06/13/2011 06:32 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2011

Caregiver: Burden or Blessing?

My mom lives with me. She is 96, looks 20 years younger, is vain, super healthy and has no medications of note -- except that at times her mind goes in and out, sometimes in the course of a day, sometimes in an hour, sometimes a minute. Lately she has what they call "sundowner's syndrome," except hers doesn't necessarily start at sundown -- it could happen at any time of the day -- or not.

Rose has always been obsessed with me, her youngest daughter. Perhaps she thought she lost control over my sister who married young, but this is conjecture. I truly don't know why I am and have been the focal point of her attention for as long as I remember. When an old friend called out of the blue and heard my mother in the background, he laughed: "That's your mom."

When I lived at home, guys would try to kiss me good night only to see my mom swooping down on them behind me. The brave ones would stay and try and have a conversation. Others, and the brave ones too in time, would simply take off, happy to get to their cars in one piece. To say my mom is a character is an understatement.

After she first moved here with me some eight years ago, I'd gone out out one evening with friends. At around 12:30 and my phone rang. My friend knew what came next: "Where the hell are you?" It was -- is -- the usual drill. I hurriedly explained I was just about to drive off, on my way home. Then I stopped myself. I've traveled the world, been married and lived on my own. Surely I didn't need to report to my mom regarding my whereabouts? And a curfew -- I didn't have one at 15 and I wasn't about to start now. I tried to cut it, say I was on my way and end the conversation. Fat chance.

This is not to say my mom or dad were strict disciplinarians. Far from it. At an early age I learned never to ask for permission. I simply stated as fact what I was going to do. My mother accepted this as gospel and didn't question it. If I was out late, I could be late. Once my father was going off to work and I was coming home. He muttered something in Italian that he was like Christ suffering on the cross and went his way. An Italian, he believed disciplining children was woman's work. I would point out he was a foreigner -- this is the way it was done here, I was an American. My father probably wanted to "kill" me. Instead he would smile and shake his head. My mom would flip if I didn't call. Saying she has hysterical would be another understatement.

When my sister was dying, I flew to New Jersey to be with her. It turned out my mom didn't need me. I stayed with my sister. My mom was a brave supporter, a true mom with my sister: always upbeat, always ready to do whatever she could do for her. She cried at home, never in front of my sister. I marveled at this woman and the example she set. This was a side of my mom I thought I didn't know. I realized she was like that with my dad as well. He passed almost reaching 90, had a bad heart for most of his life, cancer and a host of other problems. When he would venture to complain a little regarding his treatments, diet, operations, my mom would ask if he wanted her to call Dr. Kevorkian. My mom has a sense of humor.

Both of my parents did. My mom still does. They were joyful people. My mom laughs at herself even when she's talking to herself. When a relative commented he was sad I was burdened with her, I bristled. Yes, she is a pain in the ass. She wants to be with me 24/7. Yes, I want to run down the street naked half the time. But I am in great shape thanks to her: she acts up, I run in the hills. In the winter there is nothing like running with water oozing out of your running shoes. But I know I am blessed to be able to care for my mom. Blessed I am healthy enough and able to have some help. Blessed that my mom is healthy. Blessed that my parents knew joy and taught me joy.

In one of her "out" moments, my mom asked me who my mother was. I said "you." She took this in and smiled. I could see her thinking, okay: I didn't do such a bad job, my goal now.