Growing up as we did with our Mom and all her particular quirks and obsessions, certainly we kids were accustomed to certain odd things but time and distance have created a shock factor for me when those eccentricities rear their (weird) heads. Naturally as an adult I view them far differently than I did as a child. Mom has a lot of peeves including, but not limited to: “dirty” elbows. God help you if your elbows were naturally slightly darker than the skin of the rest of your arms because a scrub brush and bleach were sure to be in your near future. The shape of ears was distressing, anything being out of order or as hyper-organized as she requires, large and thick bath towels intolerable, unkempt hair or nails, wearing clothes two days in a row is apparently CRITICAL to do, wrinkles in any clothing or fabric of any kind including pajamas is an assault on all that is good and wholesome. Being on time or, God forbid, late paying a bill is a shameful character flaw. Our chores lists were endless and no chore was EVER completed satisfactorily. EVER.
Of course as children we did not really understand that there existed any other way of living. We did not know that all children were not required to line up for inspection each morning before school, to ensure elbows and ears and all body parts were clean, clothing was pressed and worn properly, shoes clean and polished (did you know you can polish tennis shoes?), and so on. It was the way we lived our lives so naturally it was our paradigm; the Gestalt of our lives as it were. Mom’s obsessive compulsions became our norm as we strived to please her. Indeed we were VERY CLEAN and tidy children, always on the ready for spot checks and room inspections.
Married and with children myself, for many years I had a full-time job and was busy living my own life, living hours away from Mom; thus, I was able to forget many of the stresses of our childhood, how anxiety-driven our days were, and the verbal and physical fights between our parents. Thankfully, time can have a way of softening experiences after all, if we choose to allow it. What has recently brought to mind many suppressed memories and emotions is being so heavily involved with Mom again, as her still-demanding and overbearing personality refused to acknowledge or even consider that I am now, at 48, an adult. To her I am still a minion, a soldier, with a mind to be shaped, behaviors to be formed, lessons to be taught, and we all know it is her way or the highway and don’t you forget it.
I was visiting Mom one day recently and she wanted to voice her grievances again to the head nurse of the memory care floor where she lives. We started down the hallway to the nurse’s office and Mom was walking behind me with her walker. In her ever-so-casual voice she says to me, “Sherri, are you wearing panties?” I stopped walking. I turned around and looked at her, wondering if she was joking but simultaneously knowing she was not.
“WHAT?” I asked. She repeated the question. I stood motionless as memories flooded over and through me, the sick feeling in my stomach almost instantaneous as she looked at me with contempt, awaiting my answer. “Yes. I am, Mom.” Her catty response, “No. You’re not. I can tell.” sent a wave of fury through me. I vividly imagined jumping in front of her, screaming, “I AM IN FACT WEARING PANTIES BUT EVEN IF I WEREN’T, WHAT BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS AND WHAT THE HELL DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE TO ANYONE IN THE WORLD IF I’M WEARING PANTIES OR NOT??!” Instead, I calmly said, “Ok, Mom,” turned back around, and walked the rest of the way to the nurse’s office in silence. Mom has the luxury of no retribution for her inappropriate and nonsensical remarks. I do not.
Telling myself that “It’s not her, it’s the disease” doesn’t really fit because she has always been that way. Always analyzing, critically sizing up and verbalizing any and every perceived imperfection in others, especially her nuclear family. That is the kind of remark we grew up with- out of left field, bizarre- and we became accustomed to proving ourselves worthy of being in her presence. In a case such as this, the question of appropriate apparel being at hand, as a child I would have been required to zip open my pants to show her the underwear. As an adult, I zipped up my mouth and removed her face from my field of vision to keep from lashing out at her.
This morning I am drinking coffee, sitting in my pajamas, and I am going COMMANDO. Take THAT, Mom!