Saturday, April 15, 2006

Batten down the hatches - my mother is coming to town

Before anyone thinks that this is a mother-bashing post, let me say that I do love my mom. Not that she makes it an easy job, but I do love her.

My mom is just one of the most peculiar people on earth. So peculiar in some ways that at times it makes being around her almost excruciating. For example, she is very set in her ways about food and cooking. Don’t attempt to cook anything even remotely complicated around her, because she will want to get involved and then impose her will upon you about how it “should” be done according to The Gospel of Mother. For God’s sake, don’t ever ever ever use Cool Whip in anything or you will have to listen to a minimum of 3.7 hours of bitching about the evils of Cool Whip. One year at Easter, she criticized my sister for using shredded parmesan cheese instead of finely grating it. Now, what the hell difference would it have made if the grating style had been different? All it managed to do was send my sister into a puddle of tears because it was at the end of several hours of nitpicking everything about the dinner she was trying to prepare and it totally ruined Easter for everyone. My sister tends to be a lot more sensitive to my mother’s critiques, whereas I am more like my dad and either ignore her or tell her in a polite way to butt out.

Her nose gets out of joint if she comes to visit and we don’t have anything scheduled that caters to her interests. The week after Christmas, I invited my parents up for a few days and imagined that they would enjoy going a few places and hanging out with me and Monkey Man. The day they arrived, my mother decided that it would be “fun” for us to work on sewing the window treatments for my kitchen. Fun as in “I am going to end up stabbing myself with pins just to relieve the agony of sewing with Mom”. She is a very accomplished quilter and seamstress but has never sewn any window treatments; I can sew enough to get by and I’ve done window treatments before – so it doesn't take a psychic to know that this wasn’t going to go well. After two hours of agony and having her demand that I rip a bunch of seams out only to have her sew them back together wrong AGAIN, I just threw up my hands and said, “Mom, I just can’t do this with you because it isn’t fun, it’s like being slowly tortured.” She sort of shrugged and said brightly, “Maybe we can work on this later!” Over my dead body. Thankfully I managed to con her into leaving the house to go fabric shopping, which in its own way is like watching grass grow but at least it wasn’t requiring us to agree on a damn thing other than it was time to have dinner.

The most hurtful part of our relationship has to do with the fact that my mom is very emotionally unavailable. In my 36 years of living, she has never once told me that she loves me. It used to tear me up inside, but over time I have come to realize that it’s a combination of her being slightly narcissistic and she is also just not a very affectionate person at all. She was never the mom that smothered you in hugs and kisses. She was never the mom that put notes in my lunchbox or gave me a rose after the school play. And I always felt like no matter what I did, it was never good enough because she never gave her approval – all I received was a stony silence. It took a big toll on my self-esteem, and even though sometimes I come across to the world as being super-confident in myself, I’m wracked with insecurities and constantly sell myself short in terms of my abilities.

I am thankful for many of the things she has done for me. She taught me to cook, and I can cook with the best of them and I’m never afraid to try anything in the kitchen. She let me play all of the musical instruments that I was interested in, encouraged me to sing and dance and act, drove me all over the state to competitions, lessons, and workshops. She taught me good manners and how to be respectful of others’ feelings. She gave me a love for literature and writing. And she always thought I was destined to do great things with my life.

Two years ago, she sent a little Nana package to Monkey Man with the typical coloring books, a stuffed animal, and some articles in an envelope for me to look at. Down at the bottom of the box, there was a pad of Post-Its on which she had spelled out I-L-O-V-E-Y-O-U with one letter on each Post-It. Just thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes, because it was just so uncharacteristic for my mom. I tucked it away and wondered at the time – who was the pad of Post-Its for? But it really didn’t matter, what mattered was that she had written it and I knew it must have taken a huge effort for her.

A long time ago, Monkey Man asked me why his Nana had made a beautiful quilt for him that sits on his bed every night. I had to struggle with the answer, but finally I told him that his Nana makes quilts because it’s how she shows someone that she loves them. I looked into our family room, where I have a rack full of gorgeous quilts that she has made for me and Joey and Monkey Man over the years, and I realized that no matter how nuts she makes me, how much she despises Cool Whip, or how many seams I have to rip out for her, she does love me and I have evidence of it every night as I take the quilt we made together and pull it up around my chin.

I just hope that I can remember it tomorrow when she’s criticizing my cheesecake.

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