Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is your mom for real?

A: I do not make this stuff up. Sometimes I do not remember exact details or I don't think it's worth it to convey them; in those cases, I let you know or use qualifying language ("she said something like...")

Q: How are you not (more) messed up?

A: My parents are great people. Most of the more 'normal' and positive stuff is rarely 'blogworthy.'

Q: Could you add book and film recommendations?

A: Sure, if I remember.

Q: How come you're anonymous, but you use other people's names?

A: I ask their permission and I usually write them to notify them and give them the option of having the entry modified or removed. Nobody has opted to do that.

Q: Does your mom know you blog about her?

A: Nooooooooooo.

Q: Do you ever feel guilty about blogging behind her back.

A: I do, but at the same time blogging helps me deal with the emotional barrage and thereby helps me have a better relationship with my mother; knowing that I'll be able to blog about what she just said helps me not react and make things worse.

Q: Where do you find the time to blog?

A: I blog as things come up, and it usually doesn't take long. I do have to admit, I often blog when I should be in bed. Like now.

Q: How do you deal with language?

A: Most of the conversations happen in Russian-- actually, all the conversations are in Russian, with English words sprinkled in sometimes. I translate with as much fidelity as possible, and when appropriate make it clear when a word was said in English, because it's usually funny.

Q: How/why did you start blogging?

A: I've been "blogging" about mom for a while now, and telling mom stories even longer, although they took blog form for the first time about a year ago when I was home for the holidays and there was so much material that I felt better posting it to a central location than e-mailing my friends what would have been every hour or so.

Q: What other blogs do you read?

A: The Go fug yourself girls and Passport are favorites. Others I read as they come up through links and suggestions.

Questions I wish someone would ask:

Q: What is the only possible answer to, "what do you think of the Dumbledore coming out scandal?


The cover of People was already too much. Then, NYT blogs?? BTW, see the Colbert postings:

More on Colbert
Yet more on Colbert

Let's talk about the weather

A.: Hello.
Mom: You sound better.
A.: I do feel better today.

Although I did have to walk out once or twice during a conference due to a coughing fit. I'm prone to coughing fits (my mom had alluded to that), and while they can be embarrassing I don't mind them because they come at the end of a cold and I prefer them to consistently sore throat. Besides, the first fit came on because two large women sandwiched me in. First one sat down, taking over about a fifth of my chair, and then signaled to two other equally large women. One sat down next to me, squeezing me in from the other side, while the first woman continued to signal to the third woman that there was an available seat in the row in front of ours, shoving her arm in my face enough times that I actually confronted her about it (with an "excuse me.") More disturbingly-- and this was when there were still plenty of seats availaile, I saw/heard a young man tell an elderly woman with a cane that the two seats next to him were reserved, making her make her way to another seat rather than moving down in the same row so that he could eventually sit with his then-phantom friends. As for me, I returned from the coughing fit and during the break ran into a friend of mine, who whisked me into an uncramped row where I could breathe again. But I digress.

Dad: Is it warm where you are?
A.: No, it's quite cold.
Mom: You say that as if you're doing us this huge favor by talking to us.
A.: I do?
Mom: Yes. You don't elaborate. For example, what temperature is it?
A.: I have no idea. I just know it's cold.

I didn't realize I was expected to discuss the weather in-depth; I was about to ask them how they were, but my mother interrupted to criticize me for my answer.

Is it just me, or is that nit-picking?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Information overload

Gina: Okay, I should stop chatting and do something like figure out how to increase my child's early literacy skills.
Don't you feel information overloaded?

me: you have no idea

Gina: I just feel like i have way too much to read.

me: I think I read 10 different books yesterday and that doesn't include news sources...
I read the Times, MSN stuff
I read some of a guide to greece, some of a guide to Turkey
then I read a chapter of a book about the anthropology of sugar
then a chapter of Jim Cramer's Real Money
then a chapter of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
then a few pages of I am America and So Can You
I was disappointed that I didn't get to the Corrections, which I had sitting on the coffee table
so to answer your question, yes, I feel information overloaded
oh I also read a short chapter of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff at Work

Gina: Hey, I think I read that 7 Habits book once...
I should probably re-read it as I haven't felt very effective lately.

me: I'm skimming
I find it hard to follow those convoluted diagrams

Gina did not receive your chat.
Sent at 10:09 PM on Monday

me: anyway, you seem to have disconnected

Gina: I think gmail froze.
Gina: Oops.
I hit something that restarted gmail again.
Gina: I think it's this bandaid on my finger.
me: if we were talking on the phone, we'd be laughing
Gina: LOL
I actually am laughing now.
me: laughing because we'd be laughing on the phone?
Gina: Laughing re-reading what we wrote.
Restarting gmail, the bandaid...
me: doyouwantwhatmightbeastalecookie?
Gina: lol. Yeah...

Gina and I have been friends for ages and we have a tendency to be very silly when we're together, without trying. Usually I'll laugh because she says something and then over-qualifies it (I am completely making this up, but it's not far off: "I dropped my car off and went to a movie... it was sappy... I mean, the movie. Not my car.") Or I'll say something and it will take up to six repetitions before she understands me. When we in Geneva, I would find myself "translating" for Kate so that Gina would understand. Kate is English.

We were returning to Geneva from Spain, I believe, when the following, now legendary, conversation, ensued:

Gina: I'm hungry.
A: Doyouwantwhatmightbeastalecookie?
Gina: What??
A: Doyou wantwhat mightbe astalecookie?
Gina: What?
A: Do you want what might be astalecookie?
Gina: What??
A: Do you want what might be a stale cookie?
Gina: What???
A: Do you want what might be a stale cookie?
A: Do... you... want... what... might... be... a... stale... COOKIE?
Gina: DoIwantwhatmightbeastalecookie?... No. No, I don't want what might be a stale cookie.

This is getting old

Let's review the facts:

I generally get up at 5am.
My mother knows I get up at 5am.
My mother knows I have a cold/sore throat.

At 9:40pm, the phone rings. I may not be asleep, but I should be.

Mom: How are you feeling?
A.: Okay.
Mom: Why is your voice like that?
A.: Because I have a sore throat.
Mom: What are you drinking? Do you have...
A.: I'm not going to have this conversation right now. [Cough, cough].
Mom: That sounds bad. When you cough, it's always serious. Okay, get some rest.

put down the joint

In July, I blogged about a concierge who could only have been smoking pot.

Well, we met again. I went to feed a friend's cat and needed to get the key to his apartment from the concierge. I do this often enough that I know the key number and say it upfront to save the concierge the trouble of looking it up. No other concierge in the building has ever behaved in a way to make me suspect an altered state of consciousness, but this one has both times that I've interacted with him.

All numbers have been changed.

A.: Hi, my name is A. Could you please give me key #250, which is for 1910E? I'm on the list of people authorized to get the key.

Concierge looks up the key number for that apartment and hands me key #244.

A.: This is key number #244. The key for 1910E is #250.

Concierge looks up the key number again, acknowledges the mistake, and hands me the right key.

Had this been an isolated interaction, I would be willing to attribute it to something other than marijuana, but in conjunction with our earlier interaction, that is the most likely explanation.

I mean, keep in mind that he opted to look up the key number even though I'd provided it, and then proceeded to give me the wrong key. That's impressive.

This would have been worse had I not recognized it as the wrong key and gone all the way to the apartment (probably a ten minute walk from that desk) and back.

I guess the other explanation is that concierge is just a bad listener. Sure, I've seen people miss major pieces of information provided to them (including mom, although perhaps that is more a case of constructing an alternate reality and not letting incoming information get in the way), but those are almost always cases where a lot of information is exchanged. It's almost understandable that a piece of it will get lost, or that an interlocutor will tune out. But when conversing with someone for all of thirty seconds, especially when it's a business transaction, how hard is it to listen to every word? I counted twenty-five words, two of which were courtesy words, and the rest essential to the transaction we would have. What's so hard about paying attention?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Not everything is a teachable/lecturable moment

A.: [Hack, hack]
Mom: Illness is natural. Your body learns how to be sick, learns how to get better. It's all for the better. It's not healthy to never get sick.

Does she think that makes me feel better? This is not the first cold I've had in my life. I know the drill, I realize it's not the end of the world.

A.: Have you talked to Spiros lately? If you do, could you ask him about Greece?
Mom: You don't know what to do in Greece?
A.: I'll get a guidebook, but may as well get an expat's perspective.
Mom: Sure, I've been meaning to call him anyway.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She means well

Saturday morning

A., in barely a voice: Hello.
Mom: How are you feeling?
A.: Not well.
Mom: Huh. Well, I don't think you got it from me. Colds aren't contagious; flus are contagious.
A.: Of course colds are contagious.
Mom: In any case, it's good for you. Colds are healthy. Make that milk-honey concoction to soothe your throat. Of course, you don't have honey...
A.: I have honey. [I don't have milk, though].
Mom: Do you need me to come down? Do you have someone who can bring you things?
A.: I'm fine. I don't need anything. [What I need is to not be talking].
Mom: Listen, call Michael. He'll tell you all about Istanbul.
A.: I already told you, I am not talking to anyone right now!
Mom: Poor thing, do you have a temperature?
A.: I don't think.
Mom: When are you going, what date?
A.: Please check the itinerary.
Mom: Okay, fine, rest. But having colds is healthy, your system has to learn to fight it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Ah, a tame, standard mom blog

The context: My cold has gotten progressively worse and my throat more sore. I've been up since 3am, and got home from work about an hour ago, so when mom called, I was in the middle of putting stuff away and I wanted to get things sorted before talking on the phone.

[Phone rings].
A.: Hi! Can I call you back in five to ten minutes?
A.: Hello? Hello?

Ten minutes later

Mom: So? Why haven't you called?
A.: For starters, I don't have much of a voice.

Mom starts listing herbal remedies. I wonder whether to tell her that what would really make me feel better would be to stop talking, but I'm reminded that in the past, I've flat out said, "can we not have this conversation right now, my throat hurts?" and she's continued to ask questions or demand justifications.

A.: Did you get my itinerary?
Mom: Yeah. When are you going? November?
A.: December.
Mom: How long are you going for?
A.: Ten days. Could you check the itinerary? My throat hurts.
Mom: You know, Jane went to Turkey.
A.: Great-- could you ask her for suggestions?
Mom: Michael went there as well, loved it.
A.: Wonderful, could you ask him to e-mail me suggestions?
Mom: Just call him, he'll tell all about it.
A.: My throat hurts! I don't want to call anyone!
Mom: He's the one who would be talking.

See, she just DOESN'T understand the concept, which is amazing since her throat hurt last week. The less I talk, period, the happier I am right now (spare me any snide comments about the happier you are, too). Besides, I take in information better by reading. Who wants to take down names of places to visit or stay, especially in a foreign language, over the phone?

Mom: Okay, I'll talk to him.
A.: Okay, goodnight.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Morons! Morons!

We agreed that we would leave for the airport at 4:50am for a 6am flight. Earlier in the hour, I woke up, went downstairs, and had a light breakfast. I didn't time it, but I do not think I was downstairs for more than five minutes, so I was surprised when, crossing paths with Mom on my way back upstairs, the following exchange occurred:

Mom: What were you doing down here for so long? Were you on the computer?
A.: No...
Mom: Were you exercising?
A.: No, I just had a light breakfast.
Mom: Why aren't you dressed?
A.: That would be my next step.

Mom's now trying to micromanage my morning routine? I don't have the motor skills in the morning, morning person though I may be, to get dressed before breakfast. Food, and then toothpaste, often ends up on my clothing. I suppose I could have skipped breakfast but I figured I would leave my parents with one fewer pear, since they had complained about them and asked me to take them with me.

In the car on the way to the airport, mom stopped at a red light, but just barely. She was itching to turn left on red.

A.: We have time. We are not late.
Mom: You never know. Oh, these morons! Why not have a blinker at this hour...
A.: We're not late.
Mom: Morons! Morons!


Mom: All government, they're all morons!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The arbitor of taste

Mom: Look at you. Go look at yourself in the big mirror. A dress should flatter you, and that dress does not flatter you.

That was about ten minutes ago. I came in, ready to go to sleep, but mom reminded me that I needed to blog.


Before the wedding, I came downstairs with a sweater on over my dress and attempted to sneak out, when mom saw me and asked me to take off the sweater.

Mom: It's an attractive dress, in theory... why is your stomach sticking out?
A.: Because it is?
Dad: Her stomach's not sticking out.
Mom: I like the dress, but it doesn't look great on you. And that necklace is too small.

Thirty seconds later

Mom: Your stomach is sticking out.
Mom: Let me find you another necklace.

We go upstairs, she offers me a number of necklaces, all of which I find horrific. I say no thank you and go downstairs, hearing mom say, "that necklace doesn't work at all, but I understood a long time ago that you have no taste."

In the car, Wendy asked whether my mom liked the dress.

Wendy: Doesn't she understand that people have different styles?
A.: No.
Wendy: Doesn't she also understand that you're of different cultures, and her sense of style isn't necessarily right for your generation.
A.: No.

Incidentally, there was another (Jewish) woman at the wedding whose mother had tried to get her to wear a bigger necklace. The one she had on complemented her outfit perfectly.

Rachel, to me, as she was making her rounds: That's a beautiful necklace.


The wedding was beautiful, but I'm tired. I came in, cold, tired, stuffed. Is it any surprise that at this moment, I don't look great in the dress? Is it really worth pointing out and going on about? And then she's surprised when I walk away (and head straight to the computer).

Odds and ends

Before our walk

Mom, holding up an empty packet of instant oatmeal she found in the hallway: What is this?? Why is this here? Why did you leave this here?
A.: I don't consume artificially-flavored blueberry oatmeal, so that one's all you.
Mom: [Speechless]


During our walk

Mom: [Ranting]
A.: Please desist. Your political ranting is sullying the beautiful autumn-in-New-England day.
Mom: No. You have to understand this.

Mom: What time will you be home from the wedding?
A.: I have no idea.

Have I every answered this question another way?


I'm going to get dressed for the wedding now. I can't procrastinate any longer. I hope Wendy's on time to minimize my exposure to mom's fashion sense and unflagging mission to impose it on me.

Left brain

A.: Don't close that tab, please- I'll come back and work on it more.
Mom: Work on what?
A.: Word puzzles... (see NYT Puzzles.
Mom, rolling her eyes: Oh, that stuff. All it does is exercise your left brain. That's very American. Left brain, left brain.
A.: [Shrug.]


I'm not feeling well, and the zinc I took to fight what I hope is not a cold, I took with not enough food, which was not without consequence.

Mom: Instead of taking some chemical, why not take some Tylenol?


Mom: It'll make you feel better.
A.: I don't want to feel better, I want to fight the cold.

More importantly, I want to go for a run, but I really shouldn't. Although... there was a time, as a grad student, when I had a very miserable cold, and in spite of it went on a forty-mile bike ride. And then took a half-hour nap and went to work for four hours. The next day, I felt better than ever.


I had this epiphany as we were drinking tea. Serenity, if you're reading this, I think you'll approve.

So, I'm sitting there thinking, should I really have that piece of dried papaya, when it hits me that I am not fat. I mean, I know that, and I also know that my clothes do not fit the way they used to, ergo I should back off the dried papaya. But backing off the dried papaya over the last six months has not improved the fit of my clothes. But then again, whom am I kidding? I haven't honestly backed off of anything. So I'm back to where I started, and Serenity probably does not approve.

The Art of Listening

At least ten times over the last few days, my mother and I have had variations on the following discussion:

Mom: Will you take this book/some pears/these sneakers/that dress with you?
A.: Not this time. I'm not taking anything with me. I am going straight from the airport to a meeting, and I don't want a bulky bag or extra stuff to carry.

This meeting and my plans regarding it also came up yesterday for a different reason.

Mom: Did you even plan this outfit out beforehand?
A.: No, I didn't have time. I grabbed some clothes that won't take up a lot of space in my bag because I'm going straight from the airport to a meeting.

This morning over breakfast:

Mom: Where is this meeting you're going to?
A.: In Washington.
Mom: Are you driving there?
A.: No. If I were driving, bringing more stuff wouldn't be an issue.
Mom: But you're going home first?


A.: No. If I were going home first, bringing more stuff wouldn't be an issue.
Mom: So how are you getting to the meeting.
A.: I am taking the metro straight from the airport.


On the topic of not liking not being listened to, Mercicorps called a few nights ago. They always call at the worst possible times. True, I've lapsed, shifted giving to International Rescue Committee and some other organizations, but I almost considered giving to Mercicorp again, until they wasted my time with not quite a pre-recorded phone call but a paid caller who read a synopsis that she didn't really understand of the Darfur crisis and proceeded to ask for a donation.

A.: That's fine, but I don't give over the phone. I'll go online and make a donation.

Caller: Well, we can take care of that right now for you.

A.: I'll go online and make a donation.

Caller: We're set up to go ahead and take your donation right now. Would you like to do that?

A.: I just told you that I don't give over the phone.

Honestly. I mean, I don't envy this person's job, but that doesn't mean ineptitude doesn't matter. You have to listen.

Does your mom realize taste is relative?

For the next half-hour, my mother continued to tell me how tastelessly I had dressed.

"Those shoes are awful. Try these," she would say, taking out some clunky, ugly shoes.

"That skirt is truly horrific. And the sweater doesn't go with the skirt at all."

"Your hair looks bad, too."

My favorite was, "your hair is awful, those shoes are awful... everything you could have possibly done to uglify your look, you've done."

To her credit, she didn't tell me I looked fat.

It was finally time to go, time for her to drive me to the Marriot. I wanted to drive myself, but she kept telling me the police are cracking down on drunk drivers (my reassurances that I would not be driving drunk were little comfort), and since it was a very short drive and I pick my battles, I let it go.

I arrived at the rehearsal dinner, confidence shattered. Luckily, my friends (and Rachel's) had my back.

Wendy: I love that skirt. What color is that, is that "wine?"

Elizabeth, whom I hadn't met before: I love that outfit, it's very fun.

Martha: I really like your shoes. The outfit is very classically nice.

Tracy: I like your hair like that.

I thanked them, at one point actually told them it meant a lot because my mother had berated me beforehand for looking tasteless. James, Wendy's husband, asked what my mother would say if I told her they all thought I had dressed well.

She would say, "they're just being polite." I didn't tell her, because I didn't want to hear it.

Wendy: Does your mother realize that taste is relative?

Not at all.


My parents picked me up from the rehearsal dinner.

A.: Wendy will give me a ride to the wedding tomorrow.
Mom: Wendy came out from California?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Did her husband fly out as well.
A.: Yes.
Mom: All this fuss. What a hassle.
A.: It's an important part of your friends' lives, so you want to be a part of it.
Mom: Maybe it's an important part, maybe it's not an important part.
Dad: So tomorrow is just the ceremony?
A.: No, there will be a reception.
Mom: Henrietta did things right; there was just one wedding celebration.

I didn't say, there was probably a rehearsal dinner but you weren't invited to it.

Dad: What is the problem? If it brings people joy and gives them more opportunity to see the people who have come out for the wedding...
Mom: Who says it brings people joy?
Dad: I said, "if it brings people joy..."
Mom: I don't think it brings people joy. I think they're just showing off.
A.: In the case of my friends, I doubt it.
Mom: Oh, please.

After an evening so full of insensitive comments, I could not go to bed without blogging.

Mom: You're already on the computer?
A.: Is that okay?
Mom: Just shut it off when you're done.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I'm getting exhausted

Oh I forgot a classic: spraying something, not saying it. We talked about this with not liking food. It happened while we were watching the Daily Show.

Mom: I don't really like Jon Stewart.

Five minutes later.

Mom: I don't really care for Jon Stewart.

Two minutes later.

Mom: I don't like Jon Stewart.
A.: Mom! I get it. I like him, I heard you the first time.


Mom: You look tasteless. Doesn't she look tasteless.
Dad: [shrug].
Mom: That skirt is obnoxious.

Mom: Why didn't you tell me before, I could have found something for you to wear.
A.: Just drop it. I'm wearing this.

Mom as fashion police

"I just don't understand how a person can have no understanding of how to dress," mom said about what I've put on to wear to the rehearsal dinner, as she pulls out a little black dress with a fishnet layer and a sequiny blue print for me to wear instead.

A.: I'm not wearing that.
Mom: At least wear this on top [pulling out a light green sweater.
A.: No, I'm wearing this.
Mom: How? How can you have no sense of taste? That outfit is just awful. Nothing about it works. That skirt is awful.

Okay, I'm the first to admit that this is not the most thought-out thing I've ever worn; it was chosen as the thinnest possible combination of pieces, as I'll be going straight from the airport to a meeting and want little to carry. Still, it may not be fashion forward or brilliant, but it's safe and acceptable. It's a light black cardigan over a thin dark red skirt. How bad can that be?

Mom: That just looks awful.

A few classics

Mom was pretty good when I did yoga this morning. She looked at me and was about to say something, but thought better of it and left me alone. She did tell me yesterday when I was doing pilates that my leg wasn't straight enough.

She also told me that she didn't like my hair at this length, but added that that was perhaps because she didn't like the way I'd styled it (i.e. in a ponytail).

She's also been yelling at me to get off the computer the minute I come near it, even though she has no designs on it until she sees me heading for it.

There was a big blowout this afternoon when we went for a walk to Breakheart reservation. Jason came with us, so he can comment objectively. She drove by a few parking spots and started to park where there was a "no parking" sign. I asked her to move the car. She said no one was patrolling over the weekend and that everyone was parking. I said not where the "no parking" signs were pointing. She didn't listen, so I said, "please-- normally I wouldn't care but if you get towed I'll be late for the rehearsal dinner." There was screaming, which she said I instigated; she called me hysteric and psychotic. Then she pulled out of the illegal spot and looped around again; I pointed out a few spots, each of which she took issue with.

A.: That one there--
Mom: I don't like that rock.
A.: But you like the no parking sign?
Mom: It's the weekend.

Eventually she parked legally and we went for a nice walk.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I'm such a diva (as well as an addict)

At about 10:45pm, Mom slammed the door behind her, screaming, "YOU THINK THAT EVERYONE HAS TO IMMEDIATELY GET UP THE SECOND YOU NEED SOMETHING!"

The request I made that prompted this response was,

a) Go out and get me a bottle of champagne!
b) Could you bake me a cake as a pre-bedtime snack?
c) Could I have a blanket, please?

Getting me a blanket wasn't, at the moment, on her way, and mom has this thing about doing things 'on the way,' which, while sensible in moderation, is silly at its extremes. For example, Whole Foods is about three blocks from my parents' house, a five-minute walk, so imagine my confusion when during our walk yesterday mom asked me to call dad to request that he stop there and pick up some celery on his way home.

A.: Can't we just go?
Mom: Well, it's not on our way.

True, we'd be coming from the other direction, but it would be a two-block detour. Less of one than the Bazaar on the way home from the airport. I didn't argue, partly because I think my dad likes going to the store. At the same time, this is the way my mom calculates the relative inconvenience of errands, this is why she thinks it's no problem for me to drive to McLean to deliver something or pick something up, rather than her driving five minutes to go to the post office.

Dad is a faux snob. He gets some sort of high from having pretenses of refined tastes, i.e. he likes to criticize my mother's discount shopping or just generally pronounce things 'cheap' because he thinks it makes him sound discerning. For example, when they visited me, I served some actually high-quality hot chocolate, but didn't have the milk that was recommended, so it didn't taste right. My dad didn't hesitate to pronounce it 'cheap.' I was more bemused than offended, but my mom takes offense, says she does all the shopping and he just criticizes. He continues to do it and she continues to get annoyed, respond with sarcasm. I wonder what would happen if she said, "when you say that, I get the impression that you don't appreciate the work I do to put meals together." And then dad would have to think about how his statements are received, and he might change. Maybe.

My mom, also, can say things to turn a conversation around, but that requires stepping back from sarcasm or at least valuing a change in the other person's behavior more than making him or her feel like shit, and that's a difficult calculation for my mother to make.

So last night, she could have said "I'll be up in a minute anyway, and then I'll get you a blanket." She could have even just told me where the blankets lived. Instead, the conversation unfolded like this:

A.: Could I have a blanket, please?
Mom: What, now?
A.: Well, soon. I'm going to bed.
Mom: I'll bring you one when I go to bed.

Pause. [This is where, "I'm going to bed in a minute" would have been helpful. For all I knew, she could have been going to bed in two hours.]

Dad: You can take one from my bed, I have two.
Mom: I'll just bring you one later. We have plenty of blankets.
A.: It's not the quantity of blankets in the house I'm interested in.
Mom, getting up: Fine! [On her way upstairs]: We have plenty of blankets.
A.: The abundance of blankets in the house is not relevant to me right now.

Then, a few minutes later:

A.: Goodnight, mom.

Mom woke me up this morning to tell me that she knew I wanted to go for a run, but she wanted to be home for at least another forty minutes or so. As she came into my room, she said about the sweater hanging in the room, "did you really buy this piece of $%^&?"


Dad: Those pears are a bit pathetic.
Mom: A. picked them out.
A.: That was the pear selection at Bazaar.


Mom, angrily and sanctimoniously: A.!!! Why was this cup and saucer on the living room floor?

A.: I have no idea.

Mom: Oh, they're mine.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


...or as the guy who wrote "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" would call it, "weatherproofing."

My mother analyzes my personality, actions and words and comes to sweeping conclusions that she then communicates to me to help me become a better person. The most famous of these was the birthday lecture, in which I was told I was socially overbearing and unpleasant to be around (my friends tolerated me out of politeness). Today I've been told that I'm impatient, egotistical and a few other things.

After dinner, I hopped onto the computer to check my e-mail. Mom said, "you're like an addict."

Classic: tying my checking my e-mail to a deeper pathology, in this case addiction. Recall my mom's concern that I succomb to a drug addiction as a child because of my perceived susceptibility to peer pressure (as measured by the fact that I liked to do things with my friends).

The 'impatient' came when I complained to my mother as I stood outside her car, waiting for her to make her way to it. Every trip to the car is an obstacle course, with plants to water, things to notice. So after about a minute, I said, "Mom!" She said I was rude and impatient. It's true, waiting is not my favorite thing to do in this world, and it would behoove me to learn to do one thing at a time and slow down. At the same time, I lead a frantic life and I don't see that changing, and every minute counts. So when we've set out to go for a walk, let's go for a walk. Let's not take our sweet time getting to the car.

Later, mom was on the computer and I was watching Animal Planet, which is on in my parents' house whenever some obnoxious infotainer isn't. They had a special on fat pets, so I was intrigued. My mom came into the living room and said, "why are you in my seat? Whenever you come here you just take everything over. You're more obnoxious as you get older, and egotistical." Mind you, she didn't ask me to move or anything.

This was all after the whole e-mail thing. My parents were reading their e-mail and mom asked if she could forward me something and I said no. I should have just said yes so I could have read/deleted it on my own time, but no. She made me get up from Colbert (and by "made," I mean she wouldn't shut up until I did) and read it. My dad got all sanctimonious and talked about how these things should matter to me more than to my mom.

Later that night:

Mom: What is this magazine?
A.: The American Airlines magazine? Were you reading it?
Mom: I picked it up thinking it was one of mine, but it's unreadable! I can't believe you read that...
A.: I was doing the crossword.
Mom: You read that, but you resist whenever I give you something actually interesting to read.

Mom and dad think I live under a rock and would have no idea about what's going on in the world without my parents to feed me forwarded e-mails and magazine articles. It's all for my own good.

Life is not a campaign

I was surprised when shortly after lunch, mom said she was ready to go for a walk. I put my shoes on, got ready to go, and sure enough it was another half-hour or so before we left. As I put on a light jacket, she said, "you'll be hot in that." I shrugged, said I'd take it off if that happened. Less than a minute later, we walked out and she said, "you're too warm." I said, "look, I'm a grown-up. I know how to regulate my temperature."

Throughout the course of the walk, she kept on telling me to look at things. I told her I was looking. She didn't believe me. Later she asked why I didn't turn my head when I walked, why I just walked. I didn't have an answer to that, I just like to walk.

We talked about various things, including skin care. I said I'd read that sugar contributes to wrinkles. Mom got very defensive.

Mom: Genetics are important, too.
A.: I'm not arguing with that. I'm saying that sugar makes a difference.
Mom: Look at the lake.
A.: I see it.
Mom: Look at the lake.
A.: This reminds me of the Canadian Rockies. Up by Jasper especially, there were myriad clear lakes in which you could see the mountains and trees reflected.
Mom: There are lakes here, too.

My mother has asked me, not once, why it is that I'm willing to engage in more substantive conversations with, for example, her friends. The above conversation is one reason (or two, depending how you look at it): things tend to come back to being about her, and everything is competitive, everything can be one-upped. Another reason is that everything gets oversimplified and referenced derisively, as over dinner:

Mom: Someone told A. that sugar is unhealthy.
A.: I've read about how sugar contributes to wrinkles.
Mom: These matza-balls are too tough. You put too much grain in.
A.: Mine are okay, but you're right; I thought it was a bit too much but didn't want to add another egg.

Five seconds later:

Mom: These matza-balls are too tough.

Ten seconds later:

Mom: These matza-balls are too tough.
A.: You've said that, twice.
Mom: No! These are too tough.
[Then, softening a bit] But they're not bad.
A.: I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm simply saying that you've made your point.

I'm not being defensive; she does that in restaurants too and it's annoying. More importantly, my life is not a campaign. I am not running for office. Therefore, I see no need to oversimplify and spin the things I say.

Do I have your permission to be tired/cold/hungry?

I'm at my parents house and the back of my boarding pass is full of notes, the first of which were inspired just before I set foot in the airport.

Mom: Where are you??
A.: At the airport.
Mom: Why haven't you called??
A.: I'm still in Washington. I haven't even boarded.
Mom: Well, call me when you board.

Sure, I cut it close, arriving at the airport within an hour of my flight, but I didn't want to wake up too early, and I was determined to do yoga and read the paper before I left, since both are so problematic when performed in my mother's presence. I got to the airport and through security with time to spare, with the piece of mind of having done yoga free of commentary, distraction and requests for help watering the plants.

On the way from the airport:

Mom: Would you like to stop in Bazaar (the Russian food store).
A.: No. I'm tired, and hungry.

I never do. Do you ever, upon arriving anywhere, want to stop anywhere, rather than going home? Why does she even ask? I'd take less offense if she just said, "we're stopping at Bazaar."

Mom: Is that another bag?
A.: It's from a class I took.
Mom: What class?
A.: Dealing with difficult people.
Mom: Oh, that's very useful.

Mom: Why didn't you take the sewing machine last time?
A.: I didn't have room, I told you that.

Mom, turning off to go to Bazaar: It's five minutes, and this way we can get chicken.

It's not five minutes. It takes five minutes just to park there. Then there's the scheming and winding through the back roads she loves so much. She stops at a light and complains about how awful that one traffic light is.

At Bazaar I was appeased at first by the selection and bountiful displays, but quickly became irritated because I wanted to eat food, not look at it. Mom was dilly-dallying so I said, "let's just go."

Mom: What's wrong?
A.: I'm hungry. [and I don't want to be here, but my mom knows that I'm not much fun when I'm hungry, so it usually works.]
Mom: Oh! [as if it were a complete surprise, as if I hadn't said it in the car... but you see she asked as a routine, she didn't ask for an answer.]

On the way home:

Mom: What time did you leave the house?
A.: Around 9am.
Mom: And you didn't eat.
A.: I did.
Mom: And you're hungry?
A.: It's normal to be hungry after four hours! [believe me, I've been reading the dieting studies].
Mom: No it's not. The best thing to do is to fast.

That's two in one for mom: pop science/nutrition, and telling me I shouldn't be hungry (variations: I shouldn't be tired, cold, etc.) because she doesn't think I should be.

Pulling into the driveway:

Mom: Look at that beautiful tree.
A.: I see it.
Mom: No, look at it.
A.: I see it!
Mom: Get over your hunger for a minute and look at the tree!!

I was looking at the tree the whole time.

As we unloaded the groceries, she blamed me for the spilled eggplant dish, even though it was in a smaller bag and really not a big deal, and asked me accusitively why I poured her tea when she wasn't ready (because we'd decided to have tea and I had no idea she wasn't ready).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's been a long day

I was awoken several times in the night by a mosquito buzzing near my head. In the past I've responded by turning on the light and pretending to be asleep until I can kill it (they wait for you to settle down), but I was really tired and decided to let it go. Which was a mistake, because when it was time to wake up, I couldn't open my right eye.

This has happened to me in the past and it's not pretty. But this is the first time it happened when I've had to go to work, or worse, a conference attended by some colleagues and some other people I've worked with. I hoped it would open a little by the time I got there, but alas, as I approached a friend of mine at the registration table, she followed her greeting with, "what happened to your eye?" Shortly thereafter, someone else I knew approached to say hello, and looked at me funny. On the bright side, it drew the eye away from the fact that the suit I was wearing no longer fits well. And that's just the way it's going to be, I like food too much. I like dessert too much (and given that today I had two small croissants, a muffin, two tiramisu squares, a cookie, and a small piece of cheesecake, it's a wonder that my clothes fit at all).

After the conference, I had a little bit of time to kill before I had to pick up pecans to sell for the Smith Club of Washington fundraiser. For those of you in the area, don't get too excited yet, the chocolate ones haven't arrived yet, I only have plain. So I went to Banana Republic, of course, but after that, I went to the Russian Gourmet, which I'd heard so much about. From people who aren't Russian. Because as a Russian food store it kind of sucks. Then after hell traffic before and after getting the pecans, I stopped at the Russian Gourmet in Alexandria, which was about as lame. See, people know that DC's Chinatown is lame because they know what not-lame Chinatown looks like, but until you've been to a Russian store in Boston or New York (and I've been to one in San Francisco better than these), the ones in DC would seem acceptable. Anyway, they both have a wide selection of kefir, which is what I primarily need from a Russian food store, and I'll just have to continue to do without the prepared foods sections I was hoping to find. Besides, since I am lovingly barraged with prepared Russian food whenever I visit my parents, I probably don't need to have my own source of it in DC.

Okay, I'm off to hunt down the mosquito in my room.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

lotus flower

Today has gone less than smoothly (more on that in another post), and less than smooth days mean less than the utmost patience for when what should be a quick errand gets needlessly drawn out.

I finally got a chance to call and report my Banana Republic credit card lost. Yes, I have a Banana Republic credit card; what can I say-- the rewards are good. Anyway.

A.: I'd like to report my card lost.
Customer Service Guy: What's your card number?
A.: I don't know. I lost my card. [and if I'd known it anyway, I would have punched it into the automated system].
CSG: Okay, what's your name?
A.: [I go through and provide my name, address, etc.]
CSG: Okay, what can I do for you?
A.: I would like to report my card lost.
CSG: Where did you lose it?


A., with impressive calm: I don't know.

Eventually, I managed to cancel my card... which is more than I can say for when I thought I'd lost my Bank of America card (I was grandfathered in from MBNA) when I thought I'd lost it... they were too busy to take my call, which really inspired confidence, so much so that I canceled it when I found it. After I cashed in my rewards for a Banana Republic gift card.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Memo to head-up-the-ass parents

You know who you are. You think the world is your kid's playground and everyone else is your babysitter. You think fellow passengers on airplanes are subjects in your perverse excessive noise/sleep deprivation experiment. And I'm once again reminded that you think saunas are playrooms. This isn't new, but it is particularly annoying when you presume not only that others in the sauna don't mind your kid's screaming and jumping (doesn't everyone hit the sauna for that kind of non-relaxation), but that it's okay to leave the door open because your kid can't handle the temperature. I hate a cliche as much as the next blogger, but if you can't take the heat, get your kid out of the sauna.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Phone call, cont.

I called again tonight at around 7:30pm. My mom hasn't been feeling well so I've been checking in. At the end of the conversation, about half an hour later, she said, "you're going to bed now?" I told her not quite, amused that it was all or nothing-- true, I recently told her not to be surprised if I don't pick up the phone after 10pm, but how quickly that morphs into an 8pm bedtime!

In the course of the conversation she told me she strongly disagreed with a Times article I sent her (about how a theory she loves has been discredited, i.e. no, getting sick a lot doesn't make you a healthier person in the long run). In her experience, she said, she got sick a lot, and therefore gets sick less as an adult. She added that I was constantly sick as a child, always coughing. I reminded her that even now, when I get a respiratory infection, the coughs are very deep, painful and persistent. She sort of verbally shrugged.

Anyway, not a prisoner of my DNA, I wasn't going to convince her: mine is to send the data, not insist or convince. I just want something empirical out there the next time she tells me not to floss because I should let the germs do their thing.

Did I mention that my parents have really bad teeth? They blame St. Petersburg water.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Phone call

My mother asked whether I had any trips planned. I'd answered that question on Thursday. She needn't worry about my going somewhere and not telling her, because I always tell her and send my itinerary.

Then she asked whether I was done with class yet. I said, relatively calmly, "I have answered that question at least four times. I finished class before I went to Canada. I have not been in class for over a month, and I've told you that multiple times because you've asked multiple times over the last month."

Mom: Well where were you last night then?
A.: I'd already gone to bed.
Mom: So early?

If I hadn't, she would have asked my why I wasn't in bed.

Yes, I sometimes turn off my phone before I actually go to bed, because I don't want to get into protracted conversations, but very rarely before 10pm, which by any standards is pretty late for a phone call, especially for someone who gets up at 5am.

Mom: What did you think of Taming of the Shrew?
A.: It was interesting.
Mom: Interesting?
A.: Yeah, it was okay.

I mean, I feel about the works of Shakespeare the way I feel about Mt. Everest-- they're good but mostly they're "there," and it's often not in line with my beliefs but it's a major pillar of Western civilization, and I don't believe in dealing with things I disagree with by ignoring them. I attempted to convey this in Russian and it mostly went over fine.

Mom: What are you reading?
A.: A short story collection.
Mom: By whom?
A.: Amy Bloom.
Mom: Who?
A.: You haven't heard of her.
Mom: Don't you want to read Bulgakov.
A.: I have it (it being the Master and the Margarita).
Mom: I know that, but don't you want to read it?
A.: Sure.

Leave a not-snide message after the tone

In a voice mail, my mother said, "I don't understand why you're unable," i.e. why I was unable to come to the phone, as I said in my outgoing message.

My mother leaves this message quite often, as long-time blog readers will know. It's generally annoying in its own right, but even more so because she tends to leave it and variations ('where could you possibly be?') at times when it's perfectly understandable that I would be unable to come to the phone... like on a Friday or Saturday night, or anytime, really. I mean, I could be, maybe, busy... I could be doing laundry or cooking. Just leave a $%^&ing message without a snide remark about why can't I come to the phone.

Had I picked up, she would have likely said, "what are you doing up?" or if it had been a different time, "what are you doing sitting around the house?"

Last night's message fits into a second pattern, too: my mom knows I get up early, knows therefore I try to go to bed early, yet insists on calling me pretty late. This is particularly amusing when she wants a response that night (but hasn't bothered to call until 10pm on a weeknight), or when it spirals (I get up too early to call her in the morning, don't call from work, don't call while driving, have a bunch of errands to do, etc. and she whips herself into a frenzy of why I haven't called her, until I do, not quite as late as she called me the night before. She doesn't have my work number, because she is not capable of respecting "I can't talk now, this is a bad time."

I won't call her now, at 3:40 AM (too hot to sleep), but I'll let you know what happens when I call tonight.

Monday, October 8, 2007

This weekend I saw...

*A child (eight-twelve years old) ram an elderly woman with artificial knees in the frozen foods aisle of Trader Joe's. What surprised me was that his mother scolded him for it and apologized to the woman, rather than ignoring her or blaming her for being in the way.
*Dog poop on the Mt. Vernon Trail, on the nice wooden bridge over the marsh.
*A lot of vomit in the metro on Sunday morning, either from partying the previous night or the Army Ten-Miler that morning.
*A bus cut off and proceed to block a fire truck.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Unconditional love

As intermission wound down I returned to my seat and thought about what my mother had said the me the night before. It was less disturbing than thinking about the play or the Shakespeare action figure (book and quill included), among other things, for sale in the lobby. The plot wasn't a surprise to me (in fact, my mother had asked me last night how the play gelled with "my politics," and since this isn't a gender politics blog all I'll say here is, you have to see what's out there, especially when it's as deeply rooted as Shakespeare).

Anyway, this isn't the first time my mother has conveyed a message of, 'I love you but I don't think very highly of you.' I guess this--'your personality isn't the one I would have chosen for my daughter's, but I love you anyway'-- is what she meant by "unconditional love," which she used as a buzzword since I was a child, since before it had any meaning for me. And she would always say it in English, which should set off alarm bells (other words she likes to say in English: "outrageous," "intimidating," etc.).

Anyway, I remember my mother's amazement during my first year of high school that I decided to go to a conference even after the friends I'd planned on going with had canceled. It was a no-brainer; I was interested. Apparently, my mother had gotten the idea that I was very much a follower, without an independent to my name. She would later go on to her friends about how shocked she was that I decided to go through with it and what a departure this was from my past behavior. Which brings back another childhood memory, this one from back in elementary school. I wanted to go somewhere with my friends... I don't remember the exact situation, but it was something like her asking why I wanted to go to a certain movie and my saying, 'because my friends are going.' The next thing I new, she had launched into an angry lecture about how I was too susceptible to peer pressure and she was really worried about me-- would I be able to say no to drugs, being this susceptible to the influence of my peers?

And now I smile thinking about it in this context, because that is so mom: taking something minor and very normal (imagine, a small child or teenager being influenced in how she spends her free time by her friends) and turning it into a major and somewhat negative diagnosis of my personality. I'm not even going to get into how it's a wonder with the hen-pecking that I do have an independent thought. The curtain came up and I let it go until it came time to blog.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Matter-of-fact name-calling down to an art

Mom: Igor and Elena [close friends of my parents that I saw a while back] were telling us what a wonderful impression you made on them. Igor said you were very genuine, that there was no artifice about you. I said you were intimidating. He said not at all.

A.: I'm intimidating? Whom do I intimidate?

Mom: Us, for a start.

Dad: Apparently you intimidate your mother.

Mom: And you, too (to my father).

Dad: No, she doesn't.

Mom: I think she does. Anyway, what have you been up to?

A.: Not much...

Mom: Nor us, we haven't been doing much of anything. It's been a bit boring.

Dad: Because we haven't been out to see any movies.

Mom: No, that's not why.

Dad: It's part of why.

Mom: No, it's not.

Dad: Have you been out to see anything?

A.: No, not recently...

Mom: No theatre?

A.: I'm going to see Taming of the Shrew tomorrow night...

Mom, Dad: What of the what?

A.: Taming of the Shrew... it's Shakespeare... "taming" means making an animal less wild...

Mom, Dad: Oh! [Taming of the Shrew! in Russian]

Mom: How do you spell "Shrew"?

A.: S-h-r-e-w.

Mom: Is that like, smart, discerning?

A.: No, that's "shrewd."

Mom: Oh. [Russian word for shrew]... that's like, someone who's... it's like, you.

A.: What??

Mom: Yeah, it's like someone who always has to be right, and also, this other thing you do... someone who thinks the world revolves around them...

Dad: Who's putting it on?

A.: The Shakespeare Theatre.

Mom: By the way, you're arriving on a Sunday?

A.: On a Thursday.

Mom: Right.