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.

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