Tahoe, 2 of 4


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.



5 Replies to “Tahoe, 2 of 4”

  1. Bluuuuurgh gosh this is hard.

    I think there are lots of ways to look at just about everything here, and maybe they all have some truth, idk. Obviously you know best, especially re your own feelings, because you were *there* and also no one has the right to tell you what you feel. But in terms of being a little bit reasonable to yourself I think that’s not something where you excel (and as a self-hater of many years, I empathise!!). So I’m going to ramble a little anyway.

    One of the things that can be seen many ways is your mother’s comment about being an old woman. I sympathise with her, so much. There are times when my kids very definitely don’t need me, and I feel useless.

    Simultaneously, though, it’s a very manipulative thing to say. And I’m not at all saying she’s doing so intentionally. This is one of those things where I think it really can be seen multiple ways simultaneously, and they’re all valid.

    Yes, she’s in pain, and she’s upset that you don’t need her. And that sucks! I would love to fix that for her, and I know you’d love that too.

    Simultaneously, it’s only a gd sandwich and while she can make her suggestion, it’s up to you what you want to eat on your gd sandwich and you are the expert on that. You have made many sandwiches in your life and it’s a sandwich for you.

    Simultaneously, she’s (again, I’m not saying it’s intentional) trying to get you to say “no, you’re not an old woman and I do want to listen to you, I’m sorry, it’s all my fault for making you feel bad”. Which wouldn’t be fair at all. She could ask you about some ways in which she could help, that you could both live with, instead of doing it quite like that.

    Simultaneously, I’ve been on both sides of the thing where one person’s feeling ratty and pecked at, and someone else watching just thinks ffs why can’t you just calm down and accept what you’re being told – it’s *nothing*. And that’s a valid way to look at it, but it’s not the whole story, either. Feeling pecked at is not fun, and sure it’d be nice if you hadn’t felt that way in response to your mom. Feeling like you can’t give advice to someone without them getting huffy is not fun either, but your mom has known you forever and could’ve phrased it all a lot better.

    I have been The Difficult One in terms of kids for many years in my family, and I hate it, and feel like I’m a pain in the ass, so I sympathise with your sensitivity there, sigh. One of my kids is autistic, and I am (over?) sensitive about what I’ll inflict on them and what I’ll inflict them on, so sometimes I say no I won’t come to something out of feeling like we’ll be asking for too many concessions if we do go. Out of feeling like the rest of my family do too many things to be nice to us already and it’d be nice for them to have a dinner / outing / etc. without us. But that’s probably seen as being standoffish at times. It’s a little better now my kids are older, and one of my sisters now has two small kids so I’m not the only one. But I still feel like I’m being a pain. And again that’s probably something where the ‘truth’ is not “I suck and am being standoffish or picky” and it’s also not “I am an angel and everyone understands every reason why I have to do things in a particular way and they all adore me”, but it’s somewhere in between that.

    Self-hate is fun, huh? 🙁 I feel for you.

  2. Your mom wants to pass the torch and not cook and then she wants to stand there while you cook and add her two cents about how to best cook.

    “She has collected all this wisdom and is desperate to be useful” but then she has ALSO done her job as a mom and passed a lot of knowledge and skills on to her kids. At this point in her life she should be sitting at the dining room table watching how capable her own kids are and feeling she did her job well. Not saying she is “passing the torch” then trying to take it back out of your hands and being offended when you don’t immediately follow her advice.

  3. Hi Meg,

    As always, you have such thoughtful and thought provoking responses. I think you are right that there are multiple ways you could take my mom’s statement, and the ambiguity there hooks me.

    What gets me the most is not trying to sort through her different manipulations/honesty/pity/intimacy to decide her true intentions, but accepting that they probably co-exist in her at the same time. For example, her statement was probably both a self serving manipulation, but also honest humility.

    FWIW, I don’t feel like I hate myself, although maybe that’s denial? To me, it feels as if there’s no clear black and white response (cut her out! Give in and accept her the way she is!) that doesn’t feel like some sort of self-amputation, so I have to sort through all the shades of grey, trying to understand what’s going on.

    Rambles! Sorry!


  4. Hi Jessica,

    Wow, that’s insightful! Thank you! You totally provided a logical framework for me to understand that fuzzy-angry-knee jerk reaction. And you’re right — how can I win in a situation like that? Either thing I do goes against what she asked me to do.


  5. There is grief all over the place here. Your mom is grieving the loss of her husband, her marriage, her friends, and now her identity- the meal maker, planner, and woman of wisdom… in other words, mother.

    Can you help her by naming who she is to you?

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