When I was a young boy, my father—who died suddenly from a heart attack when I was 11—would often say, facetiously, "Only the good die young; your mother will live to be 100."
I'm often reminded of how prescient he was. Because, decades later, the nuclear football with an undiagnosed personality disorder (aka Mom) is humming along in South Florida at the ripe old age of 87. And she shows no signs of physically breaking down. After smoking cigarettes for six decades, her lungs are clear, and after drinking a daily bottle of Campari between the hours of noon and pass out, her liver is what her doctor calls "a wonderful anomaly." She can remember how much she spent per hour on therapy for each of her children, and if a neighbor slighted her in the '70s, my mother will still scan the obituaries, her eyes glistening with hope.
I'm the youngest of five children, with four older sisters, ranging in age from 61 to me, 47. I'm unmarried, without kids, a spare bedroom or a robust 401k. I can't cook, don't clean and work in an industry that keeps me coming and going at odd hours. I still dress like I'm 12 years old. I'm a more likely a candidate to move into the Kardashians' Calabasas compound than my mother is to move in with me.
And yet, the threat hangs there, as my mother has recently been making noise about moving up north to spend more time "enjoying" her kids and grandkids. Which is a threat akin to Donald Trump saying he would be "sooooo good for the blacks." You're not even sure they believe it themselves.
Here's the thing: I love my mother and—to differing extents—so do my siblings. But none of us wants her to move in with us. Or, frankly, close to us. She has her good points: fertility, obviously, but also she never forgets a birthday and can make a teeth-rattlingly good cosmopolitan. She's the life of any party that doesn't involve us and her friends will testify to her generosity and congeniality—traits she has passed on to about 66 percent of us.
But the painful truth is, somewhere around the time my dad died, she became a pretty lousy mother. She began lying to us about anything and everything. She sold our childhood home, took the life insurance money, married some sort of human-animal hybrid and deserted us to enjoy her "golden years" down south while we were left to fend for ourselves.
She was 42.
And so, 10 years later, when the money ran out (which it inevitably does) and her husband died (ditto), she came back to the fold, and we began sending her a stipend every other month to support the lifestyle that she'd grown accustomed to. Even though I had put myself through high school by cutting lawns and college by working at a car wash with grown men that smoked angel dust, I dutifully fell in line. At no time, however, did we discuss her moving in with any of us.
We were like a pitching rotation, my sisters and I, taking turns throwing money instead of attention at her—and both camps were fine with the nature of this arrangement. But it was like buying a large-screen TV on layaway: Some day, the bill was going to come due.
Fast-forward three decades: As is common in big families, some of us are doing better financially than others, and so this has become a more painful than necessary exercise. Somehow, I became the subject of my siblings' ire since I have bulletproofed my life sufficiently to avoid Mom's eventual arrival. My eldest sister privately expressed admiration for my life choices—as if they were some kind of secret plan to exist somewhere between achieving and underachieving. (Her husband and my mother have a relationship akin to Godzilla and Mothra, so she knows she's also an unlikely caregiver.)
My youngest sister, the panicky one, immediately organized a conference call, which went about as well as a G-8 Summit meeting if everyone was a meth addict.
"You never do ANYTHING!" she blurted, shaking an imaginary finger at me. "It's because you're a guy and don't think she's your responsibility."
I told her that I do many things: I like watching football, I'm very active on social media and I read two books per week. (Just to piss her off.) Then I responded: "What exactly do you want me to do? Get bunk beds?"
We played verbal hot potato for another 15 minutes before hanging up, no closer to a resolution.
But we've reach a point where money cannot solve the problem we face. Troublingly, my mother began to ask last February for winter clothing for this Christmas. She has begun to curate a laundry list of ailments—ranging from "lady cancer" to "my ear hurts." I used to say, "All mom wants for Christmas is a broken hip" and I'm not entirely joking.
The problem is that she has become a very accomplished liar. More than once, one of us would fly down to talk to her doctor, who would be amazed that she was doing so well. Her mother lived until 103, as did her grandmother. For better or worse, we are staring down the barrel of another decade.
And so we came to a group decision and gave our mother two choices: Either she could have a healthcare professional move in with her, or she could move into an assisted living facility.
Since I'm the least attached (my therapist agreed), I called her to discuss the options. After a few minutes of small talk, I laid out the choices, emphasizing the best possible outcome: "We'll visit you! A lot!" I squeaked.
I began spinning like a campaign manager after a debate, trying to sell her on the idea.
"No chance," she told me, with some hostility. "I will live with one of you the way my mother and your father's mother—that piece of work—lived with us. End of discussion. And ... shame on you."
In other words, she gave birth to us and so she should be able to dictate how she spends her last few years. And how she wanted to spend them was living with each of us for a few months of the year. One would think her parental rights expired years ago—and by one, I mean five—and yet our Catholic upbringing has created millstones of guilt around our necks, some heavier than others.
My siblings and I are convening a summit in two weeks to discuss next steps. As with every situation that involves money, the more of it we can spend, the "better" her experience will be. I offered to do the research and that's exactly what I'll do after I finish writing this.
But I know enough to know that at the end of this exercise, my burden will be lighter than the others'. That's their fault for having families and money and stuff.
Although, as I found out on the phone, I may be a little delusional because these were my oldest sister's parting words to me: "Don't dress like a fucking hobo this time! You're not in the clear."
"You sound just like Mom," I responded, before hanging up.