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The question

My husband and I are both almost 80. We live on government pensions plus a small disability pension from the Korean War. We are not "consumers" so we do okay. But our children worry about us. For example, we have driven the same car for the past 22 years. It runs well, even with 400,000 kilometres. Our children, however, bought us a 2009 car. I would rather keep driving my old one. They think we should go into an assisted living place, but we want to keep driving to Mexico each winter, where the cost of living is much less. There, we live in a small house in a small village. We drive home for the summer and stay in a campground. How can we get our children to leave these decisions up to us? Or should we listen to their ideas, then do what we want?

The answer

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I had to read this question twice before it sank in that you spend your whole summers camping.

Holy DIY, Batman. I tried to camp with my wife, Pam – once. It started to rain. I was trying to start a fire. She was trying to put up the tent. Neither of us was meeting with much success.

I became testy and snapped at her. The look in her eyes said: "Should I go through the bother of divorce and a custody battle and all that, or would I get away with it if I just killed him here and buried his body in the woods?"

We made up, but I swore, then and there: never again.

And yet you and your husband maintain "happy camper" status all summer, then tootle down south (in a car so well maintained you've squeezed 400,000 kilometres out of it) to spend the rest of the year in a Mexican fishing village, swimming, tanning, eating tacos and sipping tart, tangy margaritas (I'm speculating here, just please let me have my fantasy) while the rest of us slosh through the slush, shiver in the frigid air and shovel snow – all on a pair of tiny pensions?

Why would you need to go into an "assisted living facility"? People should come to you for assistance in living their lives with such facility!

Assisted living facilities, or ALFs, in my understanding, are aimed at people who are, to use the jargon of that world, having trouble with ADLs ("activities of daily living"), e.g. shopping, cooking for oneself, grooming and so on. Often, people in such facilities have some kind of disability or difficulty with mobility and/or are afraid to leave their house for fear of injury.

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Meanwhile, you two are toasting weenies over the campfire and throwing Frisbees on the beach. In the autumn of your lives, you're living the dream – my dream, anyway: endless summer.

It's hard to understand why your kids would want to intercede in your lifestyle at all, let alone stuff you in a home.

(You mention a "disability pension" – could it have something to do with that? It sounds as if you're coping with whatever it's for rather well.)

Whatever the reason, their impulse is grounded in love and compassion, I'm sure.

I'd push back, though. They're being annoying and ageist. Just because you're octogenarians doesn't mean you can't be independent and self-sufficient – as you emphatically seem to be.

Your husband fought in the Korean War, sounds like! What have they ever fought, besides traffic?

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I'm not talking about just listening to them quacking, then ignoring them. That way leads to danger. They might get some sort of ball rolling, achieve busybody consensus, and next thing you know a nurse is bringing your morning mush and asking for details of your bowel movements.

You don't want that. That's why I'm saying: push back.

Sit them down. Explain to them you're doing just fine, you appreciate their concern, but you'd appreciate it just as much if they took their proboscises out of your affairs and allowed you to live your lives as you see fit.

You know what I'd do if I were in your flip-flops? Gather the meddlesome offspring around the campfire and say: "We appreciate your concern, but it's unnecessary. We've got an idea. Why don't you just give us a cheque for what it would cost for a year of assisted living and we'll spend it on surfing lessons? We've always wanted to learn to surf."

They ought to get the hint. Don't take any money from them, of course. But about that car your kids gave you … if you don't use it and they won't take it back … well, heck, it's yours, after all. Why not sell it and spend the money on a series of delightful al fresco Mexican dinners, maybe a tour of the Mayan pyramids?

Life is short, after all.

David Eddie is the author of Damage Control, the book.

I've made a huge mistake

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