Monday, May 13, 2013

Who Can It Be Now?

Every week since I left home for college at 17, I have spoken to my parents on Sunday night. Some weeks we speak more often, some weeks, the call gets pushed back to Monday, and for a brief period of about three months, there weren't any calls at all. But for the rest of the time, every week, every month, every year, I talk to my parents on Sunday nights.

You would think, during all this time spent talking on the phone, that quite a lot of information would have been shared. As always, you need to take into account that the other person on the line is my mother (and my father, but he is always watching TV at the same time and never pays any attention. Also, fun fact, even though I will call and say, Hi Dad, it is your daughter, he will still ask who it is.) While my mother is actually in appallingly good health and will be left with the cockroaches in the event of a meteor strike, talking to her weekly is like dealing with a very mean Alzheimer's patient. She remembers nothing, gets mad when you try to remind her of something, and behaves as if the reason she doesn't remember anything is because it wasn't important enough in the first place.

For example, my mother has asked me (more than once) where I went to college.

She paid for college. She (along with my father) accompanied me on my tour of the college, drove me to and from the college many times, wore merchandised branded by the college for years, and spent all four years of my time there complaining about how far away the college was from home. She attended my college graduation and moved to the same town as my college roommate's family. I am an only child and I only attended one school. How is it she can forget its name? Repeatedly?

To overhear us at a restaurant would be to believe that I am dining with distant relatives whom I rarely see or speak to instead of my own parents with whom I see monthly and speak weekly. The few items of interest she does tend to remember about me are either from my teenage years or are completely imaginary.

For example, upon viewing my beautiful diamond engagement ring, my mother huffed and said she thought I would want a tiger's eye instead. You know, those brown rocks you can find in any Spencer's store or craft fair, usually in a fake gold setting, all for the low, low price of $25? Eventually, I realized she had gleaned that nugget of information off my dumb teenage self in the midst of a Judy Blume phase a full decade before I waved my sparkly hand in her direction. All efforts to explain that I had grown, matured, and changed my mind were ignored and to this day, she still thinks I am "stuck" with my diamonds.

Here is another example, I once spent an entire dinner arguing about whether or not they spend Christmas Eve with us. They don't. They never have. In fact, since my daughter's first Christmas Eve almost eight years ago, the 24th of December is a sacred, wife/husband/child/ren only day. Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, my mother refused to back down.

The most recent example of this selective memory came about during our weekly phone calls. My mother, an extreme lover of animals who places the value of all dogs far above the value of any humans, read an article about my fainting goat syndrome and how dogs are used in managing it. Sigh. My mom thinks dogs could cure cancer if only they would stop licking their butts long enough to try, so I muttered something inconsequential. But then she started asking basic questions my condition, up to and including, "What do you call it?" [Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome] and "Where did you get it?" [It's genetic, through the maternal line.]

This is a woman who can tell you, to the penny, exactly how much she has given in wedding gifts for the last decade. She can tell you in nauseating detail the medical ailments, treatments, and eventual cause of death in every animal she has ever owned, what happened in an episode of Ghost Hunters five seasons ago, where she bought every discount item in her overstuffed closets, and the location on the rack of her favorite coat that she went and visited weekly in the store until she was able to buy it on clearance. This is not a woman with memory problems.

Yet somehow, over the course of the 15 years since I first showed symptoms, to the eventual diagnosis, to the good months where it went quiet, and the bad months where it became life-threatening, she cannot remember the name or the cause of my health problem. This minor medical condition that I have under control through medication and some basic trigger avoidance, but still remains a small factor in my daily life, is a complete mystery to my mother. My husband, who can spot the beginning of an episode from across the room, and my friends, from close to casual, who can all probably name a side effect of it off the top of their heads (no alcohol, no extreme heat, gains weight easily, loses weight not at all, exercise very difficult), all know more about it than my mom.

Honestly, it is a wonder and continuing mystery why I bother calling at all.

I know there are soft hearts out there who are reading this and are trying to make excuses for her behavior. I've heard them all. To you I say and will continue so say the same thing: bullshit. My mother has had a hard life. So have many, many, many other millions of people. Almost all of them have dealt with the after-effects much better than she has. Sure, she can behave in public (mostly) and for very short periods of time, convince people that she is perfectly normal. For instance, my SIL calls her "delightful." However, as they have only every conversed once every two years, and mostly about dogs (see above), I don't think she is a very good judge of character. However, the basic truth remains that the woman is mad as a hatter and has said so many inexcusable things to so many people that come Judgment Day, she is going to have a LOT of explaining to do.

But, I try to be a good daughter. I make fun of her, true, but I do take care of her. I make sure she doesn't accidentally kill my dad. I do all of her online purchasing for her as well as most of her Christmas shopping. I pretend that I won't send her pets to doggie heaven if she should ever die (I totally will, but in my defense, they are all ancient, infirm, and emotionally stunted  so that death will be a sweet mercy for them) and while I tend to surf the web when we chat, I always make sure she talks with both kids and that they tell her "I love you, Grandmom" before they get off the phone.

So every week I will call. She may not listen to a word I say, like ever, but at least she can hear my voice. That has to count for something.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Body and Blood

My daughter's First Communion was this past weekend. Considering the stress, time, and money involved, it might as well have been a mini-wedding. I send her to Catholic school so that I don't have to deal with the religious education of my child specifically to avoid questions such as, "Mommy, why does the communion wafer taste like cardboard?" My first response, aka, my inner voice, was to ask what dried blood and decayed meat should taste like, being that she is, according to the tenets of her faith, eating the body and blood of a dead man. My second response, or the words I actually said out loud asked what flavor would work best. She thought lemon would be good.

As readers of this blog know, in second grade, the kids make the sacrament of confession and the one of communion. At her school, this entails endless meetings, e-mail reminders, paperwork, and really, really random take-home sheets. Confession was in February, and no, I did not confess my sins as my priest would have preferred. Instead, I watched my husband dither about whether he should confess from the relative safety of my pew. In the end, he missed his window because my daughter raced to the front of the line and by the time he made up his mind, she was already out and we had to get to basketball practice. Priorities, right?

Communion was a whole other basket of cats. There was the nighttime, parent-only meeting. One hour of my life lost to the ether. There was the Saturday morning tour of the church that was required for parents and children. The "tour" included a fascinating 15 minute lecture about the history of the church and its architecture. There was a 45 minutes lecture about the history of the alter which was insanely age-inappropriate and at least 35 minutes too long. During it, the lovely head of religious education held up cue cards with long, Latin words on them for the children to say, like a demented, ecclesiastical Vanna White. This was followed by a 20 minute fashion show wherein the priest took out every single vestment, robe, cassock, etc., in every single color he owned and lovingly spread them out to be oohed and aahed over. Let me tell you, the boys were really into that part of the program. Finally, with 10 minutes to go, we were all rushed through the sacred space behind the altar with barely enough time to take in the sink without plumbing (to wash remnants of the host directly into the soil, which just has to violate building code) and the fact that there is a full-length mirror hidden back there. The children also got to enjoy a Saturday retreat (separate from the tour), and not one, but two 90 minute rehearsals for the big day.

The parents got to spend money. All the boys wore suits, either bought or borrowed, but all very, very dapper. I've already got my eye on a suit that has made the rounds through two different families. Those parents got off lucky. I've got a girl, which means the prep started a full day in advance. We had a Mommy/Daughter mani-pedi where I tried not to moan in pleasure while the burly Asian man pummeled my legs with hot rocks and she acted like a grown up in her mini Hello Kitty pedicure tub. There was the hair appointment. My daughter had so much hairspray to keep her bun in place that when we took out all the pins, the hair still didn't move. Putting on her jewelry (all family gifts), putting on her shoes, and zipping up made me flash-forward 20 years to her wedding day.

Then of course, there was the banner. Every child had to create a banner for the church. I spent a full week trying to find a banner kit that met our specific size specifications (where were of course different than those found in the standard kit sold in every St. Jude store). My child lovingly crafted the dumb thing, I managed not to burn myself using the glue gun putting it all together and where did they hang them? At the end of our pews, helping us find our designated seats? No. These lovely banners that most of the kids made themselves with felt and glue and love and attention were hung on the altar rail where no one could see them. So, what was the point of the banner again?

The ceremony itself was quite lovely. The priest rose to the occasion and actually spoke to the children instead of lectured the parents. All family was present and accounted for and the worst behaved of the lot were the uncles in the back row, not the little guy tucked in with them and a stack of comic books. A family friend came to the church and took lots of pictures for us, and the food I cooked must have been half-decent because there wasn't a whole lot left of it. It was perfect weather, the dogwoods were still in bloom in my backyard, and the track meet that took up all the parking on my block ended long before my guests arrived. Sure, my mom showed up an hourly early (so once again, my hair didn't get done), and stayed two hours late (without even once attempting to clean up a plate), but she and my father were appropriately dressed, so I'll take that as a win. By the time my husband, son, and I climbed into my bed to watch the Phillies game, my daughter was long asleep, and the rest of us weren't far behind.