
Or the time when she asked me what I was eating. “Cashews,” I responded.
“I know you didn’t say cow pies??”
“NO, MOM. C-A-S-H-E-W-S.”
“Oh. Well, you don’t have to yell.”
We had some funny misinterpretations, whether during sharing stories, cooking ideas, or just general conversation. But that, as Rudyard Kipling said, is another story. And I did have to yell.