When I was hired to be a caregiver for elderly people, the boss told me it would not be TOO different from my experiences caregiving for children (mother, daycare worker). In my experience with the job so far, it is VERY VERY DIFFERENT. For one thing, I get THANKED.

The first time it happened, I thought it was a fluke. Like, “Oh, this particular elderly person is extremely conscientious about politeness, and how kind of her to unnecessarily thank me!” But it has happened now with two additional clients—and that’s out of four clients total, and the fourth one is not in a state of being able to thank.

Also, sometimes there are family members around, and THEY will thank. Sometimes it’s casual, as part of a departure: “Okay, thanks, bye!” Even if we don’t count those, there are other times it is more intense: “Thank you. Thank you for everything you’re doing for us.” “We really appreciate this. Thank you.”


Those of you who said this job could be a good stretching experience even if it didn’t pan out career-wise: that has been a very comforting thought. When it is time to figure out dinner and I am realizing as I open a Surprise Refrigerator how much I rely on my own recipes and familiar staples and the knowledge of my own pantry supplies and cupboard contents, I think to myself, “This would be an excellent assignment if I were taking a class on being more flexible and thinking on my feet. In fact, this would make a good game show.” And I am already getting better at it: instead of pure rising panic, I think, “Okay! *clap clap* Let’s see what we can do!”

I am also learning to think things such as “If this one meal is not great, or not what she likes to eat, or not cooked the way she likes it, or not seasoned the way she’d prefer, or not nutritionally ideal—it will nevertheless be okay, and it will be balanced by all the other meals that are cooked by all the other caregivers.”

I am also carrying my Better Homes & Gardens cookbook in my work bag. I’ve had this cookbook since I was in college, and it is like a security blanket. It’s the kind of cookbook that will even tell you how to boil an egg, or how to bake a potato. It’s surprising how many cooking things I’ve never done: I’ve never baked a sweet potato, I’ve never taken rib meat off the bones, I’ve never made corned beef hash, I’ve never cooked a chicken thigh, I’ve never worked with liverwurst, I’ve never worked with horseradish, I’ve never made franks-and-beans. It’s not that I can barely boil water or whatever: I can cook. It’s just that there is a large circle of foods and food processes I’m familiar with, and there is also a large circle of foods and food processes I’m NOT familiar with. Another cook in my kitchen might be saying she’d never made baked macaroni and cheese, never made shredded crockpot chicken, never worked with sriracha sauce, never used ground turkey, never made couscous, never made cinnamon rolls, never made granola, never used a rice steamer, etc.

13 thoughts on “Thanked

  1. Rbelle

    My mom gave me a copy of that cookbook when I went off to college. Mostly I use it for pancakes, biscuits, and muffins, but I don’t think I would ever, ever get rid of it, because it really has SO MUCH information. Maybe someday you could do a “favorite Better Homes & Gardens recipes” post, because I’d bet a fair number of readers own a copy, and I’m really curious what other people get out of it.

  2. jill

    I worked for an elderly couple for a while and the cooking was the hardest part. I don’t eat like they eat- he preferred the traditional meat, potatoes, vegetable (and hated any kind of rice/pasta). She also liked casseroles, so I could slide one of those in once in a while. Add to that I left in the afternoon and they were going to be reheating everything, and it was a challenge.

    I think you are doing a great job, all the way around.

  3. Nowheymama

    We still have and use my husband’s ripped copy of this cookbook. He refers to as his bachelor cookbook because it was the only one he owned when he was single.

    I continue to be so proud of you!

  4. Alyson

    Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” is a good addition to the BHG – if you’re looking for extra information. He starts with a basic way to cook and then the 2254257 ways to alter it.

  5. kimi

    I have that cookbook too! I had a paperback one and it fell apart, so we purchased a binder style one.

    I don’t cook. My husband goes away on occasional business trips, and one time when my son was 3, I tried making Kraft macaroni and cheese. The smoke detector went off and my son calmly went to the big window and opened it while I waved a towel.

    Now I just make soup and sandwiches. I commend your cooking wizardry.

  6. Sooboo

    With elderly people sometimes it’s enough to just get calories in them. There were many times my mom had just ice cream for lunch (she had Parkinson’s and had difficulty swallowing) and I do think it kept her going a bit longer. I love these posts so much because I have a lot of similar anxieties about different things and I gain a lot hearing your process of working through issues.

  7. Gigi

    I have that one too! It’s old and falling apart, but I’ll never get rid of it. I don’t cook, the Husband wears the chef hat in our house, but I use it for most of my baking.

  8. Jenny

    Being thanked does make such a difference.

    In the late 1990s, there was a show on Food TV called Door-Knock Dinners that featured a chef going to some busy family’s home, unannounced, and preparing dinner for them, using only what they had in their fridge and pantry at the moment. I used to daydream about what a chef would make for me, from my supplies, or what I would make if placed in this situation. It sounds as if you are doing exactly this (except for the unannounced part.) Yikes! And oh, you’re terrific.

  9. Nancy

    There was a BBC TV cooking program called Ready Steady Cook, where two people would each bring in a bag of ingredients, and two chefs would have half an hour to cook a meal using those ingredients plus a pantry of staples. It was a fun show.

    1. Teej

      I love this comment and Jenny’s above, as well. It seems like Swistle could watch some of these shows and current ones on Food Network, like Chopped, and call it professional development!

  10. liz

    What a great cookbook to bring! A lot of people who grew up in the US during the 50’s through 80’s has it (or Joy of Cooking), and so anything you make from it has a high chance of being familiar to them.

  11. Debra

    My sister and I cared for my father during his last few years and we were ALWAYS so grateful for the workers who helped us. I think it is so wonderful that you are trying this. It was so difficult to find kind, caring people who we could trust. We didn’t care if things were not done exactly as we would of done them. We did care that my father was treated with dignity and respect. I think you are probably awesome at this job, in spite of what you think.

  12. Eva

    I was also going to mention Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s too huge to lug around, but there’s also an iphone app so you can just have it in your phone (I know of course you can google recipes, but somehow to me, having 1 source is easier than infinite sources).

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