A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?
If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here
No. 2: Bored Meeting
My mother, 95, is going to move in with us. It’s a question of when, not if, according to Wife. I am not as sure as she is. Mother actually hasn’t said she wants to move in. But Wife hasn’t made a mistake this decade, so I’m following her instruction to ‘get on with the planning’. I create a folder on the Mac called ‘Moving Mum’ and start the serious work of researching. First, I canvas friends.
‘Don’t do it,’ says one. ‘Living with my grandmother ruined my teenage years. Think of the children.’
‘Think of your marriage,’ says another.
A third talks of a scheme, which would move Mother ‘offshore’ allowing her to avoid tax and us any form of traditional family responsibility. But, as it involves moving to India, I’m certain it’s a non-starter from Mother’s perspective.
At the end of a week’s research, I’ve made a word cloud from the feedback: challenging, unsettling, disruptive, difficult and dilemma are commonly used. But the most popular word is ‘Umm’. This comes from friends either dumbfounded by the concept of inter-generational living or too polite to say they think we’re nuts. Either way, ‘umm’ is a useful word only when meditating.
Some things are clearer, though. Mother has too much money to qualify for much help from the State and too little to afford private care or assisted living for long. Moving in with us looks like her and our only realistic financial option right now.
I want to share my research findings with the Family. So, I call a Family Board Meeting which are usually reserved for major decisions like ‘Where to go on Holiday?’ or ‘Should we re-subscribe to Netflix, again?’
‘I want all of you to buy into this,’ I say earnestly. ‘Nobody leaves this table feeling disenfranchised. All for one and one for all is the family motto, after all.’
Their sighs suggest I’m losing them already.
‘We’re going to start an experiment in inter-generational living. Granny is moving in. We just don’t know when. This is what Donald Rumsfeld would call a known unknown. ‘
‘Who is Donald Rumsfeld?’ asks Daughter.
Wife lowers her eyes and shakes her head. I am not sure which she despairs of more, my analogy or her daughter’s political ignorance. I re-explain the situation.
‘I’m abroad next year,’ says Daughter, a language undergraduate. ‘So, I’m not bothered. But morally, this is the right thing to do. As long as she doesn’t get my bedroom, of course.’
‘Granny watches TV all day. What if I want to play Fortnite and she wants to watch one of her old movies on London Live?’ asks Son.
He’s put his finger on one of the pinch points in the plan: who controls the TV. A shiver of uncertainty runs through the room.
‘She must have her own TV,’ says Wife, definitively. ‘Possibly, two. In her bedroom and downstairs.’
Immediately, everyone chills.
‘I’m OK with the plan, then,’ says Son. ‘But I’m worried about the Cat. She’s always prodding him with her stick. He may object, especially if he hasn’t been consulted.’
Son is pro animal rights, localism and participative democracy. He may be serious or he may be winding me up. Either way, this is not the time to get distracted by a complex philosophical and political issue, so I press on.
‘Great. That’s the principle sorted. Now, let me take you through the detail.’
‘Detail? Yawn! Board Meeting Not Bored Meeting, Dad. You and Mum are here to sort the details out. Come back to us if you hit a strategic impasse,’ says Daughter.
As she leaves, the Cat comes in.
‘Let me handle this,’ says Son. ‘I’ll explain to him that while he didn’t get a formal vote, his views were fully considered. he trusts me. He’ll be fine with it, eventually.’
First published in Age Space
Read more blogs by James Thellusson
Read the next in the series – Chapter 3: The Tardis
Read the previous one – Chapter 1: The Letter
See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here
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