Needs vs. Wants

Needs vs. Wants
For seven years, I was the sole caregiver for my mother. I handled her finances because she was no longer able to do so. Each week I took mother to the grocery store and attended to doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, and every other manner of errand. Often when I arrived at her apartment, mother came at me with a newspaper in her hand. I knew exactly what she wanted. Although mother enjoyed receiving the daily newspaper (she read the obituaries and the comics), providing the paper for her was a two-edged sword. The paper provided a modicum of entertainment at the cost of also providing more opportunities for her to see things she wanted to buy. My sister and I supplemented mother’s income in order for her to have food on her table and prescriptions to sustain her life. I cringed every time mother brought another advertisement to me of something she wanted to buy. She had no money to buy extras as her social security check barely covered her rent and utilities. Any extras had to come out of the pockets of her daughters.

“Look here. The grocery store has African violets on sale. I want to get one.”

I looked across the room to the other plants sitting in the window and knew she did not need yet another plant. How could I say no? I thought of myself in her situation. How would I feel if I were in my mother’s situation and my children were taking care of me? Mother had so little in her life it seemed heartless to tell her no she could not have a $5 plant.

We headed out the door to the store, and began our normal trek through the supermarket. The cart was loaded with the usual inventory, and then I made the mistake of leaving her to browse in the flower department while I ran down the aisle to pick up something I forgot. When I returned, she now had a dozen roses in her hand. She wanted these too. I looked at the roses, which were obviously a week old and the price tag on them was $7. Now, we were paying $7 for week-old roses that will surely die in a couple of days and $5 for an African violet.

“They are 2 for $10, but I’m only going to get one.”

I bit my tongue to keep from saying what I really wanted to say. While I seethed inside, I paid the $12 for more flowers that she will only enjoy for a few days before they die just like all of the others. Then, I chastised myself for feeling angry and for thinking of depriving a lonely, depressed 87-year-old a simple pleasure in life. However, I knew from experience that the wanting would not stop with $12 worth of flowers.

On many occasions, mother laid out on the table flyers she had either received in the mail or retrieved from the newspaper.

“You see these shorts? I want a pair of them in blue.”

“I found these shoes at Penney’s. Aren’t they cute? I know I don’t need another pair of shoes, but I want them anyway.”

“Look at this ceramic carousel. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s only $29.95.”

I chime in, “No, mother. It isn’t only $29.95. Read the fine print. It’s four installments of $29.95, and neither you nor I have $120 to spend on a ceramic carousel.”

In my attempt to balance mother’s needs with her wants, I learned to scour the kitchen table and countertops when I arrived at her house. If I saw any advertisements peddling tempting but unnecessary goods, I scooped them up when she left the room and got them out of sight as soon as possible. If she didn’t see the flyers lying there, she forgot that she wanted to buy the item. This little technique saved me from feeling guilty for saying no to her wants. She managed to get enough wants in, but I had to draw the line somewhere. With this proactive approach, I didn’t have to say no all the time, and I didn’t feel so angry when I gave in the next time. Although I sometimes felt badly that mother could not buy all of the things she wanted, I reminded myself that she spent a lifetime spending her money on the things she wanted instead of saving for her retirement. Because she spent her money without caution in the early part of her life, she had no money for all of those extras in this stage of her life. If my sister and I had to supplement her income in order for her to live, I accepted that. However, I could not accept spending extra money that neither of us had in order to buy trinkets and junk, which would only end up on the shelves of the Goodwill store when mother was gone. I hated being in this position. I hated having to be the parent in this situation dealing with a small child, when that small child was my mother.

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