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Me and Mom, again

If you're new to the saga of me and my mom, well, you can't possibly catch up. Our backstory stretches across galaxies, so I'm not even going to bother with a pertinent link.

I don't like answering Mom's questions. There are so many of them, always the same questions, and she keeps my answers in some astounding internal database that allows her instant access to everything I've ever said if it can be used to pry further into my life, or to jab at me with painful memories.

Among Mom's many questions, she's asked lots lately where I'm working. And of course, that's a perfectly ordinary question, and my response is stupid and childish, but I've answered with lies.

About a month after I'd quit a job at the Post Office, I told Mom that's where I was working. Then I made up stories about places I'd worked years ago, and places I've never worked, all to avoid telling her about Haugen & Dahl, where I've been working for almost three months.

A few weeks ago, I told her that I'm temping at a series of jobs for a few days or a week at a time — trying on jobs, basically, like you'd try on pants in a store. It wasn't true, but every time Mom asked where I was working, I made up a new temp assignment.

Of course, she demanded deep information about each of these untrue day-or-two jobs, so I made stuff up. The last fictional job I told her about, I said I was temping as a file clerk at the law firm of Shyster, Shyster, Shyster, & Fong.

And yes, I know 'Shyster' has anti-Semitic undertones, but I was using it as a slur against lawyers, not Jews, and besides it struck me as funny, so that's what I said to Mom.

After that, every time we spoke or texted, she wanted to know how my day with the shysters had gone, and what it was like working for shysters, and how long will you be working for the shysters, and have the shysters offered you a permanent job, and would you work for the shysters if they did?

Oy. The word had perhaps seemed funny to me because I hadn't heard it in years; my punishment was hearing it from my mother a hundred times in a week.

That's the way it goes, when I tell my mother anything, true or untrue.

After the hundred shysters, I told her I'd quit the law firm and started temping elsewhere, but I wanted to tell less complicated lies, so I also texted, "All office jobs are the same, and I'd rather not talk about every new temp assignment, so let's talk about something else, please."

And same as with the shyster wisecrack, that was Mom's invitation to never let go. Since then, she's texted over and over, "Tell me where you worked today," and "Why won't you tell me where you worked today?" and "Won't you pleeze tell me where you worked today?" (These are direct quotes from her Tuesday text messages.)

It's frustrating, sure, but from decades of dealing with Mom, I didn't give it much thought. This is how she is, how she's always been.

She probably knows I'm lying, too — she's my mother, after all — and she probably knows that I know that she knows I'm lying.

Is there even a psychiatric term, for a complex this complex?

Eventually I became curious about the numbers. Mom and I communicate almost entirely by texts, so I scrolled up and re-read a week's worth.

56 times she'd asked in various ways where I was working, after I'd asked her not to ask. 47 times I'd ignored it, but nine times I'd responded with variants of "I'd rather not talk about it."

I ran the tally while riding home from Haugen & Dahl, then clicked my phone off and gazed out the bus's window to ponder what it means. What it means is, I'm even more pathetic than I'd thought I was.

And yet...

There's a moment in Star Trek: First Contact, where Picard is more than moderately annoyed with the Borg, and he shouts, "The line must be drawn, here!" 

I understand that frustration.

My mother is the Borg, and the line I've drawn is, I don't want to tell her where I work. I'll put up with her banal and prying questions on every other topic, but I want this one thing for myself.

It's not much of a stand, of course. I'm no man, all mouse. It's pitiful, really, but it's a game we've played, Mom and me, probably since I was two years old and said "no" to her for the first time.

In the past, she's harangued me about Jesus, and high school, and girls, and church, and where I was for all those years I was gone.

This time it's about where I work. If I tell her where I'm working, though, she'll want to know more and more and everything about it. She might as well tag along with me to the office. We can ride the bus together, have lunch together.

Re-reading our text messages, no matter how many times I've said that I don't want to talk about work, she always asks again where I work, or why I won't talk about where I work, which is the same question, really.

For the first time in a long time, it started to truly anger me. It infuriated me. I let it eat me alive from Wednesday night until Friday morning, when it finally occurred to me that, yeah, it's infuriating, but also it's hilarious. Mom's nuts, definitely, but I'm nuts too, for taking it all these years.

Many times we've had the exasperated conversation where I loudly explain that if she needs to know every detail of her son's life, the son she needs is Dick, my brother who never shuts up about himself. He's happy to share every detail of everything in his life.

"I'm not Dick," I've sometimes said. "I'm Doug, your introverted son, who doesn't talk so much."

"But why don't you talk much?"

Mom and I had that conversation 40-some years ago, and 30-some years ago, and many, many times since. We had a short version of that conversation only a week and a half ago.

Those angry talks are difficult for me, but they've never been difficult for my mother. It's like they never happened. And she ain't dense. She enjoys it.

She especially enjoys it when I lose my temper. If I raise my voice, Mom wins. I've raised my voice many times, argued and hollered at her, and she smiles, gives me the scolding look, and it's another victory for Mom. So I mustn't lost my cool.

♦ ♦ ♦  

On Friday, I 'forgot' my cell phone at home, to take a day off from her questions about where I work. It was refreshing.

When I got home, I laughed in advance, wondering how many times she'd texted and asked where I was working, but it was only twice.

In the morning: "I don't know where you work because you won't tell me, but I hope you have a nice day at work."

And in the afternoon, "I wonder where you are working."

To be fair, in between were several unrelated texts about Dick's recovery from surgery, my sister Hazel's recovery from COVID, Mom's walk in a walker to church last weekend, and "Will you be there for our Saturday breakfast tomorrow?"

♦ ♦ ♦  

I've never not been there for breakfast, and Mom loves seeing me every Saturday. She tells me often how she looks forward to our breakfasts.

And then for an hour at the diner, sometimes longer, she tells the same stories and asks the same questions she always tells and asks — about dead people we have known and dumb things I did when I was a kid and my ex-girlfriends and my father's death and how I went missing for 11, 13, or 15 years, and lately, "Where are you working?"

Yeah, Mom loves those breakfasts. It's my only leverage. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Today is Saturday, and as usual, my sister Katrina came to breakfast, bringing her best friend, Adelle, and of course, bringing Mom. Also as usual, they were 15 minutes late.

After the hellos, I waited for Mom to ask where I'm working. It wasn't a long wait, and I smiled and changed the subject.

Then Katrina asked where I'm working, which isn't one of her usual topics, so I'm sure Mom put her up to it. I replied with a short version of the same answer I'd given Mom a week earlier:

"I'm temping, that's all. But it's boring, every temp assignment is the same, and I'd rather not spend my free time talking about my work time. Let's talk about other things, please."

Katrina seemed to think my answer was weird, but she dropped the line of inquiry. Adelle shrugged and changed the subject. Mom changed it back, and said, "I'm just curious about where you're working and why you won't talk about it."

"And you'll never know," I said, "but you'll never stop asking." I said it with a smile, for an extra point in our lifelong battle.

Over the rest of this morning's breakfast, Mom asked twice more where I'm working, once directly and once taking the long way 'round. I laughed, because it's either laugh or shoot her, and so far I'm choosing to laugh.

As we were all leaving, Mom tried again: "I sure wish you'd tell me where you work," and I said nothing but goodbye. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Riding the bus home, again I stared out the window, mulling things over. My next move seemed almost obvious, though.

Just before writing this, I wrote and sent an email to everyone in the family, announcing that from now on, the Saturday breakfasts will be twice-monthly instead of weekly — the first and third Saturdays of every month.

Mom's quite disappointed, but at our next breakfast — in two weeks, not one — my confident prediction is that she'll ask where I'm working, and ask why I won't tell her where I'm working. When she does, the breakfasts will become monthly instead of twice-monthly.

5/20/2023   

6 comments:

  1. Tell her you're working at the diner every day but Saturday

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just one comment about your family, who I don't know. Hell, I don't know you either, but I certainly think of us as Web brothers and value you and your writing.

    I DO know about my family. They're gone. Parents, of course, aunts and uncles, naturally, but all the cousins are gone. Few of them had children, but I never got to know them. All I have left is my sister. I see her twice a week for hours at a time, and help her around her house a little. Sometimes we just sit and chug Diet Pepsi and talk and frequently laugh.

    I value her as a sister and a friend. I'm a couple of years older and she's a couple of points smarter, but we're fairly similar. Her husband is cool and I like him, but when my sister and I start talking, he bugs out for his big screen TV in his basement den. Then Sis and I start telling vicious Trump stories. Then we laugh. I honestly don't know what I'd do without her.

    I don't presume to know anything about your relationship with "Katrina", but it seems to be copacetic. Possibly if everything weren't about your mom, you and sis could develop a geriatric relationship. They're fun when the people involved are fun.

    Just an observation. I know it's a mess. I wish you well.

    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Observations welcome and appreciated. Of course, what's inside people's heads is always a mystery, so there's no knowing really, but my observation is that Katrina's pretty cool, and the most level-headed and well-adjusted person in the family.

      We've never really been close, but that's entirely on me. I don't much do 'close'.

      I've known about a dozen people in my life I could spend two hours with and not be annoyed, and half of them would get on my nerves after three hours.

      My wife never really annoyed me at all until she died.

      Delete
  3. Are you gonna go every Saturday anyway, for two peaceful breakfasts monthly? Or do you think they'll just show up every Saturday anyway?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My mood will decide, I guess, but doing it at 9:15 is for the family and I ain't wild about it. When it's only for me, I want to be there early, when they unlock the doors, so the whole day is still wide open afterwards.

      Delete

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