Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#Author #Interview Trading Places

Trading Places: Becoming My Mother's MotherBy Sandra Bullock Smith

Genre: Memoir

Book Description
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.

                     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.


“No. Cashews.”

“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.


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.

1. Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother is such a clever title. I find myself in that same space. How difficult was it for you to write this story?

I was usually either writing and crying or writing and laughing. These are very personal stories so for me, it was scary putting them out there. But I knew these stories would help others.

2. I’m often baffled by how one woman (a mother) can raise several children with seemingly ease, and yet, when the roles are reversed, the children can’t always agree on how best to take care of an aging parent. Or, there’s one sibling that gets stuck with the job because the siblings feel they have a life, as if you don’t. Did you experience those challenges with your own siblings?

Of the five children in our family, three were very engaged with caring for Mom and two were not. The three of us who shared the majority of the caregiving duties found a lot of common ground in the decision making process relative to Mom’s care. When we disagreed, we talked it out until we came to an agreement. I was the ultimate decision maker but I felt I knew what Mom would do if she was making the decision. That made it easier. It was really easy to get mad at the other two siblings when they didn’t step up and help. I decided early on though that being mad at them was a waste of emotional energy. And I had none to waste.

3. How long did it take you to write Trading Places: Becoming My Mother’s Mother, such a personal and touching story? 

I wrote the book over the course of five years or so. I didn’t start out with the idea of writing a book so I wasn’t on a mission to complete it. When I decided to turn it into a book, I knew I wouldn’t publish it until Mom passed away. So really the bulk of the writing and editing was done in the last year of her life.

4. Did you have your family’s support in writing your story?

I shared a lot of the early writing with my sister Sarah, who shared a lot of the caregiving duties with me. When I finished the book and shared it with the rest of my siblings, they were enthusiastically supportive. I also have a large extended family of cousins and they made me feel like a celebrity. 

5. What is your ideal adventure?

My ideal adventure is backpacking to a remote cabin and living off the grid for several days – hiking and fishing. I love disconnecting from the real world and as long as I have cell service, I don’t do that. Waking up in a high mountain meadow is a real treat.

6. What was the hardest part of your job being a Human Resources Executive?

I am retired from my HR job, but without a doubt the hardest part of the job was handling people problems. The company I worked for had 1500 employees. Just when you thought you had dealt with every conceivable issue, someone came up with a new one. You have to be able to make calculated judgments quickly and fairly. 

7. Where did you grow up in Florida, and do you miss your hometown?

I grew up in northwest Florida in a small town. Shalimar, FL is adjacent to Eglin Air Force Base and just over the bridge from Destin, FL. Some of my family still live there. I visit a few times a year because I miss Florida and I miss my family. Even though Mom isn’t with us any more, we still get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can never have enough family time.

8. Can you tell our readers some of the places you visited? 

I am fortunate to have traveled to every continent on this amazing planet. My favorite places so far have been Antarctica, New Zealand, South Africa and China. In the US, it’s hard to beat Alaska, where I go to fish every year and Colorado which is my favorite state for hiking. The best place in the world to eat is New Orleans, LA.

9. When writing, do you have a specific place you like to visit to get your mind in the mood?

I write better when I can either be outdoors or see outside. It’s the place that makes me happiest so I guess that’s why I write better when I am under its influence.

10. Are you content in your life? Do you have any regrets?

I am very content in my life. I believe in being happy and looking for the silver lining in any situation. I like to challenge myself and I’m always looking for new ways to do that. I don’t have any major regrets. I sometimes find a new experience and wish I had found it earlier in life. Kayaking, for example.

11. Is this your first novel you’ve written?

Yes, this is my first novel. I have a couple more I’d like to write. I’d like to try to finish a fiction/thriller I started several years ago. But publishing Trading Places made me realize that the fiction book needs more of a hook that what it currently has. So when I find a really good angle for that story I will work on it. I am also writing a book on crewing for ultra runners. My husband is an ultra runner and it’s a sport that is growing like crazy. I’ve been crewing for years and would like to share my expertise with crews who are new to the sport. That book will be for a very small niche.

12. If we could be a passenger in your vehicle, what type of music would we be listening to?

My friends are amazed at the diversity of music in my car. You might hear Twenty One Pilots or Patsy Cline. Metallica or Burl Ives. Eminem or Dwight Yoakam. I will always surprise you with my music. But variety is the spice of life!

A woman after my own heart!  I'm truly a music lover.  I love something out of every genre. This book is a must read, and I'm adding it to my shelf.  The thought of role reversal scares me, but one I know I must embrace.  This is a subject that all of us will face at one time or another in our lives. I enjoy learning how people deal with their life's challenges.  Sandra, thank you so much for dropping by and allowing us a personal glimpse into your life.  We at Mello & June wish you the absolute best and please feel free to stop by anytime.  God Bless. Thank you for writing your story!


Twitter: @SBSmithauthor



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Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet/Reviewer

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