March 4, 2012

Catching up and Cookery Sunday: Thanksgiving Turkey Edition

The week didn’t start off as planned, my brain’s been a traitor and I keep having feelings, so I’ve been seeking asylum in food. It’s not quite so bad as eating to cope or anything like that. I just need an outlet whereby my brain can stop thinking on what it keeps focusing on. Thankfully, the internet in the form of creative cooking Twitter and blogger friends have been sharing some delightful food tidbits and I have been paying attention!

Also I cheated and bought premarinated bulgogi for dinner. It was expensive at $10 for 1.25 pounds but it was cheaper than going out, made two meals over two nights and was really fast prep. Sometimes cheaters don’t lose sleep at night over the cheating because it saved some time better spent on sleeping.

I did finally bite the bullet and order some shoes to try on, though, after hemming and hawing all week long. I hate shoe shopping and I hate wasting money but torturing myself with blisters and calluses is just plain stupid. With any luck, at least a couple pairs will be good and last several years.

Posts for Perusal

I’ve a hankering to try Frugal Scholar’s braised lamb shoulder. It just sounds fantastic. But the price of lamb at Trader Joe’s- $17.99/lb– had my already wobbly knees buckling. I didn’t try looking further.

SP is conducting a More Money, More Comfort, More Time? experiment with her shoes. Coincidentally my happy new flats from Aldo several months ago have also crapped out on me far earlier than I would have liked. They aren’t destroyed but they are now destroying my feet.  And with my new resolution to walk 2-3 times a week when the weather’s friendlier, I simply need to admit that adding the gel inserts and gritting my teeth through the weekly blisters is actually not a solution.

Nicole and Maggie reprise “You’re So Vain” in Some folks are easily offended.  Not everything is about you. I operate on the philosophy that very little is. If anything your feelings should be hurt about that. [tongue in cheek]

Well Heeled has conquered three business schools’s admissions offices but was tricked by the fine print on her financial aid offer letter. What have you got to ‘fess up to?

A Recipe

I’m feeling reminiscent of (craving) the awesome Thanksgiving Turkey I made, with a slight variation from this L.A. Times brining recipe. ie: I didn’t realize I should brine it overnight much less for three DAYs so it was brined for about three hours. Still delicious.

Served: 14 pounds, 2 greedy-faces, up to 5 days.

Dry-brined turkey

Total time: 2 hours, 50 minutes, plus 3 days brining and drying time
Servings: 11 to 15

Note: This is more a technique than a recipe. It makes a bird that has concentrated turkey flavor and fine, firm flesh and that is delicious as it is. But you can add other flavors as you wish. Minced rosemary would be a nice finishing addition. Or brush the bird lightly with butter before roasting.

1 (12- to 16-pound) turkey

Kosher salt

1. Wash the turkey inside and out, pat it dry and weigh it. Measure 1 tablespoon of salt into a bowl for every 5 pounds the turkey weighs (for a 15-pound turkey, you’d have 3 tablespoons).

2. Sprinkle the inside of the turkey lightly with salt. Place the turkey on its back and salt the breasts, concentrating the salt in the center, where the meat is thickest. You’ll probably use a little more than a tablespoon. It should look liberally seasoned, but not over-salted.

3. Turn the turkey on one side and sprinkle the entire side with salt, concentrating on the thigh. You should use a little less than a tablespoon. Flip the turkey over and do the same with the opposite side.

4. Place the turkey in a 2½-gallon sealable plastic bag, press out the air and seal tightly. Place the turkey breast-side up in the refrigerator. Chill for 3 days, turning it onto its breast for the last day.

5. Remove the turkey from the bag. There should be no salt visible on the surface, and the skin should be moist but not wet. Place the turkey breast-side up on a plate and refrigerate uncovered for at least 8 hours.

6. On the day it is to be cooked, remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

7. Place the turkey breast-side down on a roasting rack in a roasting pan; put it in the oven. After 30 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn the turkey over so the breast is facing up (it’s easiest to do this by hand, using kitchen towels or oven mitts).

8. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, return the turkey to the oven and roast until a thermometer inserted in the deepest part of the thigh, but not touching the bone, reads 165 degrees, about 2¾ hours total roasting.

9. Remove the turkey from the oven, transfer it to a warm platter or carving board; tent loosely with foil. Let stand at least 30 minutes to let the juices redistribute through the meat. Carve and serve.

November 22, 2011

My Brother’s Keeper

I keep thinking about Mom. But it’s taking days and weeks to form words, words into a sentence, then into coherence. I’m working. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of business. But at odd moments of the day, I keep thinking about Mom. But for now, that’s not where my words want to flow. Because they’re still swirling in my heart and my gut.  And that makes this other thing that I couldn’t write before emerge from the darkness.   

It was so much easier when I could just write him off as an egomaniacal selfish jerk. Not easy, mind.  Just easier.

I’ve long missed having a big brother, I missed having a full family (a real family), I missed having someone who remembered all the family secrets, to share the jokes, mimicry and stories. Just like I’ve missed having a mom. But this was easier. Easier because it was his choice. It was his loss. It was his fault. I had tried, you see. I had done the best I could with kind words, wheedling words, empathetic words, angry words, harsher actions, drawn lines in the sand, feet planted and stone in my heart.

I had failed, which wasn’t something I could really forgive myself for, but perhaps someday I could absolve myself of the responsibility of his life having gone the way of so many other wasted lives. Trying to accept the reality, trying to swallow my crackling bitter pride, I rehearsed the explanation to my future children, that they once had an uncle, I once had a brother, we were once great enemies and great pals, fanciful adventurers and creative plotters, but alas. It was complicated.  The explanation tilted and twirled, the questions bobbed to the surface, but why….? But how….? When did it go wrong?  Couldn’t you…?

But still. I could walk away into that future where I had no good explanation. I had to – if I wanted a future. For my health, my sanity. I had my parents to think of. My future family to tend to. It rent my heart but I had to leave a piece of my family and move forward.

And so my resolution was made to move my parents into a safer place as soon as I possibly could, leaving him to fend for himself.

***

Labor Day weekend, I visited my parents and my soul was pummeled with all the fury of great titans, passion worthy of Ali v Frazier. My brother, the jerk, my brother, the eldest son, my brother.

He was speaking gibberish, not just his usual castle in the sky and whistling in the wind, but true, delusional gibberish. And I knew that my secret fears that I’d never uttered aloud but once had begun to come true. He’d begun to spiral into some new world of his invention, one where he could teach animals speech and they’d speak back, and so he’d converse with them, and the furniture, and the buildings, at length.

And his dog watched him, with sad, sunken eyes. He knew. Loyal with every sinew, bone, and breath. But still even he knew, there was something terribly wrong.  And he looked at me with those sad eyes.

***

It’s been a terrible, horrible year for my Dad. But he’s borne it well, as well as he can. He carries the guilt of my mother’s illness and now, in part, her passing; the guilt of my brother’s failed life and the revelation of his instability and probable illness; my struggles of the past years and the extra burdens created by the concessions I made due to my brother and their inability to love him any less. All these, he carries as a shroud and as a shield.

He managed to start a small business several months ago, while juggling the care of my mother, driven by the need to alleviate my financial burden any small degree, and while he’s ready to take on the care and keeping of my brother as his next responsibility, I can’t allow that.

It’s not sensible, he doesn’t have the tools to deal with this, his role as a father isn’t the right or effective one to rein in or treat the madness.  But neither do I have the tools.  We need professional help and we need to learn from the past mistakes and not let him sink the rest of the family under the weight of this.

Most importantly, most selfishly, I need my Dad to stay well; he’s the last of my family. In a mass of hundreds of relatives – cousins and aunts and uncles – I only have one parent left.  He has to stay healthy and because of that, I have to become, once again, my brother’s keeper.

***

It’s certain as the full moon will wane that until he has some evaluation and/or treatment, my brother will not change for the better. So the first course of action will be to find out what options are for medical treatment out there that don’t involve beggaring ourselves. I’m not putting him above my new family, or my Dad, in this situation.

Next, he needs to be in a safe place to live NOT with Dad, and certainly not with us, but again, it cannot be by sacrificing anyone else. 

Because he’s sick, I will undertake the search for what options there are but this won’t be a quick process. He’s an adult, so that complicates things.  And money isn’t freely flowing around here, and he doesn’t get any special treatment. Unlike Mom, he didn’t earn the Anything Goes package even if I were made of money. He’s my brother but he was abominable when he had a choice. He’s my brother so I will look out for him if I can but there are absolutely limits.

May 8, 2011

How Much Help Should An Adult Child Give Parents?

I suppose this is a fitting enough post for Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day!

In the aftermath of my venting posts about my brother, The high costs of Parenting Fails, or a Bad Seed Part 1 and Part 2, I feel I did my parents a disservice.  In focusing on the mistakes that we made specific to my brother, I seem to have implied that my parents were a) ungrateful, and b) hadn’t done anything right.

Those two bits couldn’t be more wrong.

To compound the wrongness, some, especially after the Consumerist picked up the latter post, said I was asking the wrong question, that I ought to have asked how much I ought to be supporting my parents instead of how much parents should support their children.

To be clear, I wasn’t asking any question in the first place, I was just mad at my brother for being a clown.   

But if I were, my simple answer would be this: parents are to love their children completely and equip them with the skills they need to become fully functional, independent adults.  Many times, that will mean not just giving them things or money but rather imparting the knowledge of how to obtain those things. And the material support does have an end. The complicated answer is complicated.

Before I can answer the question of how much help this adult child should give her parents, I have to put in context this adult child and her parents as there were a number of assumptions drawn from the limited and rather irrelevant posts above.

Without getting into the details of their lives before us, some of which you can read here about my mom and a brief synopsis here, there was plenty that they did right and much they did to have inspired my desire to support them in return.

This isn’t a blind, enculturated sense of filial duty. Certainly it’s filial but it starts from the knowledge that they chose to sacrifice their established lives to come to a foreign country, learn a new language, and start over to give us a better shot at good lives. They could have stayed but instead chose to trade in their quality of life for an automatic “one up” for us. It was a roll of the dice whether their lives would improve or not since “Land of Opportunity” or not, life in America was equal parts luck (ill or good) and much hard work for the first wave of immigrants; we had relatives already in the States who could testify to the amount of work necessary to make it here. There was no such thing as an easy ride and they still chose to make the leap for us.

Making life even more challenging for themselves, they moved into a tiny predominantly Caucausian suburb instead of the established community enclaves, guaranteeing our better education and assimilation; the freeways creating concrete barriers between us and the vortices of gang violence developing in the LA/Orange County areas where much of our family had already settled.

Upon their arrival, my parents worked every single day, 14 -16 hour days. They never took a day off, never took a holiday and only alternated three vacations between the two of them in thirty years in order to do their duty in taking us home to meet our grandparents. We couldn’t afford those trips, of course but it was incredibly important for us to know them. We occasionally drove into the city on the weekend for a morning to run an errand as a family, but otherwise, my parents worked constantly to make the bills and send us to the best school possible. I never heard a single complaint, so I never knew this wasn’t “normal.”

During my teenage years, the hours actually got longer because they put my brother in private high school having seen one male cousin fall in with the wrong crowd at the public school and come to a tragically early end, planned to pay for our college education and ran two businesses to afford it all. They paid for music lessons and three sports of my choosing before my senior year of high school.

By the time everything started to unravel at the start of my college years, my parents had worn themselves to a thread giving us as much as they could.  That didn’t mean they’d given up, though.

Despite Grandma’s illness, living with us, bedridden, and in the past…
Despite Mom and Dad having to tend to her every day even though Mom herself was quite ill requiring surgeries and rounds of medications that weren’t working…
Despite the businesses going south between the embezzlement and the health problems…
Despite the remaining credit card debts from the business and taking us back to the old country to meet our grandparents…
Despite Dad’s inability to get a job due to a combination of ageism and a limited resume that only had “business owner” on it…
Despite Dad’s losing money on his attempts to make money which caused him to spiral into further depression…
Despite Dad’s particularly tough realizations that he’d spent our entire childhoods working only to have  his legacy for his family disappear and fear that he might well have lost his family into the bargain…

They still fought for their pride, for my sake, for our survival. Dad kept searching and digging, working odd jobs for old friends who would find something they needed his skills for.  Mom was willing to put up with the worst of environments as long as she was helping me with a bit of cash at month’s end.  They were driving themselves crazy (and me, into the bargain) for nearly nothing in return but to spare me an hour of work and I couldn’t stand it, so I took everything over.  But as long as they could, they tried.  We were at emotional cross purposes, all fighting, pulling each other away from our positions to protect one another from pain.

Of course they made mistakes. Desperate people make mistakes. Desperate people care.

Mom’s health deterioration was jagged.  Reduced to menial jobs, places where supervisors and coworkers were abusive, she was shorted on wages because her mental and physical health was diminishing in loops and fades; she couldn’t truly function or keep a job. Until I made her stop, she was taking every job she could secure. Even then she tried strongarming my dad into taking her to job interviews when I was away even though she wasn’t capable of working because she was so pained about my working such long hours.  She didn’t peacefully accept the loss of her functioning.

My parents are both very grateful to me for my help and communicate that.  I’ve no doubt of that just as they know I love them and will always care about them.  It may be a frustrating cognitive dissonance to know that and reconcile it with their actions toward my brother that ripple back to me.  But at the same time, I understand because just as much as they love me, they love him.  He is their child every bit as much as I am.

(More their child, ahem. Nope, not bitter, grumble grumble.)

In all seriousness, I love and respect my parents because for better or worse, they did the best they could with what they had.  They always strove to be strong and good people.  The choices and mistakes they made out of love for their other child that I disagree with doesn’t change the fact that they also raised and cared for me deeply and deserve to be well-cared for as best I can manage.  If the circumstances were different, if they were a bit less unlucky in their health and business manager (the thrice-cursed embezzler!), perhaps things would be different but that doesn’t necessarily follow that different is better.

Perhaps some people might say that having supported them for the past ten years as I have was too much and “enabling” but there’s a hugely important factor:  You can’t compare my brother to my parents because they are completely different people.

He might have worked all of three years in his total of 30+ years of life.  They’ve worked two lifetimes. He’s done little but been an influence in my life.  My parents both gave me life and nurtured me, succored me when I was ill, and would still do anything they could to ease my way now if they were able.

Supporting my brother would be enabling because he could, if he chose, find a way to earn a living and support himself. My mother is no longer medically able to care for herself or be independent and my dad has to care for her around the clock. Supporting them is a matter of their survival as the clock on their finding and holding jobs has long run out.

These past years have been challenging and I know it will take quite a lot more planning and resources to provide for them in their later years.  But it’s not really a question for me whether or not I’ll do it.

How I’ll manage it has been a question posed a time or two (thousand).

Getting them safely into a protected home environment where idio-sib can’t moosh in with them is only the first in many steps we’ll have to take to get there since living together’s not really an option.

Getting back to the question: how much should I (we) support them?  Well, no amount of money in the bank is worth the loss of my parents from my life, forgotten and uncared for. And PiC, bless his heart and soul, is on board even though I’ve only newly introduced him to Ship Support the Parents as it’s been such a private journey for so long.

Their basic needs will always be provided.  They won’t be living in luxury. I can’t afford that unless y’all decide I’m a genius blogger, share this with millions of your friends and I become the next dooce.com. Hardy-har. But they will live in safety. They will always have enough to eat. They should always have some form of safe transport and access to medical care.  The cost, even now, is stiff.  Each time a situation or a crisis arises, I have to evaluate the situation to see what can be afforded or what the right solution might be given the circumstances and the resources remaining for the year.  I hate that I can’t simply wave a wand or a card and throw money at the problems, sometimes.

They try to help in their own way, though I’d not asked for these things. They don’t go anywhere they don’t have to, unless it’s very local so as not to use gas, and they don’t go out to eat, ever. I think they’re doing their very best to show in their daily lives that they respect how hard I work to provide.

The cost in the future will be even higher so as ever, PlanningEarningSaving.  Investing. It all keeps the reality of needing a strong financial edifice at the forefront of my mind.

In the end, everyone has to answer this question for themselves in the context of their own lives and their own finances and their own relationships with whomever they may be called upon to support.

If they hadn’t raised me with love and respect, if they hadn’t treated me with so much care, humor and just plain sanity during my formative years so that for those brief moments before everything went to mush we had a great relationship, this would likely be a very different story.  And I know for many of you, or for many of the first time readers who came to the other posts, it is a different story.  That’s ok. It makes sense. This is what makes sense for us.

Posted in: budget busting, Budgeting, family challenges, plans

10 comments

April 19, 2011

The high costs of Parenting Fails, or a Bad Seed, Part 2

To continue my musings about the Monday incident, I was lucky enough that F wasn’t working on Monday so he, as one of my few IRL friends privy to the knowledge of my family, could talk through some of the boiling rage with me.

We both realized the two good things related to this incident.

First, thank all the things that I’m no longer living at home. I was so angry that I was literally dizzy, continuing to live in that just isn’t good.
Second, things like this used to happen regularly. They probably still are, but I’m not on every case. The last shenanigan I know about was when he brought home a stray puppy he couldn’t care for. Like a five year old, he let it romp all over the house, found out that it had parvo virus when it vomited & had diarrhea all over, shedding virus everywhere. His own puppy wasn’t even vaccinated. [See, irresponsible.] And he’d exposed my very old dog to it as well. While vaccinated, very old dogs can still have compromised immune systems. [See again, irresponsible.] He cried like a baby instead of dealing with it. Then ran to me to fix it. Of course.

While these specific things might not happen if I were home, I can’t be there all the time. The fact is, the occurrences that I still deal with are limited to those that wouldn’t happen if I were there, I haven’t been dealing with those Acts of Stupid that would happen no matter what. Selfishly, that’s much healthier for me.

***************************

I keep thinking about the original sacrifices my parents made, and where they made culturally-influenced choices. Somewhere along the way, they stopped making what I understood to be the truly loving choice, the hard or harsh-seeming choice despite the guilt and pain. This wasn’t something they shied away from when we were children, so I have to wonder, what changed?

From having to deal with him myself, I can only say that I think there were definitely times when my parents’ style in adulthood was and still is counterproductive to the situation. Giving him a helping hand is not helping him. It’s just enabling now.

For example, mostly from my dad, “We wouldn’t ever ask a child:
— to pay rent,
— to move out,
— to find another way to get to work/school/where they needed to go if they were in need.”

In essence, if they haven’t learned how to function independently or coping skills, they’ll never have to as long as we live.

That’s great from a purely selfish point of view: If I ever needed a hand, my dad would always be there for me. Fantastic. Of course, we all know that even though the offer is there, the most I’ll do is ask for home-cooked food. And I’ll pay for all the ingredients. Or a lift. He’ll get me from the airport.
But in the long run, that is also totally short-sighted. How up a creek would they be right now, or even five years ago, if I hadn’t figured it out? And of course it’s not just for the sake of reciprocity but good gravy, for the right (wrong) person, it’s a crippling approach!

From early on it was clear the sibling was a born spender, scammer and manipulator. At the age of 4, he would memorize the stories he heard in class to recite back to my mom as she was falling asleep listening when it was his time to practice reading so he didn’t have to actually read. He was essentially illiterate through third grade because he was such a good faker and she was exhausted going school and raising two kids. Until she figured it out and gave him what-for, and intensive lessons, he wasn’t going to learn how to read!

Growing up, his “entrepreneurship” was all about making a quick buck and he quickly became notorious for his involvement in MLM schemes because of the number of people he convinced to waste their money. Now he’s many times lazier. He expects praise for basic functions like managing to wake up on time in the morning without someone else waking him up. He’s 30-something!

In the entire time that my idiot sibling has lived under our roof – he has never been required to ante up for his fair share of rent, utilities, or any living expenses, he has never been told to move out and be an independent adult who can earn his own living and support himself as a result of not contributing. Basically, he has never been told he needed to grow the eff up according to any societal norms by my parents.

Certainly, neither have I. But is fairness really the measure by which we ought to be parenting?

Until I barred the door after he made the mistake of moving out, mentally inflating his ability to earn an independent living and screwed it up badly running up his debt on crap and going out with his friends, until he was evicted and had nowhere else to go; until then, there were no consequences for him for not growing up.

For us, though, the consequences of being soft, of being too kind, of being too something will be lifelong.

The consequences we’ll have to live with, for our sins:

Action:
Sending him to private school, nearly $10K per year.
Consequence:
They didn’t even try to fund retirement. He graduated but went on to do absolutely nothing with that expensive high school degree.

Action:
Funding his repeated attempts to attend college and after flunking out, community college.
Consequence:
Again, every penny on him. And as long as it was on someone else’s dime, it didn’t matter if he didn’t make it this time.

Action:
Not holding him financially accountable for running up household bills.
Consequence:
He learned to be wasteful and disrespectful of the resources in the household, and doesn’t contribute. He even had the nerve, when my mom was down to only $50 for her medical expenses, to take that money for himself.

Action:
Participating in his job search and subsequent jobbing as much or more than he does.
Consequence:
He just doesn’t appear to care if he has a job or not.

Action:
Letting him come back home after he’d left of his own accord.
Consequence:
Until I can move my parents out into a smaller home, I may well not be able to kick him out again. This is a reality I’m not happy with. I have no clue where he will go when we kick him out. That’s not my problem anymore. It can’t be. Fending for him well into his 30s should never have been the game plan because as long as we’re taking care of him, he is not taking care of himself. That’s just the way he operates and I can’t and won’t take away from my future family for his sake any longer.

Action:
My parents were always trying to save him at every juncture, no matter the cost.
Consequence:
I was the unintended sacrifice, and our relationship has suffered greatly because of it. I find it hard to relate to my parents as I once did, and I definitely don’t have a relationship with my brother anymore. But losing my brother isn’t really my parents’ fault.

*********************

This is on my mind more and more as I approach a major life change myself, as I plan my impending marriage, the formation of my own family and even the possibility of my own children. The challenges of parenting are not lost on me.

Was it that one size fits all, culturally-based parenting was a bad idea? Or was something that couldn’t have been helped? This stuff is insanely hard. I loved my brother so much that I nearly had an ulcer standing up to him. I can’t imagine what hells my mother went through. And is still going through. I ask myself every day if I would be strong enough to do what it takes to parent my own children? Especially with some chance that my children may inherit some genetic cocktail that produced him?

With him as an example, not being sure if strength, courage, tenacity and even ingenuity would have been enough to bring him into adulthood as a functioning and contributing member of society, I don’t know the answer to that question.

But in the aftermath of that Monday, I asked PiC if he could still love me if I put our child out on the street. If that’s what it took to get through to him or her.

And he said, If you could do it, of course.

It’s a question, I suppose, one must ask having been there and done that, but it should never get to that point, I should hope and pray. It shouldn’t have to get that bad. If we’d been doing our job before that, if we’d been parenting, and present, we shouldn’t, right?

One simply cannot know.

April 18, 2011

The high costs of Parenting Fails, or a Bad Seed, Part 1

A few Mondays ago, I wrassled a bear.  Mid-morning, I had a bit of a meltdown because my idiot sibling had:

1. only been employed 2 weeks since the last job which was countless months ago, before his car broke down and he ran to my dad for help.  Right.  He has no use for any of us, he can’t be bothered to lift a finger to pick up after himself or his dog or maintain basic cleanliness for the massive favor of letting him have a roof over his head for the nothing in return he’s been paying these several years, but the second he is inconvenienced, he runs to us expecting us to solve it.  Typical.

2. my dad makes a massively bad call. Because he can’t drive my idiot sibling to work himself – as if it was his problem in the first place – decides the only other option is to give him the car keys.  MY car keys. Not just my baby car that I slaved for three years to pay off early but the only car they have for transportation so don’t you think it would be wise not to give it to your historically-proven completely irresponsible son to: potentially wreck, lose, lend to his friends to go joy-riding in, never bring back whole??  [See, what a PITA it is to replace a perfectly good used car. See also, hard to find a good equivalent.]

3. Idiot sibling went on to prove that past history is indeed the best indicator of future performance:  gets nabbed by a random checkpoint for an expired license and carrying his martial arts gear in the car – which should never have been there in the first place if he was going to work and straight back home – got the car impounded and himself tossed in the clink for carrying “weapons.” It’s a grey area, but the city’s broke so before, when they would have said, carry it in the trunk (if he hadn’t been, I don’t know), off he goes.

4.  I was called Monday morning and asked to drop everything to get a letter notarized authorizing my dad to pick up the car because idiot sibling’s license is expired so he can’t pick it up.  A busyace Monday, and I’m supposed to drop everything to fix it because now, now we’re worried about having to pick up Mom’s medicine and not having a car to do it in. We didn’t think of that before lending idiot sib the car, of course.

[Insert **headsplosion**]

Following the clear-up, in one of three times in nearly 30 years, I had a nearly shouty conversation with my dad where I told him that this was totally unacceptable both on his and my idiot sibling’s parts.  The choice he made was wrong and in direct contradiction to his promise to me never to let my idiot sibling drive my car specifically because he cannot be trusted.

He continues to put us in untenable situations – and I will not be able to continue to bail them out for self-created poor problems. This has happened before, remember.  This saddens me.  I’ve never been mean to my poppa. Saying that stuff felt Mean. But it’s true.

*************************

Professionally, I simply cannot keep dropping everything for “family emergencies” when they are not justifiably emergencies.  A history of this will damage my credibility.  Considering how much I’m killing myself to support them, and I’m putting almost everything I have towards them, they should have a vested interest in stopping the madness.

Emotionally, I find myself wondering who they are now, and why I have no family anymore.  I had to cancel my trip home the following weekend.  I’m still upset with them and feel adrift.  Yes, I feel a strong sense of duty, but I don’t feel any sense of love, not from them anymore, I just feel like I’m a resource to be used.  F said I’m just an absentee parent to them now and I think he may be right. For all that they profess to love me, they only reach out to me as a resource when something has gone wrong. If I come home, I’m welcomed but we don’t have a connected relationship anymore.

Realistically, I disagree with the way the situation is handled.  Every single chance he has at learning to work and starts to flub it, my parents panic and try to salvage the opportunity.  That does not help him grow.

Yes, they are his parents, so yes, I understand they are afraid for his future.  But consider this: I have an equally, if not more, vested interest in his growth than they do – in theory, I should be living a far greater proportion of my life with him than they will.  And I too agonized with them over the future of my big brother as he made stupid choice after stupid, selfish, @$$holey choice.

The first thing he did in his first year of college was flunk out.  The first thing he did when I graduated high school and started college, other than sleep through my graduation, when my parents were flat broke and in debt, was run up a $900 phone bill.  It was all downhill from there.

When they handed the reins to me in “parenting” and specifically policing him seven years ago because they couldn’t make him listen anymore, when they asked me to take on the responsibility of dealing with him, I cried acidic, bitter tears. I had heartburn and couldn’t sleep for weeks. Even then I still desperately wanted my brother back but I knew, I knew without a doubt that he was gone. The person I was dealing with was only a few concessions away from using me the moment I let my guard down.  And then ultimately, I made the decision that he couldn’t come home and for a few months, he was on his own. When he was allowed back in, for the sake of my mother’s sanity, he knew I was serious, and toed the line.

For about a minute, it seemed.

As the sort that would take even when you hadn’t given an inch, he actually tried a bit in the beginning which was surprising. Paid up once a month for a while, a couple hundred dollars, on occasion, nothing that covered anything of his debt that he owed me, but it looked like a good faith effort.  Then it soured again.  I became a dunning agent and groundskeeper in addition to breadwinner, advocate, legal and IT.  He did nothing but skate in and out, eating and sleeping at will.

Getting him home was not the answer for Mom’s mental health either. She continued to deteriorate, she needed attention and affection from him, so she made me the enemy.  And she started undermining me, telling him when to break my rules because I wasn’t home, telling him it was ok to do whatever he wanted as long as my back was turned.

That was a blast.

I was not long out of college when this began in earnest.  I was working a new job with a two hour commute, working 12 and 14 hour days and resentful as all get out over him.  I used to have a big brother.  For a long time, I’ve only had an idiot sibling.

February 13, 2011

Parents: The top bread slice

On my last visit home, amid the other ramblings that have become the norm, my mom asked me an inevitable question: when are you moving me up to be close to you?

Ah yes, a mother’s love, powered by the unmatchable ability to fuel angst within the space of fifteen seconds.

Quite honestly, my answer had to be: I don’t know.

Even more honestly, I have no idea if that’s going to be the plan nor if I want it to be.

I recall, as a young kid, we used to jokingly debate as a family who would get to have my parents live with us when we kids got older and had our own homes. I always insisted that they would live with me, primarily, because I was an egotistical brat who was sure that I’d eventually grow up to be more successful than her older brother who had historically always kicked her butt at everything to date.  (It’s a shame that that pre-adolescent script actually played out to the extent that wherever I move my parents, I have no idea where he will live.)  

Now, though, moving my parents in with us, to a 2 bedroom apartment, though the financial savings might initially seem sensible, would probably not be a wise decision. 

To start off by being completely selfish, I need the distance for my sanity, at least for a while longer.  During the years of living with my parents through my twenties while I supported them because it was practical, despite the constant compromises and emotional churn, it took exiting the situation to appreciate the value of my own space.  Yes, the years of sucking it up yielded a fair measure of savings and stability, and gave me the foothold I needed to take the next step in my career. But I’m now not willing to give up the peace that half a state’s distance buys. 

Practicality plays a role

I didn’t need to move to the Bay Area to confirm that the cost of living truly is, even for a diehard budgeter like me, much higher than it is where they live now. 

A big part of why she wants to move up is because she misses me.  Moving her up here for that reason, though, doesn’t really make the most sense.  I’m still going to be working at least 40 hour weeks, probably 50 or more, and I’m not going to be around to spend time with her the way she imagines.  PiC won’t be either. 

Moving her up here also means moving her and Dad away from all their existing support network, such as it is.  All our family and their friends are down there.  Even though she may have alienated most of them through her behaviors, they’re still supportive in other ways and try to help my dad out when and if they can. 

What she truly needs is more round-the-clock medical care and attention than my dad, or we, can provide, and just being around us isn’t sufficient. In fact, the area we currently live in isn’t terribly safe and we don’t have understanding neighbors who are willing to look out for her and bring her home when she pulls a disappearing act.  

Rationally, the sum result of moving them up here would probably be negative all around. 

And still, without a doubt, the moment she finds out we have a guest room, she’s going to plead with us to be allowed to live with us. 

What would you do?

In Asian cultures, it’s been quite normal for the older generation to assume that they’ll live with their children when they become less able to live independently. 

In American culture, it’s much less common for the older generation to take it for granted that the younger generation will move them in when the time comes.  However, the Sandwich Generation has certainly experienced a great deal of the stresses associated with the care of their parents even without having to share a roof. 

Having grown up in a rather traditional household, I always assumed my decisions would be wholly informed by those traditions but they’re being vastly molded by the pressures of today’s economic and practical realities. 

I know what my dad prefers – the cheapest possible option that causes me the least burden, and I know what I want for them – the safest and most attentive care, and we have to find a compromise that is safe and affordable. 

Do you have a plan for when your parents reach a point when they’re no longer able to care for themselves?  Have they already discussed with you their preferences and how to achieve them?  Are you already dealing with anything like this with your parents?

November 25, 2010

An Orphan Thanksgiving

Having seen PiC off to the airport, my hometown friend D and I are spending a quiet Thanksgiving weekend together in the Bay Area without our families because making our ways back to Southern California just wasn’t in the cards for either of us. His reasons are his own and not mine to share, but mine are, of course, not precisely a secret.

Since moving away, I’ve been a mess of conflict struggling to remain a dutiful daughter from hundreds of miles away; fighting to establish my place in a new job, and adjusting to a new home and shifting relationship dynamics. 

For the first time in four years, PiC and I are in the same city all the time. We pick up the phone and schedule a shared commute, shared dinner plans, shared grocery shopping and budget. In most ways, it’s nearly been seamless. In others, we’ve picked up our bones of contention and sparred a few rounds. At the end of the day, it’s all worked out and I’m more grateful than ever that this was the end to my almost year-long stint of unemployment.  It was horribly nerve-wracking at the time, and could have been the biggest mistake ever, but so far, it’s been a huge support.

Conversely, however, for the first time in my life, I don’t live steeped entirely and totally in the family stress.  And so in a strange turn of dis-inoculation, perhaps call it weakening by means of detoxification, my spirit quails at the thought of venturing back into the fray, each and every time.  Every visit has been emotionally fraught, always including fights with the sibling when we run into each other, the heartwrenching sag in my mom’s cheeks, left behind from her stroke-like episodes in 2008 and other small signs of disrepair in my former home and crumbling family foundations.
 
After several rounds of trying to walk it off, and playing the stiff upper lip game, it was time to admit defeat. I simply couldn’t face it again this weekend, not this holiday weekend when the expectations of family are at a near all-time high. I just didn’t have the strength to pull a shroud around my soul again, and I don’t have the ability to pretend that that is business as usual. Until I have taken steps to get my parents out of their living situation and dealt with my feelings of guilt for “abandoning” them, I need to keep my physical distance for a while longer. 

While I wasn’t totally happy with the decision, I haven’t had any nightmares since deciding to stay in town for the weekend.  And with a friend to keep me company, I’ll actually cook dinner to eat while reading comics all day. It’s probably the best decision for me right now, and it’s about time I learned how to make those kinds of decisions in addition to taking care of everything and everyone else.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and a wonderful weekend to everyone else!  I hope you’re enjoying peace, quiet, and comfort and remember all the blessings we have in our lives.  I hope you’re able to do that every day, regardless of the season.

Thanks to all you faithful friends and readers for being there in the virtual world and in some cases, in real life as well. I’m grateful for everyone’s support, online and off, you’ve made the journey this far so much more positive and even enjoyable than it was when I was just a young pup struggling to make ends meet with my minimum wage job and a checkbook.

<3 

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