Saturday, May 26, 2007

Under the Sofa

When I was a kid I used to be able to sqeeze under the sofa. One day I discovered that I was too large to fit under it, but on the same day I also discovered I could go behind it and squeeze into the space between the sofa, the upright piano, and the side table. It was a little dramatic, squeezing under the furniture, and it tended to scare my Pomeranian, who would sniff at me and whine until I either moved over to let her in or came out myself.

This past week, I've been under the sofa. Possibly sucking my thumb. Definitely muttering and whimpering to myself.

My mother's been in town all week.

Dear Butcher said to me this morning, when he found me crying in the bathroom, "Once again, your mother comes to visit leaving destruction and despair in her wake. When is she coming back?"

She laid off on the laundry this time. (Thank GOD!) But, she replaced that obsession with a need to take out my trash. We had this conversation three times while I was working on the computer:

"Suisan, do you have any trash can liners?"

"In the pantry, " I call back from the computer room.

A few moments later she calls again, "Suisan, where in the pantry are the liners?"

"On the floor!"

"On the floor? What color are they?"

(Good god woman, If you just took the liner out, can you not see that they are white, and therefore the replacement ones would ALSO be white?) "White! On the floor! In a box near the dog food!"

A few moments later, "Suisan, where does the trash go?"

"Outside in the bin!"

(Swear to god. Three times she asked this:) "Where's the bin?"

OK Fine. Clearly I don't need to get any work done. Clearly I need to stop everything so that I can take out the trash which must be done at that exact instant. Excellent. So I go into the kitchen to grab the bag of trash, and she says, "Oh, don't do that. I'll get it. I'm just trying to help."

verra verra helpful. thnx so much.

Weirdest quote of the week. After we've eaten Chinese food for dinner she says (while spreading all the clean dishes on every counter top because she cannot figure out where they go. Sigh.), "That was very good. You know, I've sworn off Chinese food, but I enjoyed that."

"Sworn off? Why?"

"Well, I read about all those people in China with the bloody noses and the gluten and the pork and I decided never to eat Chinese food again."

Ummmmmm. Yeah.

"Mom. It's American food."

"But those poor Chinese!"

Is she somehow unaware that the restaurants actually cook the food here? That just because it's Chinese food that the food did not actually come from China itself? WTF? I'm still trying to work that one out. She's got a Ph.D., for god's sake.

But the thing that just drove me over the edge this visit was all about My Idiot Brother. I showed her the "Best Of" award Dear Butcher received from the regional paper. "Oh, how nice. I wish your brother could have gotten one of these for his bookstore. It might have made him profitable."

Complaining about how my brother won't leave her alone and then five minutes later getting a call from My Idiot Brother on my cell phone. He's complaining to me because she called him an hour before ("While I Was At Work!") to tell him that he should quit this job and get one which paid 30K with benefits. ("Who does she think she is? I'm worth more than 30K! I place college graduates in jobs for 70K starting salaries! What an insult!" He's a commission-only recruiter who's made one sale in about three months.) So I get him off the phone, walk down stairs to hear my mother on the phone with My Idiot Brother. She gets him off the phone and spends the rest of the day complaining about how he's ruining her vacation by calling her.

"Did you call him this morning?"

"Well. I had to check in with him. I'm the only person he has left now."

Well then, it's hard to complain when he calls you back, then isn't it? Same gerbil wheel, different topic, different year.

My extended family is very wealthy. Sort of obscenely wealthy, actually. My grandfather, up until the stock market dived in the early 1990's, was free to travel, spread cash around, and buy properties with no concerns. If you wanted money, all you had to do was ask.

Except, I have a really hard time asking. It kills me. My fingernails itch. It makes my stomach hurt. Because in our family, money was love. Cash was love. My grandfather always wore deep pocketed blazers, and when you went to visit, you were encouraged to put your hands down into his side pockets to grab the prize.

It was always a roll of cash, hundreds usually. (And this was when I was six. What six year old has a use for a hundred dollar bill rolled around six or seven twenties?) You were not to count it or open the roll--that was considerd rude. You were supposed to crawl up into his lap, give him a big hug and a kiss, rub your face against his Bay Rum neck, and say, "I love you Grandpa." When you got home, you could run up to your room and unroll the cash, count the bills, and know that this was your gift from Grandpa. My parents never would have asked for it. It was given to the kids. It belonged to the kids. Grandpa's wishes were not to be questioned.

I never spent the money. I had no way to spend it as I wasn't allowed to bring the money with me if we went out (It's too much. You'll lose it.) and I wasn't allowed to walk around the neighborhood by myself, unlike my brother who went into Boston by himself on the T and invested in magic tricks at Jack's Joke Shop. So I stuffed it into my top dresser drawer until the day a baby sitter was putting away my clothes and opened the wrong drawer. Honest woman, she told my parents that there was about a thousand dollars in the youngest child's room, although she hadn't counted all of it, and did they know about it?

I still remember my father sitting me down that evening to tell me that we were going to have to open a savings account for me. He was so stern about it. So serious. I thought I was in trouble for most of the conversation. Here's your penance, young lady. You will have to carry a passbook. A passbook savings account because you are too young to sign a withdrawal slip. You are the only member of the family with a passbook savings account. We have checking accounts. Your brother spent his money, so he doesn't have a savings account. Only you, young lady, will have this passbook account. The passbook will be dark blue and will make you nauseated when you find it in your desk drawer, peeking out from under the ribbon barrettes and origami turtles. You will have to make a Special Trip to the bank and talk to the Bank Manager, who luckily is a friend of the family, before you can get your money out. OK?

I'm not sure where that whole experience went sideways, but I am as sure now as I was then that my father was deeply embarrassed that I had cash in the house. Then I thought that he was embarrassed I hadn't spent it, but now I think he was embarrassed to have been told by the babysitter that the eight year old had an entire drawer dedicated to cash. Talk about clueless parents.

In this strange system, cash was love. It was kisses and hugs. Checks, big yellow checks, were support and admiration. You got into the best private school in the land. Here's a check. I love you. Here's a twenty. I'm proud of your A. Here's a check. I see that you're sad, and I'm scared to ask why, so here's a fifty.

And since no one ever bothered to SAY "I love you", no one except my grandmother and my aunt, I grew up feeling completely unlovable.

Not unloved. I "knew" logically that people loved me, but I felt marked and damaged as the one person in the family who could not feel love and was not to be loved by edict from on high. Ultimately I was sure that everyone in the family felt as if they were supposed to love me, supposed to say so in a polite way to make me feel better, but actually, they couldn't love me becuase I was an unlovable person. I used to dream about the mark on my forehead that labelled me as the unlovable one. It was green. It was a triangle.

(Interestingly, neither my grandmother nor my aunt ever gave me money. My grandmother had a trust fund for me, and she would pay for things for me, but she never handed me a check in her entire life. My aunt also bought things for me, but she gave the objects as gifts, not straight cash. Odd that those are the only two people whom I believed when they said, "I love you.")

So for me, to ask for money from my family is really to beg for love. (Yeah, I know that's insane, but that's the way it feels.) Please love me. Please. I'll do anything. I'll be really really good. You won't even know that I'm here. Please can I have some? About This much? Or maybe more? But I don't want to overdraw your account of love. I know how limited you are and that the overdraft protection is costly. So, could I have some? Whatever you can afford?

I knew the whole time she was visiting that I was going to ask her for money. Dear Butcher and I could use some. Seriously. And she's got some. And she's my mother. And she's got enough to spend on my brother. So um, time to gird my loins, swallow back that discomfort, get rational about this whole topic, and just ask her and my Dad if maybe they could help us out. Besides, we have gone for years without asking for money. Years. Almost a decade, I think.

At one point during Mom's visit to me she said, "Your life is so stressful. I wish there was something we could do to make it easier."

(Ah HA! Perfect opening!)

"Mom. I hate doing this. I really do. But seriously, we could use some money. We're about to be delinquent on the property taxes, which we'll pay, obviously, but there's going to be a penalty. Our health insurance is really expensive, and April was a hard month for the businesses. We'd try to pay you back, if that's what you need. But seriously, it would make my life a lot less stressful, at least for the summer, if we had a cushion."

"I already do so much for your brother, you know. He's draining us dry. Maybe we can send you a check when we get home."

Which means that really, she's not going to send anything.

Which also means that I'm right back to feeling like shit. There's a small kid inside me who's squeezed behind the sofa, smelling the dry dust and the rich lanolin of the Oriental carpet, listening to the Pomeranian's nails click on the side table legs as she digs at it so that I will let her in.

Fuck. I hate being pathetic.


CindyS said...

YOU are NOT pathetic!!

I imagine it is painful to listen to your parents go on about your brother and his problems. I completely understand what you are talking about when you equate money and love.

Would going to your father be any easier?

Okay, we have to do some self talking. Let's see.

So you have to tell yourself that you are not asking for love when you ask for money. They had a chance to know and love you and they chose to throw money at it. You know the difference, your grandma and aunt showed you the difference. (I can see how this snowballs though because by asking your mom and having her not give the money is like having her withold her love - ugh) So you have to take back the power. Years ago I had to make a decision to cut out the people in my life who were making it too hard. My mother and I used to see each other about three times a week. Now I only see her when everyone else is around and I no longer call her to go out with me even though I live less than a few minutes from her.

My mother was like poison (I love my mom but I recognized the dangers) so I had to cut her from my life. You may have to tell your mom that 'no, this isn't a good time for you to visit'. If you are crying when your mother is visiting then I think you need to consider cutting back. Now my mother can't really hurt me like she used to. Sure she can come out with a doozie every once in a while but I fire back.

The good news is you don't have to be confrontational about it. You just have to be evasive and maybe a few white lies will come to pass.

Okay this is getting long. Maybe my solution is not mature but I am a far happier person not having to deal with cutting remarks about my life from my mother.


Marianne McA said...

Read this late last night, and decided not to post a comment. Clearly, I can't visit your blog and leave rude remarks about your mother, and yet that seems the only sensible response.
Fifteen hours later, and I still can't think of a socially acceptable comment. Gobsmacked.

Can you open a nice bottle of something or go and see Pirates? (Be a public service really, because I got a bit lost in the middle, and need parts explained.)

Sam said...

I think a SASE stuck in her suitcase might be in order here.

Actually I'm gobsmacked too. On the other hand, my MIL makes your mother look like Betty Crocker, and she's broke and sponging money off Us. So, could be worse.

Kristie (J) said...

Ah Suisan: (((((hugs))))))
The older I get the more I appreciate my childhood. Love from my parents was unconditional and the best way we expressed it was through laughter. Hours and hours of laughing.
So, very fortunately I don't have to work on getting a lot of childhood monkeys off my back. And so much of what we are today is from what our childhood created.
For what it's worth - your mother is one SERIOUSLY whacked individual. I guess the thing is when that little girl is hiding under the sofa is to be grateful that most of the time you have risen above the things that scar us from our childhoods and you are so much the better person now. Acknowledge the little girl for a while, that she was hurt, treat her good and know you are a better, fuller person for having gotten through it.
Make sense?

Suisan said...

Well, I patted the little girl on the head, gave her a hug, and came out from under the sofa.

Still feeling a bit wounded, but not so steamrolled anymore. Damn, that hurt though. No wonder I live 3,000 miles away.

Tacoma said...

I swear to god, money is so not money. I think every fight my parents used to have was about the stuff (still married, not that many fights, just always about money), so I get this sick powerless feeling about it- to my little girl self it causes FIGHTS and UNHAPPINESS and sometimes CRYING, and there's NOTHING I CAN DO!
Sometimes I lay in bed at night thinging about money, are we saving enough (or at all) can we afford kids, my stomach totally knottted, and getting angry at the poor husband (bless his heart, he can't save to save his life, but he doesn't spend money he doesn't have- thank god). And it's really hard for me to have a rational discussion about it.
Thanks for the post, I really enjoy your site.

Doug said...

It never ceases to amaze me how different families can be screwed up in such very different ways. My parents like to pretend they treat each of the three of us exactly the same (money-wise) and I guess they do make the effort. But my mother in particular tries to use the inheritance to manipulate us, and that's what her mother did to her.

Reading this, I remembered the time my mom took a bus to visit me while I was in college. She stayed several days, and it seemed like forever. And when she left, I felt like the inside of my skull was dripping with poison.