A good friend gave me an excellent piece of advice today.
She said, “Treat your mother the way you want your kids to treat you.”
I may just be heading for an early death smothered under a pillow if that’s the case.
So long and thanks for all the fish.
In truth, I work very hard to keep my kids in the dark about my feelings toward my parents. All venting is done in private, to my husband, after the kids are in bed. Unfortunately, my eldest has the aural acuity of a bat. Though she tends to ignore us when we use words like clean, laundry, or shower, say the word “cookie” under your breath, in the basement, with your head in a dryer and I assure you, she will, from two floors away and the depths of sleep, come barreling down the stairs in search of the aforementioned treat. She has probably heard more than I want or realize, but I think it is the little ticks that occur whenever my mother calls that might possibly give more away than the occasional “AND THEN” echoing off the walls. Things like not answering the phone, for one. Or the fact that I often have to take a deep breath, close my eyes, count to 10 (“in Greek” quotes my inner Sean Connery), and then answer it, for another. When a visit occurs, I tend to be a bit tightly wound both before and after and as much as I try to hide it, I’m sure they notice. They notice when I change my earrings or my toenail polish, surely they notice the days when I tend to snap at them without reason.
So how can I teach my children to respect and revere me while at the same time, actively disrespecting my mother at every opportunity? It’s a stumper. You may all shake your head at me, upset at the language I use and the tone I take, thinking of how awful it would be to speak of your own beloved mothers in such a voice. I get that. I really do. But you have to give me one vice. I don’t cry. I don’t scream or shout. I tend to calmly describe my emotions instead of actually acting them out. (This has led to some truly odd conversations with my husband.) I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I’m currently “on a break” from Ben & Jerry. The one thing I do, and I do it really, really well, is make fun of my mother.
And let’s be honest, if you all had such rich material, you would do the same. I have dined out on stories about my mother for years, possibly decades. She is legendary among my friends and acquaintances. She is not abusive, she is not harmful (in large doses), and she is not dangerous. However, she is, completely and utterly batshit crazy. I share her stories in a sane, rational voice to help others enjoy and appreciate their own mothers. I have never exaggerated a story. I have never lied about something she has said or done. I don’t need to. In all instances, the truth is strange than fiction.
As my parents get older, I will take care of them. It’s the right thing to do and I am the only person to do it. I’m okay with that. While I don’t necessarily want them living on my block, living in the next town is perfectly acceptable. I don’t mind being the parent in the relationship; I just wish the actual parent did not dress like a toddler run amok in the Disney store. While it would be nice if my advice was taken as Gospel, I’d be fine with it at least being the Book of Mormon. I don’t mind listening to a seemingly endless play-by-play of last week’s episode of The Amazing Race as long as the same conversation includes an equally detailed accounting of my dad’s last doctor visit. It’s all about moderation. I will help them in their life, but I will not let them take over mine.
So, how will I teach my children to do as I say but not as I do? Simple – by showing them that a sense of humor can get you through just about anything in life - even a visit with my mother. For the time being, I’ll still work blue, but I’ll at least try to stay pastel. Because, let’s be real, when the midden hits the windmill, it will be an important life lesson for them to learn that even when you can’t keep your cool, you can always keep your wit.