Monday, May 12, 2008

Mothers Day – Ambivalence

I spend a lot of time trekking down to suburban Philadelphia to see my Mom - almost every weekend lately. So even though it was Mothers Day, this weekend’s trip was standard procedure.

R comes with me most weekends. I know it ain’t fun for him but he (usually) is willing to help me through it. Plus he gets to do laundry at her house so we don’t have to deal with the Laundromat across the street that sporadically catches on fire if you put more than 2 minutes on the dryer.

But this weekend, I realized I’m burning out. She just wears me down after a while.

Conceptually, I appreciate her. I know she has sacrificed a lot and would do anything for me. And I feel obligated to take care of her.

Yet, the thought of ever having to live with her full-time terrifies me. She is way too high maintenance – even though she tries not to be. She is who she is and that can be really wearing at times.

Like this weekend. When we arrived, she was cutting hedges. Which in my mother’s passive-aggressive communicating style, is a request for me to cut the hedges. She knows that I am unable to let my 73-year old mother who has a lame right hand cut the hedge with the electric hedge-clippers.

So after driving 2 ½ hours, I had to get out of the car and immediately start cutting hedges. Even though the hedges are only about 1 inch too high - in spots. God forbid a leaf should grow out of line.

Then, after cutting and cleaning the hedge, we have tea and she launches into part 2 of the “get Michael to do as many chores as possible” campaign which constitutes weekends with my mother.

She just was so curious that she had to pull up a corner of the wall-to-wall carpeting in the upstairs bedroom to see what the floor looks like. And it looks OK - though there is a “little nothing” nailboard around the entire edge where the rug can be stapled to the floor. Should we look at it? No, no, no not now…Finish your tea… Well, do you want any more tea? Are you sure? OOOK. Welll….

Finally I break down and go upstairs to look at the goddamn rug. She gets down on her hands and knees and starts to crawl into the corner where she pulls up the corner of the rug. And sure enough there is a medieval looking 1-inch strip of board with nails sticking up adhered to the entire perimeter of the room. I tried to explain it’s a big job. She says “Really? You think? I think it would come up pretty easily”

I try in vain to point out the 100s of nails that attach the nailboard to the floor, the imperfections that will remain after the rug is removed, the possibility that this task could be done next week. I know its futile. She is like a waterfall that just pulls you down until you go with the flow.

At some point, its like she just doesn’t even hear what I’m saying – which is possible since she is apparently losing her hearing. Not that I’m supposed to know. I realized that she surreptitiously had a hearing aid put in when, while hugging her hello, I heard loudspeaker-type feedback coming from her head. She never mentioned it. And neither did I.

So, I give in and start the process of rearranging the furniture and pulling up the rug. All the while she circled energetically, moving things that she could and otherwise acting like a mosquito buzzing a cow.

I understand how she got this way. And I empathize. But it doesn't make it any less challenging.

Born on an island in the middle of nowhere, her dream of big city life was fulfilled when, in one of many cruel twists of fate, her father died at 11. Her mother, unable to provide for her 7 children, sent her and one sister to live with her father’s brother in New York. Though it allowed the girl from an island on civilization’s edge to escape to the island at the center of civilization, the abandonment has left scars.

One of which is an obsessive case of domestic pride – an attachment to the idea of home which, having once been lost, is now the most important thing in her life. Another of which is the fear of anything smelling remotely of poverty or want – like an old rug or overgrown hedge.

So I do my duty. Out of love. And guilt. And gratitude. But not without a little griping.

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