Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Don't Be Evil" my @$$

It's always an interesting day when Google's in the news. I'll spare you the usual but I will share my mom's reaction to the launch of Google Maps Street View:

"Ooh, now I can watch you come home from work! I can also see who's going in and out of your house."

I have to go check whether Street View features Alexandria.

Desperate times

The earrings are of enormous sentimental value. They were my great-grandmother's. She was in a hospice-like place during the blockade, and she died one day after my grandmother brought her bread there. The hospice returned the earrings and a diamond ring, but not the bread. To transport the ring out of the Soviet Union, my mother removed the stone from its setting and fit it into a whole in her tooth. It was one of the few things she was actually able to take with her. I'm glad she didn't throw it away in a greasy paper towel.

Usually, when my mom complains about something dad's done, I give him the benefit of the doubt, but this time she's right, and I'm actually surprised because he's pretty paranoid. He's been hand-shredding mail since before it was cool. Nonetheless, he took the envelope with the safety deposit box key in it and wrote on it the name and address of the bank, as well as the box number. For no benefit to any of us, since we all know which bank it is and remember the number. We are crossing it out.

Don't wrap valuables in gross paper towels, or think you had

"You exercise enough!"

It's funny she should say this because I insisted on running, since I always run when I'm here. It's almost a ritual. I've been doing it long before the tubbiness; I did it even around the time several years ago when she nagged me endlessly about being tubby and I didn't listen to her. I just didn't care then, didn't notice. It's okay to be tubby at 26, even a little anti-establishment, if you will. Tubby at 30 is just a cliche, of which I want no part.

***

As I pulled my bandana up over my face I lost an earring (it's okay, the remaining one will join my collection of partnerless earrings). She said not to worry, she'll give me hers, she has diamond earrings.

"You have diamond earrings?"
"Where have you been?"
"Oh, yeah- the ones you blamed me for not losing."
"No, that was the ring."

Many years ago before a long trip, my mom hid her ring such that she couldn't find it upon returning. As she was looking for it, she recalled getting home from the trip and tossing something from the fridge. She didn't check what it was but it was gross and wrapped in a greasy paper towel. She "realized" that that was where she hid the ring, and accused me of failing to remind her, even though she'd asked me to, that that's where she'd hidden the ring. She was really upset about having lost this ring. I didn't remember her telling me to remind her that it was in a gross paper towel in the fridge. Because it wasn't- she found it later in her bank safe.

Poor unwanted bug

My mom asked me to sweep up around some of her plants, where leaves and dirt had fallen, so I did. I was sweeping into the dustpin when she said, "not that one! that's the [minibroom and dustbin] I use to sweep the table sometimes!" I said, "how was I supposed to know that?" She said, "there were other dustpans in there!" Which still doesn't explain how I was supposed to know not to use that one.

***

I had brought my parents various gifts from New Zealand, some useful (wooden salad spoons), some decorative (a Maori mask, some jewelry) and one novelty (a small, wood-carved bug with wheels on its legs that you push around your desk when you're bored at work). I thought it was pretty cool and almost got it for myself but then I figured, my dad gets bored at work more than I do, he needs it more, so I got it for him. He seemed happy about it at the time (and it's quite possible he was just being polite), otherwise I would have taken it, but my mother expressed signs of discontent with the bug early on.

Phone call, a week or so ago:

A.: Did you by chance pick up my epipen when you were here?
Mom: Why would we do that?
A.: I mean, by accident. I can't find it. Did you happen to pick it up?
Dad: You had left one here a while ago-- when did you lose it?
A.: I know I brought it back from my trip but haven't found it since.
Mom, sarcastically: I happened to pick up a whole bunch of stuff you brought back from your trip, including that bug, for which I had to spend a lot of time finding a home.
A.: The bug was for dad, and if you don't want it, I'll take it.
Mom: Dad didn't know what to do with the bug...
Dad: I never said I didn't want the bug...
A.: So, you don't have my epipen?

Then, when I got in on Saturday, my mom complained again about the bug. I told her I'd take it if dad didn't want it. Dad said he did want it. Mom said no he didn't. I asked her where it was. So, today, I stumbled on it back behind a vase and an envelope holder, where it is of no use to anyone, and determined to offer it to dad once more and if assessed that he doesn't want it, take it to work with me.

Mom: Fine, I'll see if I can find a home for it on the table near the computer.
A.: You don't have to try to find a home for it.
Mom: Well, I'll give it a shot.
A.: Don't do me any favors.
Mom: You are so narcissistic! Why do you think I'm doing this for you?
A.: Because you keep making an issue of what a burden this bug is for you? Also, I don't think that's what narcissistic means...
Mom: Why aren't we going for your run? Are you waiting for it to start raining?
A.: [Sigh.]

Windblown Tree

My mom likes to make a point of fighting me for the computer, even when she doesn't actually need it. She sees me on it and says, "I'll need that in a minute!" even though she was nowhere near it before she noticed me there. I figured, she needs the computer in the morning, what better time for me to do yoga. She figures, A.'s doing yoga, what better time for me to sit there and go through my mail, read the local paper and talk to A.

I'm in windblown tree pose when she asks me what "slouch" means. I tell her (translating); she doesn't get it, so I say "to not stand up straight." She says, "this person is sitting." I say, "okay, then to not sit up straight." She's still skeptical, so she says, "this article involves marijuana." I start to think that I see no contradiction between slouching and marijuana, and then I think, I shouldn't be thinking about that at all-- I should be concentrating on my windblown tree, so I say, "could you please let me focus on my yoga? there's a dictionary right next to you." She gets defensive and says, "I just want to know what the word meant," and then, with a tone of almost teasing, daring, baiting, what have you, she said, "besides, I thought this was easy for you."

Which is just unnecessary because that's not the point. Windblown tree is not the most challenging of poses, one could probably do it while talking, but one shouldn't, because yoga is not about partial concentration. It's not something you do while you're having side conversations (in spite of what you may see on Sex and the City). It's about focus. It's also not about competition or being good at it-- it's about working toward the pose by concentrating. Do you notice that I've said variations of "focus" and "concentration" repeatedly?

I mean, I am quite the multitasker. Some have said I've turned ADD into a lifestyle; Kevin is no longer surprised when he sees me brushing my teeth and programming the VCR at the same time; he's probably surprised when he sees me doing only one thing at a time. Unless that thing is yoga, because yoga is about... you guessed it-- focus and concentration.

There's another aspect to this: because I am such a multitasker, yoga is the one activity in which I truly make myself focus, and it's healthy, especially for someone as neurotic as I am, to focus.

So I ignored mom's unnecessary and childish attempt to bait me into defending my yoga prowess, because that's antithetical to what yoga is about, and continued on with the program. I was doing a sun salutation, completely focused on my breath and movements, when I was abruptly torn from my concentration with,

"What a bunch of idiots!"
"MOM!"

She stopped talking after that, but I was already thrown off and only partially able to refocus on the yoga.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Age before beauty, goat cheese!

Said Hansel to Derek Zoolander, during the walk-off. I thought of that line when my mom offered to get more goat cheese so I could take some home with me. I said no, thank you. She started telling me about the nutritional benefits of goat cheese. Actually, she told me it was a good source of calcium, which you'd have to be a moron not to know, but that's not the point. Nor is the point that I like goat cheese, and I have long before I associated it with "Zoolander." The point is that I don't need a nutritional lecture in response to every decision I make about food.

By the way, my mom doesn't like "Zoolander." Watching it with her is kind of amusing, though, and I think I've described some of her questions in previous blogs. My favorite is, "why doesn't the miner guy like the fact that his son is a male model?"

***

My mother has taken to pinching my back fat. I asked her not to, but she seems to believe that giving me birth gives her the right to treat my like her personal Pillsbury doughboy.

We were leaving the house to go for a walk when she said, "wow, you really have gotten fatter."

"Yes, we have established that I have gotten fatter. I see no benefit in bringing it up regularly."

Later, she asked whether I wanted to go clothes shopping. I said no, no clothes shopping for me until I return to normal weight. She said not to focus on my weight (although she will continue to bring it up, regularly).

Then she told me I should drink coffee because among other things it suppresses appetite.

***

On Saturday I went for a walk with Jason. We agreed that he would pick me up at 2pm. At 1:58pm my mother called me over to watch some clip online. I told her I had to go. She said it was quick. It was three minutes. Had she even called me over at 1:55pm, it would have been more understandable.

***

Just now:
"What are those two forks in the dishwasher?"
"I don't know... forks that we've used today?"
"Well, why are they in the dishwasher?"
"??"
"You should have taken them out and washed them."

Shrug.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Letters from the gulag

Dinner party. Mom told her friends I would be in town, invited them to dinner, made lots of food. I'm glad to see them, glad to talk to them, hear their stories, until it turns from happenings and family to mortgages and other banalities. What I really dread is when it turns to politics. Anyway, somehow this dinner mission crept into a belated birthday party for me, and my mother started telling pregnancy stories, maternity ward stories, stories that I've heard a million times, that many of the guests have, too. Then politics, which begot other stories from the old country, including the only story that doesn't get old, and that the guests, my parents' closest friends, haven't heard. I have, but like I said, it doesn't lose poignancy. My mother talks about reading her father's letters from the gulag. She says she remembers when he was taken away, even though she didn't know that that's what it was until her mother told her later. In his letters he wrote about the cold, the frostbite and gangrene and stomach flus. Mom reads these letters repeatedly.

I don't cut her any slack for how hard it was to carry me to term and give birth to me, but I consider cutting her slack for having watched, as a toddler, her father being taken away by secret police.

I usually think better of it (of cutting her slack). My dad, earlier tonight, in response to one of her antics, said, "just let it go. Don't commit it to memory, don't talk about it, don't analyze it. Just move on." Little does he know I'm about to blog it (and when he comes into the room, I switch to my pictures and pretend I'm naming them).

Family friend, here tonight, brought me a Duke Ellington CD as a gift, said it was for me to have something to listen to on my commute. I said, and meant it, "that's perfect! I have a long commute so this is exactly what I need." I didn't think my mom was capable of attention to detail, but she opted to point out that I did not say "thank you."

"Others would say thank you, but this is apparently how we raised her."

This would not be blogworthy, except that this is the same friend whom my mom chewed out for bringing her a wooden mask from Georgia (the country) that "didn't match her decor."

Let me make sure this is clear. My mother once yelled at this person for bringing her a gift she did not like. Tonight, she criticized me for expressing my gratitue without literally saying thank you.

She gets weird around her friends, or she gets weird around me around her friends. I'm apparently an extension of her, and she doesn't think highly enough of me to not be nervous about how I come across, so she tries to control me even more than she usually does, and things escalate, except they didn't tonight because I just rolled my eyes and let it go (and blogged it).

Sometimes I think documenting, blogging, etc. is therapeutic and others I think it's obsessive and unfair. It's probably both.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mom is very observant

Saturday: "You really have gotten fatter!"
Sunday: "You do look like you've gained weight."
Monday AM: "Your clothes look too tight."
Monday afternoon: "You know, it's probably age as much as diet."
Later Monday afternoon: "You generally take after your father, so I don't think you'll get much fatter."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

lotus flower

She always does this-- she insists on helping me with something and then either makes it more difficult or uses the situation against me. She's talked me out of getting more student loans because it would make better economic sense for her to borrow against her house and have me pay her, and then she held those loans over my head and tried to micromanage the classes I chose. She talked me out of getting a moving van for my move to D.C.-- we would put everything in her minivan and we would take my car too-- and then threatened on the day before the move to opt out.

I didn't ask her to drive me to Northampton, if you'll recall. Nor did I withhold information from her, as she is now accusing me of doing. Oh, one more thing, I had originally wanted to stay overnight but she kept going on about how busy she is and how she has so much to do, let's make it a daytrip, so I arranged to make it a daytrip. I thought the terms were clear-- she drops me off in Noho, goes on to the Berkshires, and picks me up on the way back. Now, she wants to wait for me because she doesn't want to stop in there twice. It is effectively on the way. But she says we never discussed that possibility and she wanted to keep open the option of staying overnight.

In the middle of this she picks up the US Airways magazine I'd grabbed yesterday, which is actually pretty good, and asks me what it's doing there. I said I was reading it. She gives me a dirty look. I say, "look, within hours of arriving at my house a few weeks ago, you had turned it into an obstacle course that I was cleaning up until 2am, so don't give me that look." She looked offended, asked exactly what she had left lying around, and I said, it doesn't matter, it was fine, but I didn't pick up every object and ask you what it was doing there. She'd left entire pieces of baggage in the kitchen.

Anyway, back to our day or not day trip.

"What time is your appointment?"
"There IS no appointment. I told you I am going to see friends. Who have plans until noon, but I am fine hanging out until then."
"Well what will we do while you hang out?"
"I thought you'd pick me up on your way back!"
"I don't want to feel rushed."
"Don't feel rushed then. I'm not asking you to feel rushed."

Basically, she's criticizing me for my attempting to not have her plan around me. Now that she "understands the whole situation," she has opted to get there later so that she has less waiting time in Northampton and more freedom to opt for an overnight trip.

***

There was some back and forth; My hosts re-extended the offer to stay overnight; my mother rejected it, now that it wasn't something to hold against me. We made it to our respective destinations in Western MA and reunited with a lot less tension.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Saturday morning hissy fit

We experienced what my dad calls the Saturday Morning Hissy Fit this afternoon just before dinner. It's when my mom finds things to yell at people about and starts yelling, and then usually storms out.

The SMHF's precursor started while my dad was cutting up dill for the soup bowls and my mother asked him to wipe off the table. He went on to finish the dill and she just started screaming at him; he countered with, "I'm in the middle of something, can it wait three seconds?" and she said, "no! I need table space, NOW!"

Then I finally reacted to the lecturing. Some of you may know that for the first time in my life I have been watching my weight. I gained a lot of it in Hawaii/Australia/New Zealand, and I'm going to be in a wedding in a week. My mother experiences no cognitive dissonance between telling me I'm fat on one hand and force-feeding me/lecturing me about how I should just eat what I want on the other. I told her I wanted to reserve some of one salad for myself before she put mayonnaise in it; she started lecturing me about how I shouldn't be fanatical and how there's nothing wrong with a little mayo, etc. and I asked her to stop lecturing me every time I made a decision about food. She said no one's lecturing, you're an adult. I didn't even say, "ya think?"

Anyway, then she asked whether something else had been ready and my dad said no, he hadn't set it to boil yet. Mind you this particular part of the dinner would take about three minutes to cook, and there were plenty of other things we could start eating in the meantime. Nonetheless, my mother proceeded to yell at him for not having turned it on; he responded that she hadn't told him to; she responded that he had no initiative and needed to be spoon-fed; and we both pretty much simultaneously pointed out to her that whenever anyone did show initiative and did something, she yelled at him or her for doing it the wrong way. I have childhood memories of trying to help out by cleaning the house; as with the complaint letters, instead of saying thank you and giving constructive feedback, she would just take the opportunity to yell about what a shoddy job I'd done and how I'd only done it to get done with it, not to actually make the area clean. Anyway, it escalated, she continued to hurl insults at both me and dad, and then stormed out and threatened not to talk to us for a long time. Which is kind of upsetting, I mean she is my mom and I love her... but I'm past the point of being bound my her attempts at emotional blackmail.

It's been two hours.

On the way home from the airport, my mom said to me, "Thank you so much for taking time at the end of your busy day to write that letter for me. I really appreciate it. I did want to ask you if you could add a few things."

Just kidding! Did you think for a minute you'd stumbled on a different mom blog?

She actually said, "You completely missed the point of what happened with ING. My point is, their policy is inconvenient... imagine if one party were hospitalized or out of the country..."

A.: Yes, you provided that scenario the other day.
Mom: But you didn't include it in the letter.
A.: I must have forgotten. That's why it's easier if you write a letter or at least just an outline, and I correct it for you.
Mom: Anyway, listen... [she continues to re-tell the story she told me on Monday. I tell her she already told me.] So, can you put that all in a letter?
A.: Can YOU put it in a letter? I'll edit it for you.
Mom, screaming: You know, I'm glad I have Irina! She writes letters for me and doesn't complain.
A.: Does she work? Last time I checked she was retired.
Mom pouts, says more things.

***

Just before the letter discussion, my mom asked if I wanted to stop at the Russian food store. She knows I never want to stop at the Russian food store, much less on the way back from the airport. I say no, we go anyway. The letter conversation/screaming fight wraps up just as we pull into the parking lot. I catch up to my dad inside the store and say, "I am so sick of her #$%^ing complaint letters." He said, "I tell her, she doesn't listen." We're about to go through the line when something else catches my mom's attention. She throws a wrinkled produce back with a shoelace in it at me. I eventually figure out that she wants me to use it as a shopping bag.

When we get home, I go upstairs and start unpacking. I hear "WHY DID YOU TAKE THREE BAGS? I GAVE YOU A BAG!" and so on. I said calmly that she got a lot of stuff that would not have fit in that bag. I did use it. She yelled back that I should have tried harder to put more stuff in it. I asked her whether shopping bags, while a worthwhile cause, were worth screaming about. She said yes.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A.: So on Saturday afternoon, Jason and I are going hiking in the Blue Hills.
Mom: Why the Blue Hills?
A.: Because it's pretty there.
Mom: What, prettier than the place we went to?
Dad: They're going to the Blue Hills, let it go.
Mom: Alright, they're going to the Blue Hills.

***

Mom: Are you going to Northampton for work?
A.: No.
Mom: Then why are you going?
A.: To see friends.
Mom: I don't understand-- are you going for official purposes?
A.: I said no.
Mom: You're not going for work?
A.: No!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's time to write the letter!

I was in the store with my hands full and expecting a call from my mechanic, who had promised to call to let me know when my oil was changed, but this is not a mechanic blog, and that is not who called.

Mom: It's time to write the letter!

From this sentence, I deduce that someone's pissed her off and she would like me to write a complaint letter, and I request details.

A.: What??
Mom: It's time to write the letter!
A.: I heard you. What are you talking about?
Mom: I'm about to tell you! I've never liked those jerks, they were difficult from the start...
A.: Who???
Mom: I'm telling you! Just listen!
A.: Tell me more efficiently, please.

I gauge that this might be a while and go over and drop my stuff in a basket.

I don't ask for a lot. I wouldn't have demanded that my mother begin the conversation with, "hi... how are you?" or even, "hi, how was your day?" However, I do think, "hi, is this a good time for you?" and/or, "do you have time to write a letter for me?" would have been in order. The answer to both of those questions was "no," but had she asked, I would have politely said, "not really but I'll call you when we get home," but she didn't ask, thus she was perplexed at my irritation.

The other thing that I don't ask is that my mother's English be perfect, or even very good. I do ask, when I write letters for her, that she not fight my choice of words or grammatical constructions, and I do suggest in general that she avoid figures of speech and other linguistic stretches, because they fall flat. I can only think that her opening line was an attempted twist on that old Dunkin' Donuts commercial ("It's time to make the donuts!"), but even had she gotten it right, it wouldn't have been funny.

To make a long story short, she tells me about how she's frustrated with ING Direct. I won't get into the details, but although I'm skeptical at first even though I've had my fair share of bank drama, she wins me over. Nonetheless, I request at regular intervals that she get on with the story.

A.: And....!
Mom: I'm getting there-- I need to tell you the details so you can write the letter.
A.: I am not going to remember the details anyway. I'm in the middle of shopping...
Mom: Oh, you're not home?
A.: No. Could you just send me an e-mail?
Mom: No, just write the letter.
A.: I'm not going to remember the details.
Mom: Well, I need you to get the general idea.
A.: I GET the general idea. Right now you are talking a lot about how frustrated you are and how "outrageous" this is, and that is not helpful.

And so on.

Anyway, I'd better get to writing that letter.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Why would someone possibly have holiday weekend plans?

Saturday morning c. 9:30am, my parents call.

Mom: Were you asleep?
A.: No.
Mom: Did you just wake up?
A.: No.
[This is only blogworthy for the logic I believe to be behind it: I wanted to sleep in the weekend I got in from Australia, leading my mother to be surprised that I'm up at 9:30am on a Saturday. Just a possibility.)

Mom: What time are you coming next week?
A.: A little before 11am on Saturday... which reminds me: did you have any plans that involve me for next weekend, because I was thinking of heading out to Northampton to visit friends...
Mom: Northampton?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Is that where Smith is?
A.: Yes... I figure it will be a busy weekend for buses so I wanted to look now...
Mom: Oh! I have an idea! Irina [family friend who lives in Berkshires] is always inviting us over for the weekend. We can drop you off in Northampton.
A.: Oh, great! That would be perfect. Let me know when you've confirmed with her.
Mom: No need- she's always inviting us, and she needs herring. Wait, did you want to spend more than a few hours there?
A.: Yes, preferably.
Mom: Why?
A.: ???

[call waiting; I have to take it, I'm expecting a call from a friend with whom I have plans to go hiking today.]

A.: Mom, I have to go, I'll call you back but in the meantime could you confirm with Irina so I can go ahead with my plans?
Mom: Oh, we can go to this place...
A.: I HAVE TO GO. I'LL CALL YOU BACK.

Less than two hours later:

A.: So have you spoken to Irina?
Mom: Why would I speak to Irina?
A.: To confirm plans for next weekend.
Mom: Oh, well she's always inviting us over, I don't need to do that.
A.: She may have plans.
Mom: Why would she have plans?
A.: It's a holiday weekend and she has family and other friends.
Mom: I don't think she has other plans.
A.: Well can you please check?
Mom: I don't need to check. She's always inviting us, and she needs herring. How long do you want to be in Northampton? Overnight?
A.: Preferably, yes. [I don't see how her need for herring precludes the possibility of her having other holiday weekend plans, including other guests].
Mom: Why don't you want to stay overnight at Irina's?
A.: I just want to spend more time in Northampton.
Mom: This doesn't need to be decided now.
A.: It does if I need to look for bus tickets!
Mom: Don't worry, Irina won't have other plans. I don't have time for this right now.
A.: Okay, I'm just saying I would feel better if you actually asked her and confirmed the plans.
Mom: Okay, later, bye.
A.: Bye.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

While I tend to chronicle the absurd moments because they're more interesting, I want to take this opportunity to say that I really do appreciate my mother for the wonderful person she is and for everything she has done for me.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Survival of the quietest

J. had good things to say about Taronga Zoo in Sydney, but there was one downside: hordes of rowdy children. They grated not only on the zoogoers, but also, apparently, on the animals. Apparently, they were stressing out a tiger, which was observed pacing in irritation in its cage.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Rowdy children would not survive in the wild. They'd be the first to be eaten by tigers and other wild animals, if only just to make them shut the f* up.

Something to think about.

***

E.&V., our hosts in Sydney, are retired but work part-time delivering fliers and free samples. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had apparently volunteered me to accompany them on their flier delivery.

Now, it's not that I wouldn't have perhaps volunteered or agreed if asked by E. or had I thought it would have helped (as it turned out, as E.&V. were leaving for vacation several days after our visit, they decided to take extra time off, and E. told my mother she was nuts for even suggesting it, so it didn't come to my making a decision on the matter either way).

It's that I have to point out how generous my mother is with my vacation time and my not three full days in Sydney. And I don't think it was a whim: even had she thought it through, she still would have taken it upon herself to volunteer me for flier delivery.

I'm just glad my mom doesn't have any friends who, say, test ideas for Fear Factor.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Coffee is healthy! Don't you know that?

Sunday morning:

Mom: Coffee can help battle Alzheimer's.

Mom: Haven't you read anything about how healthy coffee is?

A.: I. Don't. Like. Coffee. Are you not sick of this conversation. [Turns to Dad]; Are you not sick of this conversation?

Dad: I'm not the target of this conversation.

A.: Mom, we have this conversation every time we see each other. I don't like coffee.

Mom: How can you not like coffee? There are all kinds of coffees... cappuccino...

A.: I don't like coffee.

***

My roommate, Kevin, likes ties. I brought him one from Sydney, wasn't sure whether he would like it, but it was an 'I was thinking of you' gift that came with a gift card to Trader Joe's as a 'thanks for taking care of my cat' gift. To my surprise, he seemed to really like the tie, I would venture to believe he actually did. My mom, apparently less naive.

A.: Well, Kevin seems to have really liked the tie.
Mom: He could just be saying that, you know.

***

A.: Could you zip this up for me, please? [Trying on a bridesmaid's dress that arrived while I was away; I'll have to wear it in less than a month].
Mom: I don't like it. It's ugly.
A.: Okay.
Mom: It's not zipping. You've gained weight.
A.: Could you try to zip it? It was actually a bit big when I tried it in the shop.
Mom: Right, you've gotten fatter.
Mom: I don't like the dress.
A.: Okay.

***

A.: Ooh, can we stop at Crate & Barrel Outlet?
Mom: Why would you want to do that? We have all the kitchen stuff you could possibly need.

***

I hugged my parents goodbye before went to work on Tuesday.

Mom: Won't you be hot in those shoes?
A.: No.
Mom: I think you'll get hot.

Mom, mid-hug: You HAVE gained weight.

***

Have I told you about how, in addition to listing my childhood failings, my mom likes to tell me the story about how when I was a little, all the other kids on the swing set would push themselves but I would just sit there and wait for her to push me? I believe I told it in the context of claiming that there would have been more constructive ways to change my behavior than by retelling the story. Anyway, I invoke it here in a different context.

If you look back at any or many of the other blogs, you'll notice a tendency to micromanage and coddle. It hit me-- the pattern did-- in Australia, where E. and her husband, out of concern and care, mind you, did everything to almost literally and actually metaphorically spoon-feed me. I won't go into more detail here.

I sometimes criticize myself for not being independent enough, for not being enough a lot of things, etc., but when I look back on my upbringing (much of which was happy and conducive to healthy adulthood), I think it's a wonder I've ever had an independent thought in my life. It's a wonder I push myself on swings (well, I would, if swings didn't give me motion sickness), buy my own socks and kitchen stuff, navigate the food on my plate, visit places not endorsed ahead of time by my parents, don't drink coffee, etc.

I know you're here for amusing dialogue, not self-analysis, but I have to bring this home: I think what saved me is that my mother overreached. She didn't (doesn't) coddle me just enough so that I was happily coddled-- she tries to control most things I do, based on the belief that she knows what's best for me more than I ever could, in terms of food, socks, vacation spots, job, etc. That's not sustainable. I've talked about how I realized fast that it would be impossible to do everything the way my mother wanted me to, and that I'd be set for life if everything she wanted was everything that I wanted, but that wasn't the case, so I had to learn to fend for myself. I'm just saying, I know I don't have everything figured out and I only recently learned to change my tires (car and bike both) and there's a lot I don't know how to do, but looking back, there are moments when I'm glad that I can tie my own shoes. I guess what it comes down to is that they mean well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

New Zealand

We wanted to helicopter up to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers but it was too cloudy and the trip was cancelled, so we only saw them from the ground, which was still really cool. In spite of bad weather for helicopters and certain views, the trip in off season was worthwhile for the non-crowds and the freedom to adjust one’s itinerary without being tied to reservations. It was easy enough to show up and find rooms, including on the boats on Milford and Doubtful Sounds.

Doubtful Sound is neither doubtful nor a sound. Captain James Cook called it Doubtful Harbour, and didn’t sail in, because he was doubtful he’d be able to return to sea if he did. Its last name was changed to match the other sounds in the region. Like Milford Sound, it’s actually a fiord. You may be wondering what that means.

It was uncomfortably cold on the ferry to Doubtful Sound and, much of the time, on the boat in Doubtful Sound, but it was so beautiful that I just couldn’t bring myself to go back inside. Not a second of the trip to or through DS was plain. We were also blessed with two of DS’s on average 50 sunny days a year; an average 200 see a lot of rain and another 100 or so clouds. Taking the cruise through the Sound, which included kayaking in DS and watching the sun set and then rise over the Tasman Sea, epitomized the MasterCard definition of “priceless,” (albeit paid for with a visa that offered a much lower international transaction charge, and even discounted for off season, causing sticker shock).

Milford Sound was equally worth it, although different. Even the longer car ride from civilization (DS would be a longer boat ride) was worth it for the views along the way, which included The Chasm, a gorgeous, 22 meter-deep waterfall where you can see beautiful, smooth rocks and the crystal-clear water that cut them. The Chasm is over the Cleddau River, which flows into Milford Sound and is named after a river in Wales.

Another view, just before the Homer Tunnel, took some hiking to, and as we were coming down, I noticed people looking at our rental car. Having lived in DC, I instinctively thought someone had broken into it and then realized where I was. Nonetheless, I was concerned and hurried down. It turned out they were staring at a kea, dubbed the nature guide on the DS cruise as “nature’s juvenile delinquent.” Vandalism is their hobby, and this particular kea had taken in interest in chewing the weather stripping on the car. The Milford Sound nature guide told us it’s not instinctive—the parents teach their offspring to destroy property.

From Milford Sound you see Mitre Peak and over fifty waterfalls, including the one I photographed most, Stirling Falls, which is twice the height of Niagara. We were also very lucky to see dolphins, which enjoyed surfing off the bow of our boat for quite a while. It was very cool to see them swim and play.

At night the stars came in beautifully, although the indent star of the Southern Cross was harder to see. That one apparently likes to hide.

After the fiords we went up to Mt. Cook, also a beautiful drive, especially by Lake Pukaki, which gets its turquoise color from glacier silt. There’s a more complicated, impressive geological explanation but I don’t remember it. There’s a similar explanation for why the top of Tasman Glacier is ugly—something about its collecting debris. Anyway, it was beautiful, but we only saw Mt. Cook in evening light. By the time we hiked past the glacier lake and to Lake Hudson, the mountains were covered by clouds. I’d really wanted to go glacier kayaking but it was too late in the season. Lake Tekapo was similarly beautiful but similarly cloudy, so we returned to Christchurch early. It’s actually a fun city when things are open (i.e. not on ANZAC Day, which was marked by the city’s surprisingly significant Goth population ambling through its streets).

I’d definitely like to go back, see the North Island and more of the South Island, but this was a great starter trip.

Mom and friends

Shortly after arriving, I asked my dad whether he’d met my roommate.

“Has Kevin been in? Have you met Kevin?”

“We saw her—she is quite the hippopotamus!”

“Kevin is my roommate; the cat’s name is Gracie.”

“Oh, yeah, he came down and introduced himself.”

***
“The cat’s asking for food.”

“I realize that.”

“Why don’t you feed her?”

“She’s on a diet.”

“I’m sure she knows how much she needs to eat.”

“LOOK AT HER! DOES SHE LOOK LIKE SHE KNOWS HOW MUCH SHE NEEDS TO EAT?”

I mean, several times a day, from both parents, I get, “wow, she’s fat.” “she’s really fat.” “why is she so fat?” Which is fine. All good observations/questions. The above conversation—not good observations/questions.

***

I could have handled the cheese incident better; by trying to convince my mother to buy or not by something based on my perception of her needs, I become my mother. We were at Trader Joe’s; she wanted to buy some blue cheese, and I tried to talk her out of it because I had cheese in the house and didn’t need more. She offered to take it home with her afterward but I thought she would forget it so I didn’t cave. Instead, I said, “look, I’m not going to argue with you,” which wasn’t fair, I mean, I should have let her get her cheese, but she had a fit and refused to talk to me, so when I tried to get the cheese she wanted, she wouldn’t tell me which one it was, so I didn’t get any: if you’re not going to even talk to me, I can’t help you. Not talking doesn’t work.

The night before my parents left, my mother tried to stick me with more stuff she’d brought, including two items that I’d tried on last time I was at her house and to which I’d said, “no, thank you.” Those were a pair of pleated wool pants and a pair of padded biking shorts. She’d bought two pairs of the latter and I took one to appease her, but deliberately left the second. She’d asked me about both items over the phone and I told her I didn’t like pleated pants and that one pair of biking shorts was plenty. She said “what if those get dirty? What if you lose them?” and I said, “mom, I don’t need nor have room for two pairs of biking shorts.” Nonetheless, she brought them and didn’t take my first refusal, which was polite, at all, and didn’t take my subsequent less polite refusals graciously. “I won’t buy you anything at all anymore, even if it’s amazing!” This is similar to the threat I get when I ask her not to spam me—she says, “fine! I won’t send you anything at all!” to which I usually reply “thank you!” Mind you, 99% of the e-mail she sends me is trash, whereas she often does pick out some very nice clothing. Nonetheless, I reserve the right to say no, and I’d rather get nothing at all then clothing that will only clutter my closet. Similarly, I appreciate it when someone offers me food, but reserve the right to refuse it when eating anything more would make me at most sick and at best very uncomfortable. Sharing is not an all-or-nothing experience. I am not a human garbage disposal (although one friend had at one point dubbed me the garbage disposal of the masses for my ability to shrug and say ‘fine I’ll take it if you’re going to throw it away.’ That’s just what I’m trying to move away from.

The socks saga, the insistence that I take the bicycle shorts, her argument that I don’t need more suits—all indicators that she deep-down believes that she understands my needs better than I do and that even at my age, she feels the need to dictate what I keep in my house and what I wear.

This took a particularly ridiculous turn with the bicycle shorts.

“They’re so comfortable!”
“Mom, you don’t cycle!”
“So? I tried them on and they were really comfortable.”
[Dad is trying to suppress a smile].
“How do you know that they’ll be comfortable on a bike? To be honest, I have a pretty comfortable bike seat, I don’t need two pairs of padded shorts.”
“Maybe you will—you never know. Besides, what am I going to do with them?”
“I don’t know—why did you buy two pairs??”
“Because I thought you would take them.”
“No, thank you.”

The irony, for lack of a better word, is that my mother is equally insistent when she believes I don’t need something. She couldn’t understand why I needed a new bike (other than the old, rusty, squeaky one-speed I’d ridden since I was a child). I heard many iterations of “I don’t understand what’s wrong with your old bike” and “I really don’t see why you need a new bike.” For some reason or other, the fact that I’m the one riding the bike (or wearing the shorts), and therefore have a better appreciation of my needs, doesn’t register.

***
When my mother narrates my plate and asks me to justify what I’m not eating, I ask her to kindly back off. I didn’t ask E., the friend of my mom’s with whom I stayed in Sydney, to back off, but toward the end it was a challenge. Staying with her, being (force-)fed by her, indicated that my mom’s behavior was somewhat culture-based, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating.

E., like my father, survived the blockade of Leningrad. Food is not something anyone from St. Petersburg takes lightly, a fact reflected in my upbringing. I’ve certainly been raised to finish my plate, but I manage that by not putting more than I can eat on my plate. For a long time I felt obligated to eat even if I was full, and I’ve only recently gotten over that and come to believe that eating when you shouldn’t is, effectively, throwing away food, only worse. I appreciate that food is more than food, and appreciate the sharing of food, which is why I was intrigued when a friend of mine who had returned from a trip to India in which, on the last day, he and his wife had visited several of her relatives, described those relatives as “downright rude” for not taking no for an answer when they said “no, thank you” to food (having eaten at the houses of the previously visited relatives). They were grateful to her mom’s best friend for not making them eat.

I am grateful to E. for putting me up, as well as the friend of mine who came along, although she’d never met him before, and for taking the time to show us around the city, etc. I am grateful for all the time she spent preparing food and for making sure ahead of time that it would be food that I liked. Nonetheless, I know fully understand what my friend had meant, because guilt-tripping someone into eating is just not fair.

In addition to the sheer quantity of food that she tried to make us eat, meals were accompanied with plate narration, mine and J.’s.

“Why is he not eating? It’s just breaking my heart that he’s not eating. Tell me what he’ll eat.”
“He is eating.” [He was, literally, as she was going on about his not eating, putting food in his mouth with a fork.]
“No he’s not, he’s not eating!”

“You’re mom said you loved olives, but you’re not having any olives!”
She’d said this as she was coming back from the kitchen. By the time she’d emerged back into the dining room, she could see that I had already put olives on my plate.

Anything left untouched was subject to “oh, you don’t like that?” Which I honestly think is JUST RUDE. You’re basically putting someone in the position of eating something they don’t like or having to admit that they don’t like it.

She had thoroughly interrogated my mom on my food likes and dislikes, and my mom told her, among other things, that I liked fried eggs but that I’d better fry them myself. This was a relief, if only because no eggs were fried, on top of the other mounds of food offered, without my cooperation (read: no eggs were fried). At one point E.’s husband had offered to make fried eggs.

E.: No! She likes to fry them herself.
Husband: Do you like tomatoes in your fried eggs?
E. No! I already asked her that.
Husband: Have you ever tried tomatoes in your fried eggs?
A.: Yes.
Husband: And you don’t like them?
A. No.
Husband: Perhaps the way I make that dish, you’ll like it?
E.: No! Don’t be so insistent! She said she didn’t like tomatoes in her eggs!

They reminded me of the couple in “The Princess Bride.” “Have fun storming the castle!” Apart from or despite the force-feeding and attempted coddling, I actually had a really good time.

As with my mom, the need for repetition was there. I told E. that I’d be traveling with a friend, but she hadn’t told her husband so he was perplexed (not in a bad way) to pick up an additional person from the airport (which is another story, see below). The first thing he said was, “is he a vegetarian, too???” I said no. He turned to J. and said, “vegetarian?”

I won’t go on about the other things that didn’t need to be repeated half as often as they were. “Three days just isn’t enough” was one refrain (yes, we know, that’s the way it turned out this time, we understand).

On Friday, our last full day in Sydney, J. went to the zoo and I went beach hopping. E. was going to stay home and cook but I talked her out of it and asked her to join her husband and me at the beaches. E. tried to convince me to only swim in the pool (a paved, set-apart section of the beach) because she thought the waves were too high (they weren’t). When I got out of the water, slathered myself with sunblock and lay down to dry off, she told her husband to time me so that they’d tell me to flip over after fifteen minutes, so as not to get burned. He said, “what is she, a pancake?” She said, “exactly—like a pancake—she can’t spend more than fifteen minutes on each side.” (I did).

On the way to one beach or another, E. decided to ask me whom I’d vote for. I wanted to avoid political talk of any sort so tried the same tactic I used on my parents: pausing until one of them answered for me and they’d continue to talk to each other. It worked but then sort of misfired.

“She doesn’t care. Why should she care?”
“Of course she cares!”
“She doesn’t care. Do you care whom you vote for?”
“No, but that’s different. Whom I vote for doesn’t change anything. Who will you vote for? [proceeds to list the candidates she’s heard of, at which point I said I hadn’t decided yet, which is true]”
“See, she doesn’t care.”
“I do care. I haven’t decided yet.”

The morning of J.’s trip to the zoo, they kept offering him sandwiches (he’d accepted the offer of granola bars) and he kept saying “no, thank you.” E. turned to me and said, “but, but, he’s going to be walking around all day! He’s bound to get hungry!” and I could say was, “he’s a grown up—that’s his problem.”

***
Before I arrived back in Australia, Emma had told my mother to tell me to wait in the meet and greet area of the airport, not to go outside under any circumstances. Then she called my mother again to tell her that.

I’ve cleared customs twice now at Sydney airport and it was anything but fast both on a Sunday morning and Wednesday night. E. has traveled abroad quite a few times. She has to know that clearing customs at Sydney airport does not tend to be fast.

Nonetheless, she’d arrived at the airport at about 7:20pm (our flight was scheduled to get in at 7:25 but arrived at 7:03) and freaked out because she was afraid she might have missed us.

Have you EVER gotten off a plane and gotten your baggage, much less gotten off a plane, gotten your baggage, and cleared immigration and customs in seventeen minutes?

By the time we emerged from customs (not all that late, considering), she was marching up the “do not enter” ramp into customs because she was panicking that she’d missed us. Thankfully we were exiting just in time, so no one got arrested.
This is the kind of behavior that in Russian invites the description of one’s having nails up one’s ass.

It reminds me of the time I was meeting my parents in Italy. It was the year I was studying in Geneva, and they took a week in the Italian Alps, after which I’d meet them in Verona. I asked that they take some of my stuff home with them, so I was carrying quite a bit. We had agreed that they would meet me on the platform of the train station. As I was getting my stuff and making my way toward the train door, I saw my mom flap her arms and storm off in frustration.

WTF??

I dragged my bags to the center of town where I happened to run into them. She said she didn’t see me so she left. I said, “could you have at least WAITED for everyone to get off the train?” My dad had even said to her, “you know, she’s carrying a few bags, she’s not going to be the first person off the train.” I mean, honestly—would it have been all that much more difficult to just wait until the train had left the tracks? Would she have lost anything by waiting?

***

When I got back I told my parents that E. was wonderful, which was true, but I also said she tried to make me swim in a pool by the sea and time me like a pancake. They laughed and appreciated the absurdity.

Monday, May 7, 2007

that high tech body wash apparatus

Mom: That high-tech body wash apparatus is wasteful-- most of the product ends up on the walls.
A.: Huh?
Mom: It's very inefficient.
A.: YOU DIDN'T PUSH THAT BUTTON WHILE YOU WERE IN THE SHOWER???
Mom: Of course I did.
A.: That's not body wash-- that's an automatic shower cleaner. Are you okay?
Mom: No allergic reaction yet.
A.: Why didn't you ask first?
Mom: You know me, I was curious.
A.: Good thing it didn't get into your eyes!
A.: Wait, were you not alarmed at the twenty seconds of beeping before it sprayed?
Mom: No.
Mom: Does it work?
A.: Yeah.
Mom: How much did it cost?
A.: Why does it matter?
Mom: Because I think it's a waste of money.
A.: My shower is clean. That's all I have to say.
***

Earlier, I was upstairs continuing to unpack when I hear, "A.!" "A.!" "A.!"
I came downstairs and said, "WHAT???"

"Where is your shampoo?"
"In the shower?"
"Where?"
"On the shelf."
"You have too many bottles! Which one is shampoo?"
"Stop yelling, please. This is shampoo."

Various products had been strewn along the shower floor in my mom's attempts to get to the shampoo. Now I wonder if the shower cleaner had gotten in her eyes, but she said it hadn't.

***

I'd gone to bed quite late... it was hard to fall asleep before 2:30am and I had a lot of stuff to sort through. It wasn't entirely my mom's fault that she woke me up before 8am, but it was still annoying, as was the way she did it. What was really annoying was her being confused about why I was tired the next day and what I was doing until 2:30.

7:50am:

"A.! Where's Kevin?"
[groggy]"I have no idea."
"There's a kid here to see him."
"Probably one of the kids he coaches."
"Well, he wants to see Kevin."
"Well, he can wait until Kevin comes downstairs."
"He said Kevin told him to come at 8:00."
"What time is it?"
"I don't know, but it's far past 8:00."

I look at my watch.

"It's 7:50. Tell him to go downstairs and wait for Kevin."

I try to go back to sleep but can't. I hear my mom offer the basketball player tea, which is sweet.

Later:

"You look tired."

"Does that surprise you? I didn't get to sleep until late last night and you woke me up at 8am, although that wasn't your fault."

"What were you doing up so late?"

"Sorting through stuff, unpacking."

"What stuff did you have to sort through?"

"All the stuff I brought back from the trip, as well as the stuff you'd left around the house."

Dad pipes in: "Yeah, I noticed this morning the kitchen was clean and all our stuff was in neat piles."

Mom asked why I didn't just leave it. I told her I didn't live alone, I couldn't just leave crap all over the house, but that was only part of it. Especially when I'm scattered-- temporally, chronologically, seasonally, decade-ly and with my own stuff all over the place, more stuff all over the place just stresses me out.

I'm not criticizing my mom for leaving various baggage and stuff all over the house. Whatever. I'm happy to clean it up, organize it. I'm perplexed that she's perplexed that I would be tired after cleaning and organizing it, after a very long trip.

***

Kevin: You know, your parents are a lot cuter than you give them credit.
A.: I don't dispute that they're cute.

I smiled. They're wonderful people. It's just that they say a lot of things that are blog-worthy, so I blog about them.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

You buy socks???

Upon returning to Australia (from New Zealand), I stayed with a friend of my mom's. She was wonderful to host me and a friend of mine, and I enjoyed staying with her, although it was a little much at times, and she'll merit her own friend-of-mom blog shortly, but what's notable about her for now is that she had me call my mother every day (well, each of the four days I was at her house). The third day saw the following conversation:

E: Oh, let's call your mom.
A: I talked to her yesterday, and the day before?
E: So?
A: So, I don't need to call her today.
E: Last week, whenever I called her, I asked where you were and she always said, "I don't know,"
A: That's okay.

She called my mom non-stop to interrogate her (my mom's word) about my food preferences. She also called her twice to make absolutely sure that I didn't leave the greeting area at Sydney airport. More on that later.

Anyway, I called my mom. One day she asked whether she should bring ankle weights to DC (no thanks I have some/but you used ours when you were here/yes, because mine were at my house-- I have some at my house). Another, she asked whether to bring tights. I said absolutely not-- I barely wear them/have enough/but yes if you have any dark grey but absolutely no for any other color. I hear arguments: "well, I'll just bring them anyway..." "NO! I don't have room for extraneous crap."

Well, you guessed it, tonight (well, technically last night) she handed me a dozen or so pairs.

"I TOLD you not to bring them!"
"Well, you never know when you might need them."
"I DO know I won't need them."
"Just keep them anyway."
"I DON'T WANT THEM. I DON'T HAVE ROOM FOR THEM. Except for the grey ones"
"What about the others?"
"No."
"That color will come back in style..."
"Tan will NEVER come "back" in style and if it does we have bigger problems..."
"You never know."
"I am NOT taking them... I don't want the clutter."
"Here, I also brought you some socks."
"I don't NEED socks."
"You can never have too many socks."
"I have plenty of socks."
"How? Where'd you get 'plenty of socks'? What, did you buy socks? Why would you buy socks?"

I was speechless for a few seconds. Then I just said what was in my head:

"I just spent over twenty-four hours mostly on airplanes and otherwise in airports. WHY are you making me defend my right to buy socks and not take the ones you brought?"

That seemed to buy me a temporary out of that conversation. More later, and more on Australia and New Zealand later.

It's great to be in my own bed, even though I'll most likely wake up without and wonder where I am. My sense of place isn't the only thing that's out of whack-- my body has no idea what time it is; I understand, in my mind, how the international date line works, but it's hard for me to grasp that I've somehow had two of the same day. I also spent weeks listening to people refer to the arriving winter, talk about how it's getting cold, etc... and all of the sudden it's getting warmer and lighter. Temporal, locational and seasonal dissonance, all at once.

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