My mother bought our kids ski lessons and two days of lift tickets for the holiday, and so our Saturday and Sunday plans were to leave the house early and be gone all day.
In the numerous emails my mom sent out in the planning phase of this vacation, she’d suggested numerous cooking plans, each more intricate than the last, detailing who would cook what, when. Here’s some bullet points of background info to give you the gist:
1. My mom’s from the poor south, where food is love.
2. She always makes too much food.
3. Between allergies, breastfeeding restrictions, background differences, and the assortment of vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters, Mom typically makes about three meals for any given mealtime.
4. Mom stated at the beginning of the vacation she did not want to cook at all, was passing the torch, etc., because it was just too much work. But would we all please organize some sort of schedule so everyone was taken care of?
My sisters and I took a few stabs at attempting some kid of sister-wives potluck rotation of duties, but quickly came to a modern day consensus: Fuck it, we’ll make our own breakfasts and lunches. Then everyone take a night for dinner as some assembly type meal: AKA burritos, spaghetti assembly line, etc.
WE ARE BRILLIANT, yes? Really, there is no use denying it.
So when I woke my family at 7:00, with plans to exit the house, fully ski-ready, by 9:00, I expected smooth sailing.
Perhaps also as a result of having a mother as described in bullet points 1-4, I am the kind of mother who is pretty much, “You’re all having oatmeal today. If you don’t like that, help yourself to whatever you want to make for yourself and then clean up. Enjoy!” Which is not (in my mind) especially Cruella, since they all seem to like oatmeal.
Upstairs, I found my mother already awake, oatmeal cooking. I felt a prickle of irritation. We’d spent numerous emails planning out how to help her not cook for everyone. Then questioning myself – why so angry at free oatmeal, butthead? Grudge much?
Mom seemed anxious, or maybe over-caffeinated, perched near the counter. As the kids ate breakfast, I began packing a lunch for us: sandwiches and snacks, etc. FWIW, I am a methodical lunch packing machine, and had planned exactly how much time it would take to get everything together. With a hard deadline of the kid’s scheduled ski lesson, I knew I couldn’t fritter away the time socializing.
I could see Mom getting more anxious, small talking fast in the quiet kitchen. It’s been this way with me and my mom forever – she’s a morning talker, and idea person, full of plans. I feel without skin the first half hour I wake up, desperate for zero contact as I grow a protective layer. Plus? tight schedule.
My sisters with their younger kids began to arrive and make their own breakfasts. Little critiqued my coffee making skills, musing out loud about tossing what I’d made and starting again, so I was biting down on a general sense of irritation as I grabbed some deli meat, lettuce and mayo from the fridge.
Mom said, “You know what’s better than mayo on a sandwich? You should use some of that guacamole in there instead. It’ll keep better in the cooler.”
How to explain the extent of my passive aggressive assholery, as I slapped mayo on bread as if I’d never heard her?
But I mean, come on. I was 42, not 10, and perfectly capable of making my own sandwich without instruction.
She seemed taken aback, going quiet. A few seconds later, she said, “This is the problem with my situation. I feel I have all this wisdom, and I’m desperate to be useful. But the reality is, no one wants to be bossed around by an old woman.”
It was so on-the-nose, I hardly knew what to say. She started talking about the isolation of being with Dad, and how now Dad’s so far out of the norm that people avoid talking to him, and thus her. I did stop then, to listen to her. When she was done, we finished packing up and headed out for a day of skiing.
Since, I’ve thought about that moment. Not just my mother’s vulnerability, but Little sharking around behind me. That morning, I’d written off my sister’s anger as sleeplessness and exhaustion from traveling with an 11 month old baby.
Looking back, I think now that while I feel like the outcast in my family, it might be that my sisters see me differently.
Maybe (with their non-skiing age kids) they feel as if the whole trip was just for my kids, and they were dragged to Tahoe because our mother’s spending all her time and affections trying to placate the angry daughter. Maybe they feel as if they are starving for the last bits of parenting while I throw mine away. Maybe they think I’m pushing her already wounded buttons of being ignored no matter how she tries to stay included.
Maybe they think if I‘d make peace, my mother could finally have some peace herself.