Visit the Parents

Mandated time spent with Mom and Dad? My lawyer and I are negotiating

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Illustration by Tomasz Walenta for TIME: Getty Images

China has a lot of crazy laws, such as communism. But now China has amended its 1996 law protecting the rights and interests of the aged--which already requires TV shows to cover old people's lives, in essence legislating the permanent airing of Golden Girls--to allow elderly parents to sue their kids for not visiting enough.

Most people assume that only an authoritarian regime dealing with a rapid transition from an agrarian society to one where kids move to faraway metropolises would cling to Confucian ideals so forcefully. Those people are idiots who happen to know a lot about China. This law is going to eventually come to the U.S., because everything from China eventually gets exported here. Plus, the AARP is one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, and our entire Congress consists of elderly lawyers who seem like the kind of people whose kids wouldn't want to visit them. Even more significantly, all laws that are originally mocked in one nation are quickly assimilated internationally. Remember all those Parisians laughing at New York City for banning smoking in restaurants? They're not laughing so much now that they don't have le emphysema.

Once the Chinese law comes here, I'm screwed. I'm Jewish, and if there are three things Jews love, it's nagging their kids, suing and the Chinese. Which means I need to work out precisely what my parents expect of me before they and their lawyers take me for all I'm worth. These are the difficult conversations that too many kids are afraid to have with their parents--largely because it's one more time you have to talk to your parents.

When I asked my dad what he expects of me once he's elderly, he informed me that he already is elderly. That made sense, since he takes cruises, hums loudly at the New York Pops and goes to the New York Pops. When I pressed him for specific demands, he said he wanted my sister and me to each call once a day for 10 minutes. This seemed unfair, since my dad is about as capable of a 10-minute phone call as Robert Caro is of writing a brief essay about Lyndon Johnson.

My dad also expected us to visit once a week, which seemed unreasonable since I live nearly 3,000 miles away. "You want to get sued, take your chances, babe," he said, before spending 15 minutes telling me about Caro's most recent volume on Johnson. He then told me about state programs, like the one in Rhode Island, allowing noncertified caregivers of any kind--even a person's children--to get paid by Medicaid funds for looking after the elderly. When I asked him if he was so serious about wanting us to visit that he would move to Rhode Island, he said, "I could see paying you out of my own pocket."

My mom would not get as specific, other than saying she'd never sue me. "You didn't ask to be born. I decided to have you. You don't owe me anything," she said. "I know how busy you are." The only thing worse than being sued by your parent, I realized, is getting guilt-tripped by your parent and then getting sued by that parent anyway.

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