On the phone with Mom

Yesterday I called my mother on the phone, like I do once or twice a month (once more often than twice, to be honest). She promptly mentioned that someone I’d vaguely known many years ago was in the hospital, and is expected to die there. News of who’s sick or dying or dead is ordinary chit-chat for Mom, and for old folks everywhere, of which I’m one.

My response was whatever you're supposed to say when you hear someone’s dying, and then I added, “I hope I don’t die in a hospital. That’s the worst place to die. I’d rather die at a ball game, or after the end credits for a good movie.”

“We don’t have any choice where we die, or how,” Mom said.

I said, “Yeah, that’s up to the powers that be.” Which, for my mom, was a tactical opening.

“Who do you think that is — the powers that be?” 

“My health insurance.”

“No, the powers that be would be God," Mom explained. "Don’t you believe in God?” She loves talking to me about God, and questions me like this eternally, always hoping for an answer different than the last time she asked, when I said no. 

I said the same 'no'. “No, Mom. I don’t believe in God. Does God believe in me?”

“I believe in God,” she announced, surprising neither of us. “I believe he controls the sunrise and sunset, and our lives and our deaths. God is in charge of everything.”

“If he's in charge, he’s certainly doing a crappy job.”

And then she sang to me, one of her favorite hymns: 

"God can do
    anything, ♫
        anything, anything,
God can do anything but fail."

When I didn't say anything, she asked again, "Don't you believe in God?"

I didn't answer.

♦ ♦ ♦

Later in the same conversation — and actually, for Mom and me, it was a very good conversation — she complained that my phone is never switched on.

She's right. I'm weird about that, but I've told everyone in the family, many times, and told Mom again yesterday, "I hate it when the phone rings, so my phone is always switched off unless I'm calling someone."

As if this was news to her, she said, "But that means I can never call you!"

"Yup," I agreed, "but I call you, fairly regularly."

"I wish I could call you," she said again, and I didn't want to rehash all that, but she said it twice more so I sighed and explained, same as I had many times before.

"When I told you my phone number, Mom, you called 50 times a month, even when I asked you not to call quite so often. On my birthday, you called a hundred times, singing the 'Happy Birthday' song into my answering machine, but we weren't home and it really freaked out my wife. That's why the phone is always switched off, now."

"I think it's normal for a mother to call her son," she said.

"I'm sure it is," I said. "I'm not normal, though. I'm weird about some things, like — I hate it when the phone rings, so my phone is always switched off."

"But that means I can never call you!" she said again. 

I didn't answer.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Soon but not soon enough, Mom changed the subject and asked, “Where do you work?” 

"An insurance company," I answered. 

"Yes, but what company?" I’ve mentioned to her many times that I work at an insurance company, but never named it — another of my quirks, you could say. It was a question I hadn’t expected, though, so I answered with silence while mulling it over.

“Is it a secret?” she asked while I was still pondering, and by golly she’d nailed it.

“Yes! That’s it exactly — it’s a secret.”

“You work at an insurance company. You’re not a spy. Why would it be a secret where you work?”

“Because, Mom, the last time you knew where I worked, you called me at work — sometimes several times a day. I hadn't told you my work number, but you called the company and got my number from the switchboard. When I asked you not to call me at work, you kept calling me at work, and that’s why I haven’t told you where I work.”

“Well, that’s just silly," she said.

“Oh, I agree. It is silly.”

“I know where your sister works," Mom said, "and I know where your brother works—“

“And do you call them at work?”

“Well, sure, sometimes.”

And I laughed, and she laughed, and both of us were laughing at the other. We're quite different people, my mother and I. She can always make me laugh, when she's not making me crazy.

Eventually I said, "Goodbye, Mom. I love you. I'll call again soon."

"I wish I could call you," she said again.

"I know, Mom. Tell everyone I said hi." She sang another hymn at me, and then we hung up, and I enjoyed a much-needed THC watermelon-chew.

♦ ♦ ♦

If anyone asks a question, any question, and you’re not comfortable answering, you don’t have to answer. Even your mother.

A while back, one of my co-workers posted the electronic form to schedule a week off work, which sends an auto-generated email to everyone in the office. She’d included the word “medical,” and I may have briefly wondered what was up, but there’s no effin’ way I would ask. Even the form didn’t ask.

Someone else in the office asked her, though, and I watched my co-worker pause and stutter, until I shouted from across the room, “If she wanted you to know, she would've already told you.”

Words to live by, if you ask me.

The 21st century rolls along, and each day the concept of privacy seems more and more quaint. People post everything about their lives on social media, talk about whatever, wherever, without even whispering, and that's fine if that's their choice. But choosing not to share every detail or any detail of your life is also a valid choice. It's always OK to say, "None of your business." Even to Mom.



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  1. Every time you mention your mother it makes me appreciate my mother more. What a mess! It is creepy as can be.

    It is stupid to commit so much of your life to a fairy tale.

    1. My mom ain't stupid, in general, but we're all stupid about at least a few things and she's stupid about religion. Sorry, Mom.

    2. As I was reading this, I said to Virginia, Jesus Christ, he's been writing about his mom for at least 30 years, and it hasn't fucking changed one tiny bit. No respect for you in the slightest.

    3. No respect needed or earned. I love her, but Mom’s always been more than I could handle. It’s improved some over the past 30 years — she’s mellowed and I’ve toughened — but not much, not enough, and it’s probably not perceptible in the writing.

  2. It's a piss-poor god that has to control the sunrise and sunset. A smarter feller would invent gravity and rotation and move on to more interesting work.

    Religion isn't always a disorder, but sometimes it is.



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