I went home last night and my mom was on the phone with her sister, so I got started making dinner. The thing I needed to tell her was that I wasn’t going to my regular Thursday commitment at church because I’m going to be there tonight for hours for a concert I’m singing in, but that I was going to spend some time in prayer either at home or while I walked the dog.
She came out all excited, telling me about the people she’d been on the phone with during the day and offering me an item of clothing that she’d bought but didn’t work for her. We did her stuff first. I had to make a decision on dinner while she was on the phone, so I was making sloppy joes and green bean salad and was thinking about adding some mac & cheese. She likes more processed food than I do, and Thursdays have turned into a meal where I do more convenience foods (though I didn’t use a mix for sloppy joes and the green bean salad is pretty unprocessed except for the salad dressing.)
She mentioned that we had leftover macaroni and cheese in the fridge (but by my count it’s aged out and I was too sketched out to use it) and that she had leftover cheesy pasta that I could heat up. It’s not aged out, but it’s penne with chicken in a sauce and I. just. can’t. I’m sorry. It doesn’t go with sloppy joes— it’s a whole different thing. I can’t eat two kinds of cereal in the same bowl either, and I know that doesn’t bother people, but it grosses me out. Kix aren’t supposed to taste like Trix cereal, they’re just not. If there’s a smidge of each, I’ll eat one, rinse the bowl, then eat the other. Or have something else. But I also couldn’t justify my plan of making another box of macaroni and cheese, so I dug through the snacks in the pantry and found some chips and served those with the sloppy joes and the green bean salad.
She was in the kitchen with me and I was telling her about a call I had on my lunch hour with my brother. He called me, and shared some news. He and I haven’t talked in weeks, and he calls her almost every weekend, so for all I knew, she knew his news (I’m not going to tell you what his news was— sorry. It doesn’t really matter for the story, but if it’s the only reason you keep reading, it’s best you know it now), but I guess she didn’t. Basically, he told me in response to a direct question I asked that came up naturally in the conversation, he was keeping news kind of quiet because he was discouraged and I said that even if other people would judge him (because being judged by others is not an irrational fear) he needed to know that I’m always 100 percent in his corner. I know him too well to doubt how he shows up. I also believe that one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone is to be 100 percent in their corner and as unconditional as it is personally possible to be. I’ve been the beneficiary of that ridiculously generous, believing-the-best kind of love from too many corners to count, I need it in my life, and I try to give it to the people closest to me. There are only a handful of people on the planet that I can manage this for, despite my best efforts, and he’s one of them.
She settled in the living room while I finished making dinner— I offered to put on a show (she doesn’t know and doesn’t want to learn how to run Netflix, so I just do it) for her, but she settled on a show that was on regular TV. It’s not unusual for her to sit in there while I finish dinner, but she had been so bubbly when she got off the phone, I noticed right away when I would ask her a question and she’d slump dramatically and huff an answer, making clear that I was bugging the crap out of her. She did it repeatedly— when I told her about the mac and cheese, when I told her I was recording a new show because I saw that she didn’t enjoy it when we had watched it the night before and I didn’t think that what she didn’t like was going to change, but that I liked it and would watch it on my own. It was starting to piss me off— part of the reason I wasn’t going to church was that it makes Thursday night kind of rushed and I thought it would be nicer if we spent the evening together in a less rushed fashion.
I went walking with the dog. A good, long walk, because who needs to stay there for all that passive aggression? Normally, I listen to podcasts while I walk, but since I was doing this instead of going to the church and praying, I spent the first hour of the walk just praying. I intended to mostly pray for my brother, but I was barely out the door when I realized that Mom’s mood changed when I talked about my brother. In her non-finest moments, she accuses me of trying to take her place with my brothers, saying they’re less threatened by me than by her and that I enjoy the attention. I definitely don’t do that on a conscious level, and I dispute it because it seems to me that the only other acceptable role for me to play in my brothers’ lives is not to be in their lives. It’s not like there’s a sister role that I’d be eligible for and have overstepped— she wants to be the woman in their lives. She’d prefer that they only (or at least preferentially) talk to her. I can say that on a conscious level, I insist that they talk directly to her when they have something to say to her and not use me as a go-between. I also insist that they speak directly to me when they have something to say to me. And vice versa. She does this to their wives, also (though she’s much kinder to me than she is to their wives)— she gets jealous and competitive. I searched my heart to figure out whether I was maybe subconsciously trying to press her buttons. I don’t think I was, but it’s hard to be sure.
I thought about some things that have been encouraging to me lately. The housework thing hasn’t really ever gotten better. I cook the meal, I set the table, I clean up after the meal, I clean up dishes she’s used during the day, I empty the dishwasher so I can refill it… But this week, I left a few dishes in the sink one night and didn’t get to them in the morning. When I came home that night, she had put them in the dishwasher. Progress! (It’s not the first time I’ve left the dishes, but it’s one of the first times they weren’t waiting for me when I went to cook the next meal.) Last night, she had been emptying the dishwasher I had run (it’s not entirely unprecedented for her to at least start emptying the dishwasher, but she normally puts away a couple of dishes and leaves it and I have to put away most of them. Last night, the proportion of clean dishes left in the dishwasher was lower than it usually is.) It felt like something to mention (though I didn’t know if I could do it in a way that wasn’t patronizing.) She’s been acknowledging my hard work inside and outside the house in a way that felt like things were headed in a better direction. And she stepped up in a big way related to replacing a car that has eased pressure on me considerably.
It feels like she’s been trying, and I’m sad that, before I could say something, this thing has come between us— her insecurity about her relationships with her children. She would prefer that I talk to my brother about her— how she would be on his side. I try not to talk about other people in these relationships. It can start out well-intentioned, e.g. “did you hear that x was under the weather?” and end up as gossip or back-channel communication, and I’ve tried to really consciously avoid those things in an effort to have the healthiest possible relationships with the people I love the most. Her communication style tends to be less direct (as a result, my natural style is, also, that’s why I’ve had to put rules in place), and she doesn’t trust conversations that she’s not a part of.
Here’s the thing. I’m not sorry that I talked to my brother or that we had the exchange that we had. I don’t think it would be possible for me to say too often to the people that I love that I’m in their corners. We didn’t really talk about her (I mentioned that when I was at a movie earlier this week, she was out getting a mani-pedi with a friend), and as I’ve mentioned, that’s intentional. I’m sorry it ruined her day. I’m sorry that she felt (feels? jury’s still out on that one— she was sullenly watching something on Netflix when I left, also when I returned, so I fed the animals, said goodnight and went to bed) the need to punish me for it by being petulant and refusing to engage. And obviously a little angry, if I’m being honest.