I Am 60 Going On 16

Dear Advice,
My mother is having a major milestone birthday this year, turning 60. For a while she has been saying she wants to go do this weeklong thing in Europe, then she started saying she actually wanted me and my sister to come with, that she was trying to find a way to afford this trip that would be like $18,000 all in. It was a vague request and admittedly a bit of a pipe dream–she just bought a house and said she can’t afford it. My sister (and her boyfriend) just bought their first house that is requiring a gut rehab that was not entirely anticipated. I have no money to spare for my own reasons and can swing maybe $600ish. My mom then decided we should try for Mexico instead that it would be cheaper, starts email us ideas. Mind you, by this point, both my sister and I have made clear neither of us can afford any trips even for ourselves–and suggestions that wemaybe plan for this for a year or two from now and just do something special on a smaller scale this summer–i.e. throw a party. Any attempts at real talk get nowhere.

Then, so, a few days after all of this, she posts on Facebook about how her daughters want to take her to Mexico for her birthday, do something special does anyone have any suggestions of where to go?I was flummoxed, but my sister straight up dialed my mom direct and was like WTF does this even mean? My mom was saying she was seeing if maybe someone she knew had a time share they’d offer for cheap or free–but was super defensive style–if thats what she REALLY wanted she could have just as easily posted “anyone have a timeshare in Mexico for cheap?” So, it’s become kind of obvious, through this and some other things, her fantasy includes us paying for the trip. Which is really profoundly awkward, because either we knowingly disappoint her or we go into debt, find some financing from an Angel Investor or something.

Meanwhile, my sister’s amazing boyfriend has been religiously socking away a little savings, for him and my sister, so they could do something “fun” at some point to get away from this nightmare house. He would literally do anything in the world to make my sister happy and so he offered to empty the savings to buy my mom whatever kind of trip, domestically, that they could swing in part because his mom is dead and if she were alive he would have liked to do something like that for her. Which just made me sob. I do not want to let him/them do that–I feel like it’s morally wrong to let them do that just because my mom is being overbearing and acting like she is turning 15, not 60. Do I put my foot down with her and say “tough titty, birthday budget is $1000, deal with it.”?

Thoughts?/Sorry this question is so epic.

“Worst Birthday Ever”,
Justin Beiber


I hate awkward parent stuff. I hate it! I feel for you and your sister.

Your mom is having this milestone in her life–a milestone we can’t really imagine yet, you know, I’m just starting to feel weird about 40–and admittedly the fantasy of her loving daughters taking her on a fun girl’s weekend to Paris or whatever does sound nice. But it’s a fantasy, and as adults we have to at least make a good faith effort not to act as though our fantasies are reasonable. I want Daniel Craig to declare his undying physical passion for me but it’s not gonna happen, and I’m not gonna post on Facebook about how it’s gonna happen in a vain attempt to MAKE it happen. We must marshall our fantasies and face reality with a smile. Your mom’s daughters are broke-ass 21st century 30-somethings. This is not an age when anyone can take their mom to Paris/Mexico/whatever. If you were Don Draper, sure, that would be a nice thing to do, but you’re not, and you aren’t going to be. Your mom, like moms everywhere, needs to realize who her children actually are rather than who she thinks they ought to be (millionaires?).

I think your call about acting like she’s turning 16 is pretty good. She’s passive aggressively trying to make her personal milestone a bigger deal to you guys than you are able to contend with, financially, and that is rude. She’s probably just weirded out by turning 60, which is totally fair. Handle her with love and gentleness.

Sometimes when my mom gets a weird bug up her butt about something unrealistic I remind myself of how kindly and lovingly and non-judgmentally she managed me when I was a teenager. I think the more grownup we get the more we should try to remember that our parents are just human people, like us, with weird bugs up their butt sometimes. I remember being 14 and screaming and crying and one time wedging myself down between the wall and the washing machine and literally yelling “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND” at my mom. Can you imagine! How could anyone confront that with seriousness and gentle acceptance and calm words, rather than laughing so hard you peed your pants?? Only one time in my entire stupid life did my mom reveal her true feelings during one of these instances (she sprayed me with the garden hose). So now, when she freaks out about something, I try to remember that, and be kind and calm and gentle.

So don’t be mad at your mom. Be firm, but be loving.

1. There is no way you and your sister can afford a trip of this nature. Full stop. I feel like your mom would have to be literally a crazy person to still insist on a trip if you told her it would mean you guys going into debt.

2. There is no way your sister’s boyfriend should pay for this trip. OMG! On the one hand I totally value and commend the boyfriend for being so open and generous and I think that is beautiful. If he were Don Draper, I’d say, sure, that’s a nice gesture, go for it! But he’s not, and it’s up to you guys to not let that generosity get out of bounds–to not take advantage of his generosity. I can’t imagine your mom agreeing to this either! Would she really want her daughter’s boyfriend to drain his savings account so that she can go to Mexico? When you put it that baldly it just sounds bonkers. Surely she would not agree to this!

So yeah. I think you answered your own question. I think you gently and lovingly tell your mom:
– you love her so much, and if you had any money you’d give her the moon itself
– you appreciate that 60 is a big deal, and you want to honor that milestone with her
– you absolutely can’t go on a trip, full stop.
– BUT, here’s the crucial thing, I think you should then immediately pitch your alternative. Talk to your sister and actually make a rad fancy party plan, so that you can come at your mom with something more than just vague “maybe a party instead” ideas. Be like “a trip is not possible, but here’s what we want to do instead, SPECIFICALLY, does that sound awesome? It sounds so fun to me!” Like Don Draper says, always be selling (actually I think it’s “always be closing” and I think it’s from Glengarry Glen Ross. Still great advice, whatever it means)

I don’t know much about your relationship with your mom. I know everyone’s is different. For me, I struggled a lot with this weird conception of my parents as these super-natural beings who I couldn’t imagine ever being fallible and who it caused me anguish to imagine ever being even vaguely disappointed in me. Then after awhile I started confronting the fact that they are just people, and sometimes they’re jerks or they’re wrong, and they have their own weird foibles just like anybody else. And that has helped me to sometimes just gently say “that’s not correct you guys, I’m not going to do that” without feeling a lot of angst. Your mom is just a dude like anybody else! She’s being weird right now and it is totally okay for you to lovingly put the kibosh on it.


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2 Responses to I Am 60 Going On 16

  1. willow says:

    Good advice, YT! I think a trip to Las Vegas might be a fun substitution, if mom has her heart set on a trip. There are so many fancy hotel rooms to be had for a good price, and pools and drinks and Cirque De Soleil. Maybe LV could be an affordable trip for all?

  2. dalas v says:

    This letter triggered a lot of thoughts and feelings in me that I don’t think I could articulate well enough to not seem like a big jerk, because they are more about “society these days” and less about your specific life and family.

    Good advice from YT. If you don’t buy tickets/accommodations for a trip, there won’t be a trip, so it kind of solves itself. As long as you do something very nice for her (party), she’ll have something to fondly look back on, which seems like it solves this problem. If she pouts because she didn’t get her trip, that would be pretty damn weird and indicative of a larger issue, IMO.

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