Progress?

It’s hard to tell if it’s progress, or if it was just a good day. As usual, these days, I worked just as hard all weekend on not-work as I do all week on work. And Mom kept acknowledging how hard I’m working. It’s unlike her— she normally wants to compete about how hard anyone is working or how tired you are, but this time, she acknowledged it. Possibly because I came home at the end of my rope at least once last week. Hard to say.

Yesterday, I made apricot cardamom muffins, cardamom citrus salad, a leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, roasted asparagus, and mini lemon curd cheesecakes. Totally thrashed the kitchen. In the morning, while I was making the muffins, Mom asked if she could help, so I had her section the citrus.

It’s hard, when she helps in the kitchen, because she won’t do what I ask. Yesterday, I gave her a bowl with a strainer basket in it and a container for the citrus peels. She started putting the fruit in the “waste” bowl. I explained that I wanted her to put the sectioned fruit in the strainer basket, in the bowl, because I needed to catch the juice separate from the fruit for the sauce you make for the salad. When I came back, all the fruit was done, peels were in the waste bowl, fruit was in the bowl, but the strainer basket was off to the side.

Now, this sounds very picky of me, but my mother has 10,000 elaborate systems. My whole life, I’ve heard why I have to do things a particular way because she has a good reason. So I kind of thought that was the rule.

Notsomuch, vice versa.

When I thanked her for sectioning the fruit, I mentioned, again, why I wanted it in the strainer basket. She said “Whatever. It was expedient, so I did it the way that worked best for me.”

From anyone else in the world, I’d say “with adults, you can let them help you or you can do it your way, but you can’t make another adult do it your way.” But from her, where the way you do it matters so much to her, it just strikes me as a ridiculous double-standard, and it made me mad. But in Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies,” she’s a rebel, and she also has a long history of power struggling with women in my family, and I am no exception.

But later in the day, she volunteered to help again. So I asked her to break the tough parts of the stalks off the asparagus. Hereagain, she knows how I do this, and to be sure, I did a couple in front of her. We’ve done it together before. I watched her pick up her paring knife, so I left the room. I don’t do asparagus with a knife, because the point is to leave only the tender parts, and you can’t reliably tell where the tender parts are, with a sharp knife. She’s a freak about indigestible vegetables, so it was in her best interest to do it my way (you break the stalk a certain way and the theory is that it’s not going to break in the tough places. It’s not infallible and some say it’s wasteful (I compost the waste), but I’ve never ended up with woody places in my asparagus since I’ve adopted the method. Well, not until last night.) She did it, I cooked it, we ate woody asparagus.

In the evening, we were picking something to watch. I offered a half-hour show. She was lobbying for an hour-long show. I said “I’m concerned about an hour-long show, because there’s a lot of cleanup to be done in the kitchen before I go to bed, so if I consent to this, I need your help in the kitchen.” To my surprise, she consented. We worked together on loading the dishwasher, she put things away while I washed my hand-wash only stuff (and the stuff that didn’t fit in the dishwasher.) I appreciated it so much.

I don’t think it’s progress— I tend to think it’s an anomaly. This week I leave for New York, and I haven’t hidden that part of this is that I need a break from home, as much as work. It was Easter. I went above and beyond not only all day yesterday, but took her to the service she likes at the church she likes Saturday night, even though I also sang in the choir last night and also did a reading in our actual parish. (Net time in church this weekend: slightly more than 4 hours, not counting travel time or prep. It’s fine.) There was an end of my rope moment, last week. But I’ll take it— anomaly or no. Bed at a decent hour with the dishes done was a win for me, yesterday, even if it’s not the truth of my daily existence. And who knows— maybe it at least temporarily robbed her of the comforting notion that I’m over-functioning because I enjoy doing it— because I’m a martyr— and her under-functioning is something that gives me satisfaction. What can I say— spring brings out my optimism.

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