Archive for May, 2023

“One more itch,
you son of a bitch
been a waste of my time
Now you’re half awake
you bend till you break
and make the same mistakes

Happier, by Guster

One day, I will live in a little log house on 30 acres of woods in Chatham, NY. There will be a stream, and a hill, and trees everywhere you look. I will befriend birds, squirrels, rabbits…all manner of wildlife. I’ll spend my days making trails, stacking rocks, and creating tiny homes for elves and faeries. I’ll have a big pool or pond just for Boo; we’ll dance to Guster and play in the leaves. Hell, I’ll grow gardens of veggies just to feed the deer; they’ll be the happiest critters in Columbia County.

Y’all can keep this damned divided country full of hate. Demonize the Other all you like. I’ll be on my own little parcel of peace, all done trying to be good enough, all done trying to make a difference. All done. Quiet. Calm. Still.

One can fantasize.

The good news is Jonah has been doing well. He’s got 3 upcoming events and I’m looking forward to attending them – a senior class trip, prom, and graduation. Briana is going to be at all 3, and she’s helping me coordinate some cool clothes Jonah will wear for the occasions. I’ll be sure to take lots of pics to share! I just saw Boo this past Sunday…it was a rainy day and I was worried I’d only get to be with him for a short while, so I brought some DVDs to coax him into hanging out a while after we ate lunch at the Visitor’s Center. As if through divine intervention, though, the rain stopped long enough for us to take our campus walk, hand in hand as usual, playlist on full volume. We adore our walks. Jonah truly loves his mama unconditionally, and I love him unconditionally as well. We don’t have to say anything to one another to know it. It’s a singular bond.

I interrupt this post to tell you I’m about to ramble, complain, and bitch, blah blah blah – so if you want to skip the rest, go right ahead. I promise the next post will have stories and photos of Boo.

Unconditional love. We throw that phrase around a lot, and too lightly, if you ask me. I have known a lot of unconditional love, but I have also known a different kind. My birth mother abandoned me at the hospital last minute, so I didn’t get any from her for sure. The parents who adopted me offered transactional, conditional love, once I had a mind of my own. So long as I asked how high every time they said jump, they were happy campers. If I never displayed opinions or thoughts in opposition to theirs, everything was fine. But when I broke these unwritten rules, they usually turned cold, insulting, and distant (my mother) or exploded in anger (my father). I was controlled quite effectively by both of them, and as a result I became cowed. I didn’t get a voice and I certainly was never allowed to be angry. These things are as true today as they were in 1980 when I was 10. Some of it is being raised Gen X. As a generation we were the ‘latchkey’ kids, collectively ignored, left to roam around the neighborhood, told to go play. But maybe, also, it’s true you teach people how to treat you. If so, I’ve taught both my mother and my father to bully me.

Don’t get me wrong. You’ve heard me accentuate the positive aspects of our interactions in this blog. I’ve tried to stay in a grateful place. And I know I’m blessed to have parents who love me, unconditionally or not. I never wanted for anything – food, clothes, toys, lessons in tennis, ballet, piano…trips to Disney World, the Olympics, the ocean, Broadway shows…an in-ground pool, a beautiful house, a sweet hound dog, a college education. I had a lot growing up. I have a lot now.

Today, though, I’m dishing a dose of a different reality.

Last week I was discussing caregiving options with my mother in the hope of leaving her alone for more extended periods of time. She was not happy about this. At one point she bitterly declared, “well I guess we’re just different.” When I asked what she meant by that, she told me she took care of her parents and gave up her friends and her personal life. (I know, by the way, that she only cared for her father – who adored her, whatever that’s like – with lots of hospice nursing help and sibling support, for a period of maybe two weeks, at the tail end of his life). I get it mom, I’m not selfless enough, normal enough, sacrificing enough. You don’t like me and you never have.

I’ve spent way too much time and effort attempting to be an acceptable daughter and it will never, ever, ever happen. It’s not a goal I can meet, because the goalpost is shifted and moved. There’s only what I’m not doing, how I’m not acting, what I should be like.

This ought to be more depressing to me than it is, but the epiphany has been a long time coming, and I reckon I’ve always known on some level that I need to be a very good girl, else love be withdrawn. Case in point:

On Palm Sunday morning, my father called me. I was planning a day out and had just finished setting my mother up with lunch packed in a cooler so she could have it while I was gone. I’d fed her breakfast and coffee, done her toileting, brushed her teeth, made up her bedding, changed her nightgown, clipped her nails, and made sure she had her newspaper, TV remote control, and tray with all her stuff. Then I came downstairs and grabbed my bag – I was getting picked up for a ride with my boyfriend and new puppy. I climbed into the passenger seat, relieved to be going away for a good chunk of time, and after about a minute I looked down at my phone.

There were 4 missed calls and 2 voicemails, all from my father, all over the course of no more than ten minutes. I really need to have you call me back, he said in one of the messages. While I was busy helping my mother, he had called. And called. And called. And called…repeatedly trying to reach me. Concerned, I started to dial his number, but he was already calling me yet again. I answered and asked if everything was okay. Yes, he told me. There’s no emergency. But he quickly went on to say he needed me to drive to a particular auto parts store to pick up an oil cap for his BMW and bring it to him, and without pause began to give me the address of the store and what I needed to do and say when I arrived. Trying to absorb this run-on sentence, I asked him how late the place was open. “I don’t know how late they’re open,” he answered impatiently. “I need you to do this now, in the next hour or so.”

“I’m not home right now,” I explained. Before I could tell him I’d get it as soon as I could, he snapped, “Forget it. I’ll find someone else to help me,” and click he was gone.

Now I’m hurt, and angry, and the interaction has ruined my free time away from caregiving. My back, shoulders, and neck are tightrope lines of stress wrapped in resentment. When I get back to the house later, dejected, I make some dinner and bring it upstairs to my mother, who predictably has a complaint about some aspect of the food. When I come back downstairs, my father is calling my cell. I sigh and let it go to voicemail, thinking maybe he feels bad and is calling to apologize. But he didn’t leave a message. Two minutes later he calls again; this time I pick up.

I shit you not, the man immediately starts giving me more instructions: “Yeah, Amy, listen, I got the auto place to send the piece I need to a closer store, so tomorrow morning you can go get it for me like you said you would.” Never mind that I never said any such thing. Never mind that mere hours ago he threw a tantrum and hung up on me. Never mind that tomorrow is Monday and a workday for both my jobs. Never mind that he could have taken a cab or an Uber to the damn store if he’d wanted the piece so desperately.

Nearly always I do whatever my father needs me to do, and I certainly avoid arguing with him at all costs. He can take any argument straight to fight, from speaking to screaming, faster than anyone I’ve ever known…even in public, where he has embarrassed and humiliated me several times. There’s no rational discourse. As a result, I back down from even the slightest argument 98% of the time just to avoid the storm, no matter how unreasonable or insulting he’s being.

But now I’m pissed. “I didn’t say I would get it for you. You told me you’d find someone else to do it, and then you hung up on me.”

“I haven’t asked you to do anything for me in a year and a half,” he replied, as though infrequency warranted his disrespectful, demanding bullshit. “You didn’t ASK me to do anything,” I countered. “You ordered me.” Now he’s ratcheting it up and talking over me, and we’re both yelling. “You owe me an apology,” I said angrily. “I’m sorry,” he immediately mumbled, not even trying to disguise the tone of a toddler who’ll say anything so long as they can get their way. I almost laughed. “You’re not sorry,” I said. “You just want something. Once again you called to instruct me what to do and when to do it.” There was some more talking over one another, and finally, in a loud, clear voice, each word distinct, I said LISTEN TO ME.


He hung up on me again — and hasn’t spoken to me since.

No respect for bad girl. No voice permitted, no defense granted, no anger allowed. It doesn’t matter that bad girl is taking a day for herself, or working, or busy, or tired, or just not around at any given time. Bad girl didn’t ask how high when dad demanded jump, so bad girl gets punished.

If that’s not conditional love, I don’t know what is.

It’s very telling that the last 3 words I said to my father were listen to me – and that, of course, he didn’t. I’m not even sure what I could have said, or if it matters. When he hung up on me again and never called me back, it told me everything I needed to know.

I’ve exhausted myself my whole life chasing my parents’ acceptance, affirmation, and approval. I don’t know why I keep doing it and I don’t think I can anymore. I’m 53 years old, for God’s sake. This is ridiculous. I am ridiculous.

I don’t have it in me to go up against one more thing. Most days my mother is belligerent, stubborn, unkind, picky, demanding, critical, and exhausting. She guilt trips me and gaslights me. There is no doctor, no nursing care, no diagnosis, no respite. She won’t have any of it. She can’t breathe and is very wobbly when she does attempt to stand. She uses asthma meds and a nebulizer that my aunt and I get for her. She refuses to let anyone but me help with her toileting or any of the myriad of caregiving tasks she requires – and I can never do any of it right. She lies to people and tells them she is up and walking. Then they ask me, and I am put in the middle. I can either lie like my mother or tell the truth and risk her wrath. She barely allows her own brothers and sister to visit, let alone assist – and when they do, she tells them Amy is fine, she doesn’t need any help.

They all know I do need help, but none of us can force her. She tells me she just wants to die. I called the Office for the Aging for advice and they told me she has every right to refuse care. To press the issue I’d have to hire a lawyer and attempt to become her guardian, which most certainly would be expensive, fruitless, and fraught with emotional distress of epic proportions for everyone involved.

She insisted on getting herself down the stairs to have her hair done recently, because evidently the hair dresser will come here but can’t walk up stairs…and my mom fell again, even with me right next to her, guiding and helping her slowly down each step. Luckily the fall wasn’t terrible and she didn’t break anything. The hair dresser arrived, tried to ignore my mother’s bleeding hand and scraped up forehead, gave her the haircut, and left. Then we were trapped because my mom was too weak and out of breath to get back upstairs. My boyfriend had to come over and literally carry her in his arms back up the stairs and into bed. Believe it or not, my mother has scheduled yet another hair appointment and is planning to try again to get down those stairs, despite my vehement protests. Before this second fall, she had been getting up, walking a little with her walker, and using the commode next to her bed – but now she’s stopped doing all of that.

I should have called 911 when she fell this time. I didn’t because she would have killed me. I might as well have; she’s killing me anyway. I’m so beaten down most days, I complete her nighttime caregiving rituals by 6:45pm and lie down by 7, where I can carve out peaceful time to listen to audiobooks and play a word game on my phone before going to sleep early, sometimes even before the sun. I think I love sleep more than I love just about anything else right now. Sweet, dark oblivion.

But I’ve got to stay on top of Jonah’s future living situation and prepare for an annual work event. And since I have lived here, we had a clogged toilet plumbing disaster, tree branches came down over the driveway, the mailbox fell over completely, the shower handle came off in my hands, and the downstairs toilet and kitchen sink faucet both broke and needed replacing. Now siding fell off the side of the house and I need to figure that out too.

My mother insists my 9 minute showers are too long (I never heard of anyone taking a longer shower than you do!), the vegetables I serve are not warmed enough (I like my vegetables hot), her drinking water isn’t properly chilled (you didn’t let the water run long enough), the soft washcloth for her face is not suitably warm (have you ever heard of hot water?), I clutter up everything (by purchasing a plunger), I rearrange the whole house (by putting the bathroom rug in the wrong spot and clearing out 2 drawers for my clothes), I serve dinner too late or too early, the coffee is too weak or ice cold, I’m not cheerful enough, the house isn’t warm enough, I’m making too much noise (what’s all that banging?), I took too long grocery shopping (I thought you got in an accident!)

She calls my cell from the phone by her bed 10-15 times a day. You left a dirty glass up here. You need to turn the light on in the hallway. I need to be changed again. Did you bring in the mail? I need a shorter straw. Don’t forget it’s garbage day.

You can’t make this shit up.

Yes, I know I sound manic and crazy, desperate and complaining. I know I need more than one kind of help. I started tele-therapy yesterday with a new therapist, and I really like her. But my mental health is shaky and I need it to be stronger.

It’s going to get better. Sometimes my mom is grateful and will tell me she doesn’t know what she’d do without me. Sometimes she wants me to sit with her and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Sometimes when she’s getting changed she says “you poor thing.” She usually says thank you when I do things for her, and I know she’s glad I’m here, even if it doesn’t seem that way very often.

I can place my focus on those things…and on feeding the birds and bunnies (and once, a turkey!) outside the window where I work at the kitchen table. I can focus on my friendships and my son, my boyfriend, my bio half-sisters and brothers, my aunts, uncles, cousins, pets. I thank God I can work remotely for both my jobs. I am grateful for the sunshine and the springtime.

Jonah’s field trip and his prom and graduation are hopefully going to be fun. My friends and I are planning a few day trips. I’m going to get away for an overnight, somewhere, sometime. Don’t ask me how. I need to believe that I can. It’s been more than 4 months now but I can’t just pack up and move out, as much as I’m tempted sometimes. The longest I’ve left my mother is 6 hours, and I usually pay for that time one way or another upon my return. As often as not, whenever I am gone, she calls me and tells me to come back.

My life has been hijacked and I need to practice some radical acceptance, lest I end up admitting myself to the mental hospital again or jumping bye bye off a cliff. Neither my mother nor my father is going to change. I can only change the way I react to them. I can assert I am worthy of basic respect and common courtesy, and that just like every other person in their lives, I am sometimes unavailable. I am not a servant or a slave.

I think I’m going to start a separate blog where I talk about stuff like this. Or maybe move these kinds of conversations to my portfolio at writing.com. Something. Today, though, I’m puking it up right here. It helps me to do so. I needed to vent.

May peace be with you, my peeps. For now, I’m out.

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