Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thoughts on the prospect of living with my mom

Cathy has long known that I hope to one day move my mother stateside to live next to me. I have some dreams and some concerns on how this may work out.

We have lived in a triplex before and that worked well for us. I can envision purchasing a triplex or a quad, with Cathy and I in one unit, my mother in another, and Rhona and Dave (Cathy's mom and her husband) in the other. One big happy family, but each with their own space. I would convert a space for Cathy's studio, and life would be perfect.

I don't think we could pull this off financially, except that my mom has two sources of retirement income and would be willing to help, like praying rent. Rhonda and Dave would do the same, so our payments on the property should be quite manageable.

California is just too expensive. I would love to enjoy all that the Golden State has to offer, except the taxes and the deficit. Perhaps the Joneses would have to move to somewhere like Georgia. My employer has an office and they were quite positive about the prospect of a transfer. Dave already wants to move there and Cathy has family out there. I would simply acclimate.

Culturally, Cathy and I would learn to fit in, and we would have help from family. I am mostly concerned with climate and finances. I think we are spoiled by California's temperate seasons, and real weather and seasons would take some getting used to. However, I think we are up to the task.

Very little of concern has crossed my mind in regards to living with Rhonda and Dave. After all, we lived with Cathy's mom in our house for 10 of the first 12 years of our marriage. We got along. Dave takes good care of her, and he is a good man.

Most of my concerns stem from my mother's expectations of living with me, as I do not believe she realizes that I, her son, am American. That may sound strange, but though I grew up in Taiwan in a Chinese culture and environment, my mother had far less influence on me than my late (and great) father. My father took great care in preparing me to go home to America; I do not think he intended for me to stay in Taiwan, as he always spoke of my presence there as visits. I wish he had moved back here with my mother, but dad loved her too much to take her away from a familiar and stable life.

Common practice among American families is for the patents to prepare for their own retirement. My dad did so to some extent, and my mother has always relied upon my father's plans. He did not intent to die so soon, as his plans assumed my mother's eligibility for social security. We did get that all sorted out, but it was not an easy couple of years, particularly for my mother.

Common practice among the Chinese people of Taiwan is for the parents to move in with the children. Further back, it was multi-generation families, where the son builds an addition to the shared structure of the growing house for his new family. Now, with land at a premium, parents move in with a child. I joke about how the Chinese 401(k) plan is to have four or more children. Unfortunately, my mother's portfolio is not very diverse, so we find ourselves with a single long-term investment.

Although I consider myself a Chinese American, the "Chinese" part is the modifier, and "American" is the primary aspect of my national, cultural identity. Sure, the Chinese part is important, but it isn't as important as I believe my mother likely thinks.

If she is to move here and live with us, my mother will need to understand that she'll be living with her American son and his American wife. We will need our own space, and while I would see her almost daily, my life will not revolve around her. And, as an American male, the thought of having two women trying to share a kitchen (again) is simply off the table; it didn't work with Cathy and her mom, so it certainly isn't going to work with her foreign mother-in-law.

Within the landscape of my mother's imagination, I believe she envisions living in the same house, walking the same halls, and sharing every meal with me. When she speaks of the future, she does not picture Cathy, merely how mom and I will relate to each other, with Cathy in the backdrop of the scene. Those who know me know that Cathy and I are rarely separated. It is of growing concern that my mother has had no way to learn of this or experience this, and she does not seem to grasp it when I tell her in letters and photos.

A language barrier has grown quietly but steadily over the years between my mother and myself. My Mandarin is not what it used to be as those language and vocabulary muscles have atrophied. My mother's somewhat limited English has begun to deteriorate in my father's absence. Particularly challenging is the fact that I have only lately come to this realization. Without my father to mediate and bridge the gaps of our communication, my mother and I say less and less that the other actually understands.

We have perhaps two years (three tops) of time to prepare for my mother's intersection with our life. I must find a way to make clear what our new arrangement may entail, the commitments I am willing to make and what I am unwilling to sacrifice. How shall I get an accurate picture of what mom expects, and how do I best honor her in her old age? I do not know, but I believe I shall pray for inspiration. And I suppose I should begin brushing up on Chinese.

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