Careful What Buttons You Push

My mom is a button-pusher. I can mostly give her the benefit of the doubt and say that she possibly doesn’t do it consciously, though I have serious doubts about that. She does like the upper hand, and she’s in a point in her life where she doesn’t naturally have it, so every once in awhile, she’ll just push the buttons to see what will happen.

At my work holiday party, to which I invited her against my strong inclination, I overheard her call the house “Malfunction Junction” to one of my coworkers’s husbands— a nickname I’ve specifically asked her not to use. I think she does it because it’s clever and a little funny, but I’ve explained to her that I work too hard on the house for her to talk about it that way. That what you say informs how you feel, and the fact that she came up with this nickname pretty much the second we moved into the house could mean that she could talk herself out of ever appreciating the house, which is a pretty epic-sized problem for me.

For those of you new to this saga, this time last year, she was renting an apartment in a retirement complex and I owned a condo about 5 minutes away. Her landlord decided to sell the unit she was renting, and she didn’t want to buy it, so she asked if I would reconsider living with her— I’d sell my place and we could get a place together. I had let her know about 11 years ago that I wasn’t open to it. Much to my surprise, I was more open to it this time, so I said yes. For background, my mom has lived with my eldest and youngest brothers, before, and pretty much burned those bridges. She’s been nasty to my sisters in law and complained loudly about her living situation to all who would listen, so it’s not a small thing that I agreed to this. Also, I’m a single-but-looking grownup who lives with her mom. It doesn’t matter that I’m financially doing more than half of everything and practically doing much more than that— it looks a certain way, in the marketplace, and I have to deal with that.

We moved in together in August. I do, practically speaking, all of the cooking and between 80 and 100 percent of the cleaning and interior/exterior maintenance. I wash the dishes, I vacuum and mop the floors. I dust. I clean the bathrooms and the kitchen. I mow the lawn. I arrange for sprinkler care. I do light repairs. What I don’t do myself, I arrange and pay for (sometimes she pays half). I pay for more than half the groceries. I work a full-time career-type job and am active in the community, but I also make dinners from scratch 2-3 times a week. I also basically let her decide what we watch and listen to, in shared spaces, and when she picks something I don’t like, I just go do something else. And let’s not kid ourselves— this arrangement is as good as it’s ever going to get. As she gets older, I’ll be doing more, not less.

Something you should understand about my mom is that she doesn’t like company. Hasn’t, really, for about as long as I’ve known her. It’s a self-consciousness thing. In the five years that she lived on her own, she avoided having people over as much as possible. She was in a card group that rotated apartments. When it was her turn to host, she’d host it in the lobby of her floor. Anytime anyone comes into her place, she complains that they’re snooping around and judging her for what they find. She doesn’t drive, so people who want to see her usually have to come get her. I’ll take her to see people on weekends, with advance notice, but she’s not much inclined in that direction, either. Another thing you should know about my mom is that her most prized value is loyalty.

After what she said at my holiday party, I said “What is it that you need me to do to our house to make you comfortable having people over? Or, let’s just admit it, is there nothing I could ever do that would make you want people over?” She as much as admitted that it’s not something I could do, she just doesn’t feel comfortable having people over. I said something along the lines of “fine. I’m not going to make you have your friends over. But I’m having people over. I work too hard on this house not to have people over when I want to.”

Last night, I was sharing with her the gist of yesterday’s post (I don’t really encourage her to read this, because of posts like this one.) She started in about her friends offering to come clean our house and how humiliated that made her. I demanded to know who said it. She said “It doesn’t matter, they were kidding.” I had the sense that she was button pushing— trying to shame me, because she’d like me to scale back how involved I am at church. I totally plan to do that, but I’m not ditching my confirmation class in the middle of the year, no matter how badly the administration annoys me.

I was furious. For what it’s worth, the entire house has been recently dusted, including tops of curtain rods and vaulted ceilings. I vacuumed stem to stern on Saturday, and spot cleaned the carpets. The bathrooms and kitchen have been recently cleaned. While we’re not HGTV-after-photo-ready, we are far from living in squalor. And much of the identifiable clutter is boxes she hasn’t unpacked. She cannot be relied on to empty the entire dishwasher when it’s clean, or to put her own dish (clearing my dishes is clearly above-and-beyond territory) in it when it’s not. She does the laundry (about which she was kvetching to me last night) and decorates for the holidays. Those are her responsibilities. Which I’m fine with— I knew what I was getting myself into, as did she. And she said it after eating a meal she didn’t lift a finger to arrange, as usual, while I spent two hours last night taking down the tree without her help (we observe a Colorado tradition that meant the tree wasn’t coming down before Sunday, so don’t judge me.)

What I know about her friends is that none of the ones who would say this work full time (which stands to reason, given that she’s well into retirement age). None of them have kids who would opt in for the arrangement I have, especially when they would continue to bear as much financial responsibility as I have. When they hear that I bake bread and take her to the theater and voluntarily spend time with her, they’re jealous, let alone the fact that I go to the lengths I do. If her friend even said the thing about cleaning her house, it might be the friend who asked and asked to see the house, but who my mom wouldn’t invite over because— oh yeah, she doesn’t invite her friends into her space, shared or not. So it’s not even about my cleaning, it’s about her grasping at straws. If it wasn’t that friend, it could be our boozy neighbor or her bestie, and as of last night, I’ve gone on record that if either of them would like to grab a mop and do any of my work for me, she should feel free to let them.

Also, speaking of family loyalty, my expectation is that if someone has something shitty to say about my house, that she’ll have my back, not throw another log on the fire.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, if you feel compelled to push my buttons, you might want to know where the nuclear ones are.



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