"Designated Daughter" & mother celebrate bonus years together
We start as children on the road of life, in the backseat, implicitly trusting the person at the wheel, our parents.
Messenger photo by John Matuszak
D.G. Fulford and her mother, Phyllis Greene, are the authors of Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years With Mom, about sharing the joys and confronting the realities of aging, symbolized by the elephants on the table in front of them.
Then the road turns and we are in the driver's seat, making the decisions whether to go right or left, and the parent is the passenger, still offering guidance.
And if we're lucky, it's a long, long ride.
That is what D.G. Fulford and her mother, Phyllis Greene, have discovered and shared in their new book, Designated Daughter: The Bonus Years With Mom.
"Designated daughters are all over the country, all over the world" writes Fulford, a Bexley native and co-author of To Our Children's Children and founder of a Web site dedicated to preserving family memories. "We are a secret society of women, instantly recognizable to each other. We sit in doctor's waiting rooms holding our mothers' hands. We hold the coats, we hold the purses, we hold our mothers' arms like suitors."
Greene, the author of It Must Have Been Moonglow: Reflections on the First Years of Widowhood, provides her own observations at the end of the chapters.
"I am the needful mother of this Designated Daughter, and we are companions on a beautiful road to journey's end," she writes.
There is a third party in the room, as well.
"We are not alone; lumbering along is an elephant," Greene perceives.
"His name is DEATH.
"I hate him."
Mother and daughter have learned to live with this ponderous presence with humor and courage.
There are "Designated Sons" out there, Fulford acknowledged, and her own brothers, Bob and Tim Greene, are in constant contact.
But most often the responsibility of looking after an aging parent falls to a daughter.
Her own role began with the illness and death of her father eight years ago, an episode that brought her back to Columbus after 20 years.
The family had always stayed close, and D.G. and her mother only experienced the typical teenage rifts.
"Hair and boys," Fulford recalled. "Now there are no boys and my hair looks good."
Fulford had worked as a writer in Los Angeles and was raising her own daughter in a "ghost town" in Nevada when the call came to come home.
The care that her mother provided for her father during the next three months set an example for Fulford, who decided she wanted to stay and be a companion.
"How many times in your life are you in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing?" Fulford wondered.
Her reaction as she settled into her new role was "At last!"
They maintain separate residences but are constant cohorts.
It was while turning onto her mother's street "for the seven millionth time" for a doctor's appointment or one of their frequent lunches at Bob Evans that Fulford realized "I'm a designated driver."
Already ruminating on the possibility of a book on their experiences, the appellation morphed into "Designated Daughter."
"It speaks to me everywhere I go," she said from her mother's living room, with the lime-green carpet and bronze elephants on the glass coffee table, a Christmas gift. "There are a whole lot of us everywhere you go."
It's a growing demographic, Greene added, with all of the Baby Boomers with parents who are living longer.
It became a people-watching pastime to spot the "Designated Daughters" and their charges and try to determine whether they had a good or bad relationship, Greene said.
"Or not good days," Fulford quickly interjected. "It's a joy and it's a struggle. What I want people to realize is, here's this amount of time. You should experience it with a sense of gratitude and joy."
Both have learned a lot about each other.
"I've learned that my mother is hilarious," Fulford said. "I always thought my dad was the funniest guy in Columbus," but she has come to appreciate her mother's sense of humor.
Sometimes it's gallows humor, they admitted, but it gets them through the tough times.
"Thank God we're a funny family," Fulford said.
When Franklin University decided to confer an honorary Ph.D. on Greene for her 30 years on their Board of Trustees, her daughter dubbed her "Dr. Phyl."
Greene has come to recognize her daughter's inner strength. "There are times when I thought she would go to pieces, but she has shown how strong she is when the time comes. I worried about what would happen to Debby when I die, but now I know she can handle it."
"I've absorbed that strength," Fulford said.
In the intervening years, Fulford has become a grandmother and has been impressed with the fortitude of her own daughter.
The women are planning the next big celebration in two years - their 60th and 90th birthdays. Fulford will embark on a national tour of Barnes and Noble stores in July.
And the bronze elephants sit in a circle around a crystal ball on the table.
"The elephants are playful and their ears are down, which I read is a good sign," Greene writes.
In addition to Designated Daughter, Fulford has produced a companion volume, "Things I'd Love You to Know: A Journal for Mothers and Daughters," with prompts at the top of each page to stimulate memories and life observations.
Fulford also maintains TheRememberingSite.org, which provides the tools to write and publish life stories, and EveryWomansVoice.com, which includes a blog and a link for Designated Daughters to chat.
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