I’m publishing this (which doesn’t show me in a good light) because, I am told, it gives comfort to others . If I had written this at the time the vitriol would have destroyed my laptop, dripped through the keyboard and into the hard drive! The subject of this blog? My mother. So if you believe that mothers should be given unconditional love, forgiven their ‘idiosyncrasies’ because of their age or if you’re of a sensitive nature then read no further. You have been warned.
Today I lost it with my mother. My wife said, you didn’t shout at her or swear or call her names and it’s better expressed rather than bottled up which truth be told was exactly what I’d been doing. But that said I guess I’m not a nice person and if you are then this isn’t the blog for you.
It all kicked off with the usual phone call prior to our departure to determine whether she wanted to go out for lunch or wanted us to do her shopping. For some reason, that I wondered about later, (was I looking to bring things to a head?) I asked her how she was. Sounds innocuous enough doesn’t it. But the thing is I never ever ask her how she is because a) I can one hundred percent guarantee her response and b) she will tell me even if I don’t ask. And thus it was.
“Not very good,” with all the drama it is possible to underpin these three short words. Why oh why? I wondered later did I not let it go like I usually would. For some reason, maybe, as I say, I was looking to release a little pent up emotion generated by months of listening to her negativity. Whatever. I replied, “well nothing different there then!”
Sharp as a tack and picking up on my negativity, she replied “I haven’t been good for months.” Let it go, but no, again for some reason, I said you’re always saying that but I have no idea what you’re talking about. “No, that’s right, you have no idea what I’m going through. I don’t like to talk about it I keep these things to myself, Haaa! I felt the chemicals going off in my head, no you bloody don’t, you tell us constantly. Little spurts of foul gas, not enough to kill you just poison the atmosphere. This, unspoken by the way. Instead I say to her, tell me what the problem is, I don’t understand. It’s my bowels she says in triumph, you’ve no idea the problems I have. No fucking idea!! We wash her sheets every week, read carers notes, went through two operations, visited her in 4 hospitals for months on end and we’ve no idea! Well excuse me but I think we have an idea.
Now the battle for most childish begins, I know I’m never going to win, but I keep trying. Am I proud? No!! If I attempt to examine the reality she says and I hate this “You’ve got your school teacher voice on,” or “you’re lecturing me.” I tell her this is one of her put downs and it upsets me. “Does it?” she laughs and that’s a rare event, “I didn’t know.”
We go back to her dramatics. “Like,” I say “you saying last week was utter chaos because you had 3 people in the house”. “They were all jabbering,” she says. Which setting aside the monkey connotations means she wasn’t the centre of attention. I point out her complaint that she sees nobody from one week to another. She wheels out big gun number whatever, “You don’t understand. You’ll understand when you’re my age.” No, I don’t understand. “Well I’ll tell you this,” she pauses for effect, “I won’t make 93.” I can’t let this idiocy go by again, I just can’t. I say “you’ve been saying that every year for the last 10 years and you’re still here.” She recognises this for the truth it is and feels her righteousness slipping away and plays another of her trump cards when she’s losing. “This is a pointless conversation.” “Yes,” I say “it’s pointless now you’re losing.” Am I proud? Well at this stage, yes, I am actually, take that you bitch. Then I hear myself say, you started it. That’s not so good.
She searches for another attack position. “Do you want to come down today?” It’s a strategy and I guess she thinks it will shock me into submission but by this time I’m on a roll. I hear myself say, “No, of course I don’t want to come down, I drive 150 miles, spend £25 on petrol just to listen to you moan, No, I don’t want to come it’s no fun at all, I come out of a sense of responsibility, of duty.” “Quite right,” she says. Put the childish ball back in her court, “Do you want me to come?” Yes, I suppose so, she says grudgingly.
Aggrieved at this loss she resorts to random attacks to keep me off balance. Yes, I know I’m not coming out this well. She says “I’m not an idiot, you know.” Whaaat? I have never said you were. “No you haven’t,” Well who has? “Oh, never mind,” she huffs. She sniffs as if her position is justified. I need to remember before it is too late that logic plays no part in our conversations although truth be told I am some way past this insight.
My mother is no advert for old age. One of her many favourite lines – “you wait until you’re 93” (I don’t expect to live until 93 and if I did and was as negative as you my kids would push me off the cliff). “You’ve no idea what it’s like being old.” Got a pretty good idea of one version visiting you. Is she like this with other people? Probably not, just a plucky old lady!
My mother is bright (an intelligence misused in my view), she’s as slippery as a bar of soap. No frail, defeated old lady she. This despite another key phrase in her lexicon – I’m hopeless, useless. Neither “yes, you are” nor “no, you’re fine,” nor total ignoring makes any difference to the frequency of use of this phrase. Would an observer call it self-pity?
We ended the conversation on a frosty (is that the word?) note. All the way down the M1 I prepared myself for an extension of this conversation. I was determined to be prepared for whatever she had next, I didn’t want to be taken by surprise again (if only by myself). I wanted the control back, of myself that is, not her, I’m not stupid.
And when we got there she was nice as pie. And the moral of this story I’ll leave others to judge. Just one final word. Having been a psychologist for all those years I knew about positive reinforcement. As we were leaving I said, and it wasn’t easy, – “that was a much better visit.” “What do you mean?” she said. I said “you made an effort.” She said “I always make an effort, you’ve no idea.” So no lasting miracle then just a temporary hiatus but better than nothing I guess. Who knows? Not me. I did tell you I wasn’t a nice person.