I mentioned earlier in the week that a family member needs to make a decision. It’s my mom— her landlord died and the landlord’s heirs are (eventually, not immediately) selling the apartment she lives in. They’ve offered her a deal on it as is, or they’ll redo it after she leaves and resell it. Mom needs to decide whether to buy the apartment, find another apartment, buy or rent somewhere else.
A year or so after my dad died, the brother with whom she was living let mom know that they thought it was time she found somewhere else to live. Not in a rushed or unloving way, but no one thought that was a forever situation, and he acknowledged it. In the space thereafter, I went to her and said “Mom, I think you’re waiting for me to say ‘let’s get a place together,’ and you need to know that as much as I love you, that’s not what I think we should do. We could totally make it work, but what that would mostly look like is me cutting off the parts of myself that don’t work in that situation, and I don’t think that’s the right answer for me. So you need to know I love you and I’ll make sure you get to the grocery store and church and things if you want to live in my neighborhood, but I think we each need our own roof.”
It was incredibly hard to say, and I was very blessed by how well she took it. She went to live with another brother in another state for about five years, then moved back here and stayed with me for a few months while she found the apartment she lives in now. She’s down the street from me in a retirement community. And I’ve been incredibly blessed by how well she’s done on her own. She had never lived on her own before— she went from her mother’s house to my father’s house, then from one of my brothers to another. She’s made friends, gotten comfortable living alone, settled into her own routine.
When we heard her landlord had died, we hoped that the heirs, who’ve really managed the tenancy with mom for the most part, would just keep it up. They have a nice relationship, she’s a good tenant. When we heard earlier this week that they had decided to sell, Mom was in a panic and I was filled with a spirit of dread. I knew living together was going to come up again. But when I let myself think about it, things look different from where I am. Mom has done well on her own, but we’ve had a couple of health crises, and it has been difficult for me to handle things for her— helping her manage mail and things at her apartment while she was in the hospital for an extended period added to the complexity of my situation quite a bit. She fell and bruised her ribs just before Thanksgiving, and helping her with that was challenging. Keeping my own plates spinning is challenging. When I add hers plus those of her household, it gets pretty crazy.
Whether either of us wants to admit it or not, chances are good that things like that will happen more as she ages. And there’s a point at which it’s going to make more sense for her to have help— either in assisted living or with me. So, given that a change is probably inevitable, is now the time for it?
I’ve been thinking about it on my own, but mom raised it last night at dinner. And I surprised myself by letting her know I was thinking about it too. In addition to benefits to her, if we bought a place together, it could take some pressure off me. We could get a place with a yard, where the dog could hang out in the sunshine most of the day, and I might not have to do the crazy run-home-at-lunch thing. If I didn’t have sole responsibility for all the housework— if we could share that, I might not find it so overwhelming (and she’s pretty good about that— better than I am, anyway.) I’m spending three nights a week with her minimum, anyway, plus I’m her first line of defense for things that break. That’s a thing that doesn’t make sense about her living anywhere else— she can’t manage all of the home maintenance. Neither can I, but between her ability to call a repairman and be there when he arrives and my ability to take care of little things that break, we could be a better combo. I could shampoo just the one set of carpets, we could pay just one exhorbitant cable bill… She also mentioned other ideas I’d be good with— getting a duplex and her taking one half and my taking another, or getting a place we could easily create our own zones in. Our own zones is a key concept, no matter what.
Let’s not kid ourselves— there are downsides, too. One of the reasons that I didn’t want to do it 10 years ago was because when I thought about it, I thought that if I did it, it meant I’d have to give up on my dreams of being married and having children. I still don’t want to give up on those dreams, and “I live with my mother” is a not insubstantial challenge to them. But what I’ve realized about that is that the guys I’ve been dating are the kinds of guys who’d be scared off from that situation. And the kinds of guys who wouldn’t be scared off from that situation? Are probably the kinds of guys I should be dating. The guys I’ve dated have wanted to keep our relationship in a box. No meeting my family and friends, no my meeting theirs. The guy I was most serious with was good with my meeting his family, but extremely reticent to meet mine. I get it, I do— we all get our full quota of family drama, and the prospect of doubling it is daunting. But I don’t want to date in a box. I want someone who wants me, family and all. In the back of my mind, I always thought I’d get married, and at some point, she’d probably need to live with my husband and kids and me. And I always hoped that I’d find a guy for whom that would not be a deal-breaker, because I feel pretty strongly that I’m called to be there with her toward the end of her life. That I don’t want her to walk that road feeling alone. If she were inclined toward remarriage, I’d love to see that happen for her, but she’s not. I’m not saying that I’d move her in right away, or that she’d come on my honeymoon with me, but let’s not pretend that she’s less than an important part of my life. The last guy lived with his brother and across the street from his parents (with whom he ate every home-cooked meal I wasn’t preparing), was talking about marrying me, and we still never met each other’s people. Hello, tip off.
Plus there’s the thing that I’ve seen play out in both of the “living with her kids” situations I’ve observed, which is that the women get locked in a power struggle. I think that’s a real danger with us. But the truth is that I’ve gotten stronger over the last 10 years. Like a lot stronger. I don’t need to be in power in every area, but 10 years ago, in this situation, I would have just preemptively surrendered, to keep the peace. But I’ve spent the last 10 years (and especially the last 5) learning how to look her in the eye and tell her uncomfortable things. And our relationship is better for it. I’ll need to commit to doing that very intentionally, if this is the road we walk down.
And there’s the stress of getting my condo ready to sell, which will not be inconsiderable. Beyond moving us both, the logistics of which will almost certainly fall to me, I’ll need to get my house in apple pie order (not my long suit), fix things that have been broken for the entirety of the time I’ve lived there (time to get that plumbing problem actually resolved) and that have broken along the way, plus do things like figure out how to do a carpet allowance (there’s no point in me putting carpet in while I still live there with the incredible vomiting cat, the other cat, and the puppy). Plus, my mom has a good friend whose husband is a realtor but I really like and trust my realtor… first world problems, right?
This is still something we’re thinking and praying about, both of us. It’s by no means a done deal. But last night, I looked at houses in our area, and I found one that seems great, and affordable for what we could spend. And in my head, I’m decorating and planting a garden. Like in the ground, a garden. And composting, but not in the tiny “I have no land” way. My overwhelming response to this whole idea, riddled with challenges as it is, has been huge relief, in a time when I feel entirely overwhelmed by the smallest thing. And I think that is telling.