Sunday, September 30, 2007

Our beet-salad heritage (apologies to Shteyngart)

Gary Shteyngart's "Sixty-Nine Cents," in the The New Yorker's food issue (September 3 & 10, 2007), is the second thing I've ever read in my life that truly reminded me of my childhood, made me feel it in my bones. The first was "Natasha and Other Stories" by David Bezmozgis, and I highly, highly recommend it.

Shteyngart writes about a family trip to Florida during which, among other things, he really wanted to eat at McDonald's, but his parents, being Russian, packed their own food everywhere. Which is sometimes and in some ways a good thing, but we take it to excess. He wrote,

I considered the possibility of redeeming my own dignity, of leaving behind our beet-salad heritage. My parents didn’t spend money, because they lived with the idea that disaster was close at hand, that a liver-function test would come back marked with a doctor’s urgent scrawl, that they would be fired from their jobs because their English did not suffice.

It's sometimes hard to separate what's Russian-Jewish from what's Russian or what's Jewish, and very often hard to separate what's any or all of the above from immigrant. Almost every ethnicity identified with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and so did I even though I thought the movie sucked. Several months back a Chinese friend confided that she grew up believing her family was constantly on the brink of poverty because of the way her mother talked about, dealt with money, and my mother was the same way. Although in my mother's case, it's hard to separate what was concern about money from jumping on any opportunity to make me feel guilty. There's an earlier post about the hiking book incident in Arizona; there was the time I wanted to make sushi and my mother started seething when she found out the powdered wasabi had cost $3; and, perhaps my earliest memory, which was so traumatic I had long blocked it out, there was my tenth or eleventh birthday party, which was actually my last as a child (and now that I think about it, it's probably why I hesitate to celebrate my birthday to this day, and rarely do).

My mom wasn't the only, or even primary reason that the event was traumatic, but she certainly moved the knife around in the wound. My best friend at the time and her sister were very wild, rowdy, and demanding of attention. The theme of the party was one of those murder mystery dinner party things. I think I'd been to another child's party of that theme and liked it. I don't remember exactly what happened, or even vaguely what happened, except that best friend and sister were impatient with the game, started acting up, started throwing food, and the party quickly got out of control. No one could get it back under control, so it was dispersed. Best friend and I fell out, pretty much forever although we probably continued to see each other, but I don't think it was the same and we eventually did fall out of touch.

At the time, I was crushed over this failed party, as any child my age would have been. I suppose, thinking about it now, one option for my mother would have been to comfort me; instead, she guilt-tripped me about the $24 wasted on the dinner game. It's only thinking about it now that I realize that none of it was my fault; I mean, I was ten, or eleven. The dinner game sat there in my room, unopened. It became a fixture eventually and less of a reminder of the disaster that was that birthday party. I'm not sure why she didn't return it. I wonder if it's still there now.

While this is my earliest memory of my mom's making me feel guilty about money, I'm not certain it was the first time it happened.

My mom still packs massive amounts of food everywhere she goes, usually to my annoyance, because it takes up so much time. I still pack food, but only food that packs well, and when it's worth it. I acknowledge that while financial responsibility is important, it shouldn't come at the expense of familial stress, particularly when one isn't constantly on the brink of poverty, which I eventually realized we weren't. Sooner than that, though, I realized that obsessing over money, not to mention using it in psychological warfare against your family, will only make you miserable.

Coming to conclusions

Last night (i.e. 45 minutes ago) was my friend's birthday; her birthday dinner/party was going on as we speak but I had to leave, I got a splitting headache from the combination of noise, sugar, alcohol, even though I only had once glass of wine, which was very good... and one piece of cake, which was even better. Heavenly, actually. Chocolate cake is my vice. I'm not addicted to anything-- I stop taking prescription drugs, even vycodin, as soon as I can-- except chocolate. And no it's not the sugar or the fat, it's the chocolate. Which comes with sugar (and fat). And everything I read, everywhere, tells me sugar is bad-- it makes you dumb (see NYT article: Lobes of Steel); it gives you cancer (if you care, e-mail me, I'll send you the reference for the book); etc. So I've tried to cut back but as long as chocolate comes with sugar, purging sugar from my diet will be an uphill battle.

But I digress. My friend-- a very close friend-- understood. I left, and paced the floor of the metro stop to try to walk off the sugar rush, and as I did, my heel occasionally fell through and pierced the caulk. I looked down and there were other heel marks. I don't have Carrie Bradshaw feet, and I don't look fabulous in strappy sandals, but I look even less fabulous in anything clunkier.

I digress again. I wanted to get my friend flowers, because she likes flowers, but I thought this place was more club and less restaurant, so I didn't pick up any flowers earlier in the day. I got there unfashionably early, saw that it was a restaurant (and club), and went to a nearby supermarket and got some flowers. This is in Columbia Heights, which like much of DC is both very high income and very low income.

In front of me in line was a woman buying exactly $20-worth of groceries. She had $20 in cash, and when her total came to $21.50, she had to return something. Also in her shopping cart was a 24-pack of bottled water. Which (not the water, but her choice to sacrifice something else for bottled water) made me think of something.

I remember one of my grad school colleagues telling me, not long after I first moved to DC, that he babysat, maybe tutored, for a well-off family, and that family drank DC tap water so it must be fine.

A year later, one of my roommates, a teacher [of low-income kids] said that her kids' families, no matter how poor they are, all drink bottled water, won't touch DC tap water.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

what did I do, why the hostility?

A.: Hello!
Mom: Well?
A.: Well, what?
Mom: Why did you send me your itinerary? Are you coming down on business again?

Okay, my mom knows that I've been planning on going to a wedding in the Boston area in late October. That's why there's [the same dress I wore to the September wedding] hanging in the guest room, and I repeated it when she said it was too bad they'd be out of town during my business trip a couple of weeks ago. I don't expect mom to keep track of my wedding attendance, as I can barely keep track of it myself, but this one should not have come as a surprise.

A.: No, I'm going to a wedding. I'm coming down a couple of days early, though, so we should get a chance to spend some time together.
Mom: You're coming on Sunday and leaving on Thursday?

Now I know where I get my numerical dyslexia.

A.: I'm coming down on Thursday, leaving early Monday morning.
Mom: You could at least come down for my birthday.
A.: I would have loved to but I can't miss that much work and it just doesn't make sense to fly in just to leave three days before I'm flying in again.
Mom: I see.

Mom: Why are you sitting around at home? Or are you not at home?
A.: I just got back from a bike ride.
Mom: Where?
A.: Along the river.
Mom: Oh, okay. Bye.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Some things are relative

Dressing appropriately can be tricky.

I say that only somewhat facetiously; it is often a challenge to dress not only for the occasion but also for the fast-changing weather. This morning, I had to decide what to wear to a meeting in the city... something that would look professional yet comfortable enough to not make for a miserable twenty-minute walk to and from the metro. Then, you have to consider the weather: it's hot outside, it's air conditioned in the metro-- but if the air conditioning there is broken you don't want to arrive at your meeting covered in perspiration-- but the office will be air conditioned... which blazer won't wrinkle when you take it off and sling it over your forearm... and so on.

In this light, I understand why my mother thinks I need help deciding what to wear. She'll call and ask about the weather, and then ask what I'm wearing. She really does concern herself with my temperature control:

Mom: Is it hot in D.C.?
A.: Yeah, but it's not bad on the porch.
Mom: What are you doing? [This is often followed by, 'if you were here you could come to the lake with us. How can you live somewhere with no lake?]
A.: Just sitting on the porch, cat's sitting on my lap.
Mom: That must be uncomfortable, since it's so hot.

That can also be filed under 'mom misses no opportunity to slam my cat.'

Anyway, as I walked out the door, blazer in hand, I thought about how throughout the three-plus months in 2000 during which I lived with my parents and commuted to Boston, before I'd found an apartment closer to work, my mother would follow me to the door and sometimes out of the house saying, "you don't need that blazer/sweater, you're going to be hot in that! It's [N] degrees out, leave the blazer...and by the way, what time will you be home...and..." and I would answer back, "I have to go, I'm going to miss the train..."

She still does it, all the time. This is amazing to me for the following reasons:

A. I am thirty years old (shhhhh... this is actually privileged information). I can dress myself. Even at 23, at the time of that commute, I could dress myself.
B. Temperature changes, especially in the evening, and especially when you take a boat to work, which I did then.
C. A blazer, or a sweater, is a layer. The whole point of layers is that you can remove them when the temperature changes.
D. My mother didn't take the boat, I did. I had a better understanding of the temperature of my commute than she did. Also, different people are comfortable at different temperatures.
Most people realize all of the above and let it go, but my mother, every time, argues with me to try to convince me to leave the extra layer. She also announces proudly that, well, she's not cold, implying that I shouldn't be, either.

The things that many people see as relative or in any case variable among individuals, including the relationship between temperature and comfort level; the placement of rear- and side-view mirrors; taste in clothing; tastes in just about everything; working at Google; etc. are in mom's view absolutes.

I was happy with my choice of blazer, although had Mom seen me leave the house, she would have told me that I didn't need it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

What can I say? I feel his pain

Perhaps it was because my mother was busy preparing for her trip to the Catskills when Shinzo Abe resigned that she didn't bother to send me news of the resignation, despite her confessed sense of responsibility to ensure my awareness of what's going on in the world.

Fortunately, I actually read the newspaper... many newspapers, and a couple of news magazines, as it were... so I was able to educate myself on Mr. Abe's political demise. While I had known that there was no love lost between Mr. Abe and scholars of the region, some of the rancor exceeded my expectations. I heard one well-respected regional expert respond to news of his hospitalization for stress-related gastrointestinal troubles with an emotional "good!"

I don't know enough about Japanese politics to pass judgment on Mr. Abe, although to the downfall of, among other things, a war crimes apologist, my inclination would be to react with relief. It is in that light that I was surprised to find myself feeling some sympathy, on account of something I read in the

"Mr Abe had all his life been groomed to be prime minister—not least by his domineering mother, who last year insisted he grasp the chance even as grandees of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) urged him to wait."

I sent this to a friend before posting it. His response was, "he's still being bossing around by his mother in his 60's? That's scary."

And that's the lesson: learn to say no now, or you have no idea how far it will go. I wouldn't even apply to Google, and I'm not even a head of state.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New on my $hit list: Budget Rent-a-car and Lebanese Taverna

First of all, just don't rent a car in Boston unless you're leaving the city. And if you do, don't rent from Budget.

The cars are a ways from the terminal, and it took a good twenty minutes to get there by shuttle bus (which is longer than it takes to get anywhere in Boston by cab). To make matters worse, it was at least that long before we got a shuttle bus; at least three drove right by us. Other rental companies' shuttles stopped at the designated area. When we finally got to the office, we were first, and there were four open counters, but we waited for at least five minutes for anyone to call us over. None of the employees said anything, either; a simple, "we'll be with you in a minute, our systems have been down," would have gone a long way. Finally, just when I thought we were on our way, I had to stop at a booth by the exit of the parking lot. I didn't realize that, however, because the booth wasn't lit at all. I almost drove over nails trying to get out. The guy in the booth asked to see my rental agreement; I went back to the car and got it for him. Then, because he couldn't have asked for both at the same time, he asked to see my license, too. Now, this is by no means the first car I've ever rented, and while I haven't seen this keys on the dash/show ID to exit thing before, apparently it exists. However, unresponsive shuttle buses, rude counter people, a dimmed booth and annoying dim counter guy, added up for a very unpleasant renting experience.


I went to meet Marcela at the mall, we were going to have lunch. When I arrived and called her, she was in Marshall's, which meant we'd cross the big mall to get to where the good eating was. I suggested Lebanese Taverna, mostly because I didn't want to eat at Thaiphoon, but remembered, out loud, that we'd had a problem at that one before, in that they forgot our order. We thought we'd give it a second chance. As we walked into the big mall, Marcela caught me subconsciously gravitating toward Banana Republic and quickly set me back on course; she was hungry. We got to Lebanese Taverna, were seated, and sat for a good ten minutes before anyone in the almost empty restaurant had come to take our order. So we got up and left, and tried the tapas place across the square. It was quite good, but more importantly, we were actually served promptly.

We sat outside, which was lovely, apart from the children in the square who would practice their screaming from time to time, to get it just right for their next trip.


For someone who dishes it out all the time, my mom sure can't take it. Or not even "it," for that matter.

She called just now. I asked how her trip was. She answered in great detail and length, which was fine, until, apparently I didn't make any "listening noises" (although I was listening) and my mother said, "hello? helllllooooo?" as she often does for no good reason. I actually find it kind of annoying.

"Yes, I'm listening," I said, in a completely neutral, if not reassuring tone.
"Oh, you're listening. You're doing me a huge favor there."
"Is something wrong?"
"Is something wrong with you?"

Whatever it was, she quickly recovered and went on talking about the trip.

For someone who regularly insults people (albeit with the motivation of improving them) and accuses them of oversensitivity, mom is very sensitive. She can't take a joke, or even a lighthearted comment. If I, say, request that she stop invoking the fact that I gained weight every five minutes, or ask her to hold any of her many critiques of my personality, she says I'm too sensitive and should be more open to self-improvement. If I tell her that something she does bothers me, I must have a complex. My dad and I joke all the time; my mom takes a lighthearted joke as a grave insult.

I was in Boston this past week for work (my parents were in the Catskills so I didn't see them). Knowing the city, I played tourguide for my coworker, and occasionally included personal references in my commentary:

"The red line is so named because it goes to Harvard Square, and Harvard's color is crimson. The river thins as we leave Boston and enter Watertown. This MDC (Metropolitan District Commission) skating rink is where I used to take lessons as a child; in fact, every time my mom and I drive by it, she makes a point of reminding me that I took lessons but wasn't very good, at that or anything else she tried to expose me to." To be fair, my dad does this too (though not nearly as unrelentingly), but if, say, needle him for how messy his car is, he doesn't take it as a declaration of war.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


I'm thinking I need to make "atrocious customer service" another label on the blog, but I'm also hoping it hasn't come to that.

I understand that sometimes one has to get woken up in the middle of the night, or that sometimes it happens and it's no one's fault or there's nothing anyone can do. It's not ideal, but it's city life (or on-a-plane-with-babies life). I'm pretty good at falling back asleep when it's a one-noise thing: a dog barks a few times and stops; a car alarm goes off, but it turned off; a baby cries and is comforted rather than ignored by its parents; etc. Even this morning, around 2am, Gracie Cat broke into my room because she wanted to cuddle, and I was able to remove her and move on with my life. I'm less forgiving when the waking-up just should not have happened in the first place. My mom woke me up at 3am a few years ago when we were spending a long weekend together in Florida, because she wanted me to see the stars. I was not amused.

What amuses me even less? Getting texted by my cell phone provider at 3:30am. This has actually happened a few times, and once I called and asked them to stop, but apparently they didn't. I usually turn my phone off at night (I wouldn't put it passed my mom to call me at 3:30am to tell me the stars are bright where she is at the time), but last night I forgot. So I was awoken at 3:30 in the morning my a text alert.

It actually wasn't a big deal, I was tired enough that I was able to ignore it and go back to sleep. I was fairly annoyed when I checked it this morning to see that it was from AT&T, so I called them.

The first thing I got was a pseudo-apology. We're sorry you're having a problem with this. They're apologizing for my irritation with a middle-of-the-night phone call.

Then, the woman on the phone checks it out, and says that the text was about my auto-pay card expiring. Do I have auto-pay?

Now, I am not my mother. I'm generally polite to customer service people, because whatever the problem is is rarely their fault, and besides, even if it were, that's no reason to be rude. But I was tired and she was wasting my time.

A.: Yes, I do have auto-pay. That's not the point. The point is, I DO NOT APPRECIATE BEING NOTIFIED ABOUT THESE THINGS BY TEXT AT 3:30AM. And no, my card is not expiring/has not expired. It was to expire in July and I updated it, and have been billed since.

Does she deal with the matter at hand, i.e. the medium of notification? Nooooooo. She says, "well, it may have expired since you last updated it."


Anyway, eventually we were able to communicate, and she supposedly updated my preferences, removing AT&T from the pool of things/people/alarms that can interfere with my attempts to get a good night's sleep.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Multiple Choice

The LePresse in hand, my mom:

a) Thanked me for providing her with a press;
b) Told me to make sure to thank the friend who had brought it up from DC;
c) Criticized me for adding to her clutter;

Mom: I love that A.J. Wright by the Russian food store... they really have great prices.
A.: What do you buy there?
Mom: All sorts of appliances.
A.: Do you need a lot of appliances?
Mom: I detect criticism in your voice.
A.: I don't mean any. I'm asking. What appliances do you need?
Mom: Well, you've just given me another one, to add to the clutter.
A.: You asked me for it.
Mom: No, you offered it to me.


A.: Hello?
Mom: Are you busy?
A.: No...
Mom: So, here's the deal with Verizon...

How long has this been going on? Which month's blog was it that mom first started going on about Verizon?

It's not the time; I like to do things for my parents. It's just that with these complaint letters, if it's not one thing it's another, and half the time I'm not sure that the complaint is valid.

Note, however, that she asked whether I was busy. This is a first.

Monday, September 10, 2007


On the way to the airport:

A.: Oh, I moved the side-view mirrors. Don't forget to readjust them.
Mom: Why would I readjust them?
A.: Because I moved them.
Mom: Oh! I can't see a thing out of these mirrors! Why did you move them?
A.: So I could see.
Mom: But I can't see anything!
A.: I moved them so I could see yesterday.
Mom: But that wasn't a good position! I couldn't see a thing.


At the airport, saying our goodbyes:

Mom: You have to control your temper.
A.: Bye, mom. I love you.
Mom: It's most harmful to you.
A.: Bye!
Mom: It's something you need to work on. I mean, it'll take work, but it's worth it.
A.: Bye!


At the airport, I was asked to leave the plane for lack of a paper ticket. Yes, I was already seated, when the gate staff discovered that I lacked the paperwork, apparently, to board the plane. They made me disembark. I asked the gate agent what the problem was; he said that my ticket probably hadn't been paid for. The fact that my credit card had been charged; that I had been issued a boarding pass; and that I'd already flown four legs on the same ticket, was beside the point. Ten minutes later, I was issued an apology and allowed to re-board, at which point one of my row mates had helped himself to my window seat. I don't blame him, and he didn't try to fight me for it, nor did he elbow me the whole way, sing, or speak German. Nonetheless, I repeat my advice to travelers: online seat reservations are a beautiful thing.


I was ready to leave the Rockies... my soul was full. Now I'm ready to go back. It was such a perfect trip-- the weather worked with us the whole time, raining a lot but only when it didn't matter; the beautiful views captured in the photos were accompanied by beautiful sounds, fresh air, and often, on the hikes, the smell of pine. The stars were very visible, and our campfire was perfect. I'd say it prompted the quote of the week. I'd told Elisabeth I wasn't sure I could handle a campfire, that I was too ADD. As we were searching for kindling to keep it going and prodding it with the poker, Elisabeth said, "see, a campfire is a perfect ADD activity!"

Sunday, September 9, 2007

It's a wonder I can tie my own shoes

The wedding was beautiful and reception a lot of fun. I actually enjoy watching other people dance, even when I'm not willing to do so myself-- there's something to the synchronicity of a dance floor. Anyway, I got to my car (well, my dad's car) around a quarter to midnight, and found on my phone a message from my mother, asking whether I was planning on returning home. I don't want to give you the impression that I don't appreciate her concern, but I do want to emphasize how much I value not having to tell anyone when I'm coming home. Even if everything else that made living with my mom difficult wasn't there, one huge reason that I wouldn't want to do it is that I can't deal with someone expecting me all the time.

My initial plan was just to get a hotel room out in Worcester, where the wedding was, but my mom talked me out of it. She even tried to talk me into letting her drop me off and pick me up (it's almost an hour's drive each way), but that's where I drew the line. Then she offered to drive with me so I could follow her, so I wouldn't get lost. Then she said, "you know, dear, they've been stepping up their patrols, looking for people who have been out partying." I had to actually verbalize the fact that I had no intention of driving under the influence.

Lest you think mom was content to just let me drive to the wedding without providing any more help, think again. She wouldn't let it be that I wasn't willing to take confusing backroads to get to the highway, which would shave two minutes from the trip, so she insisted on at least escorting me to the highway along those backroads. She was going to a lake anyway so it was on her way. Except she was dilly-dallying, which she does. And after five minutes of waiting, I said, "that's it, I'm leaving." For five more minutes, we went through "no, we're coming," and "well, it'll take you longer." Finally we all made it outside, but ever the dilly-dallyer, I was at the car for a few minutes before she and dad got to the other one. Eventually we left, and I followed them.

Shortly before the highway (and back on road I knew well, i.e. from which I knew the way), my dad decides to pull a Chinese fire drill. At a light, he gets out of the car my mom's driving, and comes up to mine. I roll down the window, but that's not good enough: he wants me to unlock the door so he can get in. I do so. He tells me that they need to get gas and I should keep going. I ask him how I'm going to let him out, since we've started moving again. I don't ask why he couldn't have told me this through the window. Eventually we stop at another light, and he manages to get back into the other car.


Earlier, I was getting ready and asked mom if she had a sweater or shawl I could borrow. I'd known what sweater I'd planned on bringing, but I'd lent it to someone at a birthday dinner for a mutual friend, and it was returned to me with curry-like stains. Anyway, I asked her for something white or grey, possibly black.

Mom: What color is your dress again?
A.: A dark pink.
Mom: How about this? [Holding up a lilac shawl].
A.: That doesn't go with my dress. Anything white or grey?
Mom: Sure it does! Lilac goes with everything. It certainly goes with pink.

I did not say, "yeah, when you're five years old." Several more times, after I'd decided on a white shawl, she asked me why I didn't want to take the lilac.


An earlier, unrelated conversation:

A.: Kevin says Gracie's been an angel and very friendly. She even slept up on his window sill, which she usually only does when Chloe (Kevin's daughter, who visits every other weekend) is there. Gracie loves Chloe.
Mom: Maybe you could give her to her?
A.: Why do you hate my cat?
Mom: [shrug].

Friday, September 7, 2007

Complaint letter déjà vu

Tonight I wrote a complaint letter to Verizon on my mother's behalf. As she described the situation, I calmly asked her whether she had considered resolving this issue by phone; she got very defensive, raised her voice, and told me she didn't need any comments from me, that I should just write the letter. I asked her to lower her voice, and she said that asking me for a favor always brought too high a cost. For some reason, she has started to use this often, and I’m not sure how she would back it up if I pushed back on it.

She said that when she called, she waited on hold for forty-five minutes and that that was a key part of what she wanted me to write: that although Verizon's customer service for internet and television was exceptional, that for local phone service was horrific.

It went like this: I wrote the letter, she would look at it and disapprove, claiming that I had forgotten something. I would then point out that something to her in the letter, but she was displeased with my phrasing or something else. She would nit-pick at my wording:

Mom: You wrote that she put me on hold-- she hadn't put me on hold, I was waiting for someone to pick up, listening to their repeated message.
A.: That does not say that anyone put you on hold. It says that you were on hold for forty-five minutes...
Mom: No, I wasn't on hold... I was waiting and listening to their recorded message.
A.: That's called being on hold.

Finally, she approved the letter or at least acknowledged my limitations in conveying her thoughts, and said we could move on to the letter to 'that evil company that [I] continue to bank with.'
Mom: Do you deny that they are evil?
A.: I don’t really care whether they’re evil or not, their banking services meet my needs. [Note: I would care if they were evil in the sense of, say, nazi gold, but evil in the sense of having policies that inconvenienced my mom just doesn’t cut it].
Mom: They’re liars, they’re frauds, and you still defend them.
A.: I’m not defending them; I’m not passing judgment on their morals. I am maintaining that their banking services meet my needs.
Mom: This isn’t about me! I was lucky, I had money in a different place that I could draw from, but imagine an elderly woman, her spouse is in the hospital, she doesn’t know his account number or pin, she can’t withdraw the money she needs for his hospital bills.
A.: Right. I am not elderly, and I don’t have anyone else on the account, so that scenario does not inspire me to change bank accounts.

It’s like Bill Clinton’s continued popularity among women: I vote for a president, not a husband, and I choose my bank based on convenience and interest rates, not policies that don’t affect me.

Mom starts describing the situation.

A.: Wait, I’ve HEARD all this. I’ve already WRITTEN this letter for you.
Mom: No, you haven’t.
A.: Yes, I have… I’ll find it in my sent mail.
Mom: Oh, no, that letter was useless! That letter had nothing to do with anything.
A.: Well, then I’m not sure how useful another letter will be.

I’m not sure exactly what happened next. Her voice kept rising, I kept asking her to lower it—I was still finishing up the Verizon letter and her franticness was distracting me. She started, and kept, screaming, and then kicked me off the computer.

Mom: Get off the computer, now!
A.: Okay… can I just print directions to the wedding first?
Mom: No! I’ve been waiting for the computer all night?
A.: You have been? You didn’t say anything. Besides, I’ve been here because I’ve been writing this letter.
Mom: Oh, I see. Every time you do something for me, it’s this huge favor. Everything you do for me comes at a cost.
A.: Well, in this case, that cost is that I need the computer.
Mom, yelling: Why is this so much easier when Irina writes letters for me? Why doesn’t she act like it’s a huge favor? Everytime you need something, it has to happen right away. When I need something, it’s this big deal!

I just got up and left. As I walked to the other room, she followed me, continuing to yell.

Mom: I am just amazed at how we managed to raise such a selfish person!

We have very different concepts of urgency

I was, am hopping on and off the computer whenever it's free-- don't worry, I have a life, we're going to the beach in a minute, but I do want to get these photos organized, and I do need to blog. Anyway, I was creating folders in Picasa (so the links I sent won't work soon, go to my root folder and see the Canadian Rockies subfolders). I was in the middle of a name on the folder, had a few words left, when I heard,

"Let me finish this sentence, please."
"NO, NOW!"
"This is taking longer because you're screaming. If you stop and let me finish, it will be another two seconds."
"That will just take longer. There, I'm done. If you hadn't screamed at me, I would have been done a few seconds after you first asked me to leave."

A happy Jewish family

I was really looking forward to doing yoga for the first time in over a week, especially with all the hiking, driving and sitting in a plane. I felt better even after the first few poses. My mom was out in the garden, so I even thought I'd have time to do yoga in peace.

I have to admit, she tried to only mumble to herself when she came into the room. Unfortunately, she decided to climb up onto the couch to water a plant just as I was in the middle of tree pose, a balancing pose that requires a lot of concentration. From tree pose, I heard my name.

A.: This minute? I'm busy.
Mom: I'm busy too!
A.: Wait a few seconds!
Mom: You are so selfish! You only ever do the things you need to do, you never do anything for anyone else.
A.: [Emerging from tree pose] Fine, what do you need?
Mom: Nothing! I don't need anything from you!
A.: I didn't think so.

She then proceeded to stomp around the room and make as much noise as possible as I went on with my yoga. While I was still in a standing pose off the mat, she kicked up the yoga mat, picked up some dumbells, and did some noisy exercises with them. Then she slammed the door and left. To her credit, she didn't turn on the tv. She continued to pout throughout the morning, and went straight to the computer as dad and I were making breakfast, prompting him to say, "what a happy Jewish family, everyone getting ready for breakfast together."

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kids on a plane

First of all, a newsflash for air travelers: there is this thing called the internet. You can go on it and choose the seats you want. I do it all the time. Ergo, I want the seats I've chosen. I'm sorry you have not chosen the seats you wanted, but I will not let that be my problem.

I like aisle seats, generally, because I like to get up and stretch a lot. It's not secret that I exhibit symptoms of ADD. So when I choose a window seat, it has to be good. And flying along the Rockies from Calgary to Denver is window-seat good. I actually remarked about it to Elisabeth; I'd said, "I'm looking forward to a great view from a high altitude that I won't have to achieve with my own two legs."

So the window seat was mine, and I wanted it. The fact that someone else wanted it, and that someone else happened to be a small child, didn't mean that he was entitled to it. I invite you, those of you giving me dirty looks right now in your head, to give me a good reason why I should have given up my seat... which I actually considered doing at first, before the mom got all passive-aggressive on me.

I approached my seat, to see a boy sitting in it and a girl in the next one over. I looked for a parent, and indicated to her that her son was in my seat. The boy started pouting and saying, "YOU SAID I HAD A WINDOW SEAT!" The mom said, "I'm sorry, I thought most adults knew how much kids like window seats." and that was the moment when I quashed any inner dialogue that was debating offering him the seat. My resolve deepened when the kids neither got up, nor moved their stuff out of the way to let me pass to my seat.

The child didn't stop whining about it, and the mom eventually asked me directly if I really wanted the seat. I told her yes, and that I'd reserved one specially. I didn't add that sitting next to her two little brats would be enough punishment, and that I shouldn't have to give up my seat as well. And that was before the girl next to me started kicking her chair, intruding with her elbow into my space, singing off key, practicing her German, and screaming across the aisle to her mom for a good ten minutes that there must be something wrong with her blow pop because the gum just wasn't coming off.

I got my view of the mountains and even took some pictures out the window. By the way, they live in Calgary, and apparently fly often (the girl said as much), and Denver is United hub. Now I'm going to tell you something that will make you think I'm a complete jerk, but I still stand by my choices, because there is one thing that the mom could have said for which I would have moved, and I almost respect her more for not saying it to get her way. The girl told me that they were going to the U.S. for their grandmother's funeral. Losing a parent does entitle one to letting one's kid have a window seat, in my book, but I can't act on what I don't know, and what I knew was that I didn't want to reward a kid for pouting and whining. If it makes you feel better, my pennance was sitting next to the two of them and having to wait almost twenty-four hours for my luggage to be delivered. Which meant I had to find clothes that fit me before I moved out... and go outside in them to get my luggage, and it wasn't pretty... and listen to my mother complain about how waiting for my luggage ruined her day.

I will stick to this: not knowing what I didn't know, I really felt no reason to give this kid something I had, just because he wanted it. Again, if anyone wants to post some comments about why a better person (with my knowledge at decision time) would have given up her view of the Rockies, I'm all ears (eyes?).

So simple yet so confusing

Even through this afternoon, I had pretty high hopes that it would be a non-blog-worthy weekend. There were a couple of things before then. I mean, rest assured, I knew I would blog about the kids sitting next to me on my Calgary-Denver flight-- that's coming up on a minute... but mom was being really... nice. I gave her a stone I bought in Canada and she actually said thank you and acted like she liked it... didn't complain about the space it would take up (which would be ridiculous because if I had space in my luggage for it, anyone has space for it), didn't say it wouldn't match her decor. This may be the first gift I've ever gotten my mom that she liked or pretended to like. She even... are you ready for this?? She even didn't say that the dress I'm planning to wear to the wedding I'm going to this weekend was the ugliest thing she's ever seen (mind you, it's not in front her yet):

Mom: Is your dress in the luggage [which was delayed]?
A.: No, a friend is bringing it.
Mom: What dress is it?
A.: The same one I wore to Julia's wedding [Julia is a family friend].
Mom: Oh, as I recall that's a beautiful dress.

Seriously, I got worried. I wondered whether my mother truly wasn't feeling well, wasn't herself. Luckily for me, she later made a point to tell me that she didn't like my hair, so I was reassured that she's fine.

Mom: I'll be ready to go for a walk in a few minutes.
A.: I'm not ready now... I'm in the middle of a workout.
Mom: Well, hurry up.
A.: I'm going.
Mom: Wait!
A.: What?
Mom: I don't like your hair like that.
A.: Okay, well, it's okay that you don't like my hair like this.
Mom: No, it doesn't look good on you.

Also, she muttered something this morning, with the news in the background, about how I need to put aside my political correctness and see the light. I'm not sure what she was referring to. She did say, as I was uploading my photos, "you know, there are places like that in the U.S., too... like Montana." Well, yes, Glacier is driving distance from Canada. We picked Canada this time around, it wasn't a political statement.

The piece de resistance was after dinner. I requested that she not turn on Glenn Beck because I find him repulsive. She said I had to watch him to stay informed, started telling me about some story about border guards being arrested for doing their jobs, and this story, which was exposed by Glenn Beck, was important to know and the fact that I hadn't heard of it indicated that I wasn't well-informed. She added with shock that I hadn't heard about something that happened yesterday; when I told her I was in planes all day yesterday, she said that was a poor excuse. I couldn't take it so I took my teacup back to the computer and continued to work on my pictures. She starte4d screaming at me from the kitchen to come back because I HAD to hear what Glenn Beck was saying... I asked her to kindly leave me alone, but here's the upside: my dad said, "you can't force her to watch it," and she didn't yell at him for spoiling me and making me the monster that I am.

I worked on the photos on and off during the day... she was pretty gracious about sharing her computer most of the time (let it be known that I was gracious about sharing mine when she visited me). Elisabeth was in some of the pictures she saw, so I presumed that's who my mom meant when she asked me about "her."

Mom: How do you know her?
A.: She and I were in Geneva together, and she lived in D.C. for a while. I actually stayed with her once when I was visiting grad schools.
Mom: Does she live there now?
A.: No, she's in Florida now.
Mom: Oh, how awful.
A.: Yeah, that's much of why she suggested a hiking trip.
Mom: No, not her. The friend whose wedding you're going to.
A.: Oh, I'm friends with the groom.
Mom: How do you know him?
A.: We used to work together.
Mom: You don't know the bride?
A.: I've met her...
Mom: You don't work together anymore?
A.: No...
Mom: But you became friends.
A.: Yeah.
Mom: Why?
A: Because?

Mom: And the groom lives in Florida...
A.: No.
Mom: Here?
A.: No, it's that the Antiochian Orthodox Church is near here.
Mom: The what?
A.: I think it's a form of Catholicism.
Mom: Is the groom also that?
A.: No, I think he's just Catholic.
Mom: Is he the one bringing your dress up?
A.: No, that's another friend.
Mom: Who's also going to the wedding.
A.: Yeah.
Mom: How does he know the groom?
A.: Also used to work with him.
Mom: And they're still friends?
A.: Yeah.
Mom: Why are they still friends?
A.: Mom!!!
Mom: This other friend also lives in D.C.
A.: Yeah.
Mom: What denomination is he?
A.: I have no idea.
Mom: Which one do you know from Geneva?
A.: Neither. I know Elisabeth, with whom I travelled in Canada, from Geneva.
Mom: Ohhhhh! I get it now!