January 17, 2021 – The gift that keeps on giving.

I woke up this morning anxiety-free. It was delightful! Do you know how rare that is?! And once I got out of bed (calm and at peace) and got cleaned up and dressed, I padded down the stairs and made my way to the kitchen, whereby I commenced preparing breakfast. It was the usual, scrambled eggs and bacon, oatmeal and a banana, but it seemed to taste even better than it ordinarily does. Maybe it was because I was able to concentrate on the tastes and textures and how good they felt on my tongue before they made the short journey to my stomach, rather than being distracted by the knots. After breakfast, I didn’t feel terribly motivated but I thought it’d be a good idea to call my mom since I hadn’t talked to her in several days. As much as I didn’t want to speak to her because I already knew what I was walking into and how it would affect me, I did it anyway.

Why? Guilt, of course! The gift that keeps on giving!! And what a lovely gift it is. It’s totally ‘free’ and it lasts a lifetime. I’ve had it so long that I don’t even remember when I got it or what the occasion was. Since my early years involved being raised in the Catholic faith, I suspect I might have got it at my baptismal or christening. I think the way the ceremony works is that after being ‘blessed’ with holy water, the priest also bestows upon you a lifetime supply of guilt. When you’re little, you’re not even really that aware of it because even though it’s present, it’s invisible. But as you get older, you start to notice it more. It becomes a looming presence that affects nearly every aspect of your life. It sits in the back of your mind and continually invades your thoughts. It influences your decisions. It makes you worry and it makes you weary.

The entire reason I called my mom today was due to guilt. I feel partly responsible for moving her into an assisted living center and I don’t want her to end up like one of those people whose family has forgotten about them and so they languish, confused and utterly alone. Boy oh boy, was she in fine form! It was one complaint after another and then I was asked why I haven’t come out and tried to save her. Sigh. I heard the whole thing from start to finish, from ‘being stuck in this room with all of my mother’s furniture’ to ‘I still don’t understand why they had to take away my car!’ When she started to complain about the reason she was ‘forced’ to leave her home, when her granddaughters moved in with their boyfriends and made things impossible, I tried to make light of things. “What do you mean?” I asked, “Because of all of the orgies?” “Oh, yes!” she readily agreed, “And MUCH WORSE!”

Much worse? Where/when/how does she dream up this stuff? There was only ever one granddaughter that stayed with her, not several, and her boyfriend never moved in. And I can tell you, there was nothing ‘unseemly’ going on. They don’t hold hands or even kiss in public, let alone engage in sexual escapades with several other people in front of my mother. Needless to say, I felt like garbage that’s been sitting out on a New York City sidewalk during a heatwave once we got off the phone. The anxiety-free day I had been enjoying quickly became anxiety-filled. I called because of guilt and then I got an extra-large serving of it when we spoke, especially after the ‘why haven’t you come out to save me yet’ comment. The irony is, she’s actually the one responsible for imparting upon me this wonderful gift that keeps on giving. Who do you think I got it from?

As much as I’d like to blame the priest, it’s my mom that should get the credit. She could probably teach a class on it, she’s so well versed. If there were ‘ranks’ assigned as far as expertise in the guilt department, my mother would be a ‘chief’. There are all kinds of way to impart guilt on people and my mom knows them all. Most involve nonverbal cues but occasionally words are spoken. The nonverbal cues include accusatory glances, furrowed brows, crossed arms, loud sighs or outright departure. When words are spoken, they generally go something like this, “Well, if you’re not going to do it, then I’ll just do it myself!” Passive aggressiveness (PA) is also a great tool that works hand-in-hand with guilt. The two combined are a deadly combination. And the effectiveness of the guilt when coupled with PA? That is some powerful stuff. It can last for days or even weeks!

Are you curious at all about some of the nonverbal cues I mentioned in the last paragraph? I thought you might appreciate a more thorough explanation of ‘outright departure’. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, to help you understand, a trip ‘back in time’ will be required. The year is 1985, it is the year I graduated from high school. My mom wanted to do something special before I departed for the military and she also wanted to visit my brother Clover who was stationed in Germany at the time. Her gift? A two week European vacation. First stop, Frankfurt. Pretty great, right? It was great! Even my brother The Kraken joined us. Here’s the thing, my mom is nearly 40 years older than me. Her idea of ‘fun’ and my (and my siblings) idea of ‘fun’ were and are v-e-r-y different. At the time, I was 18 and she was almost 60!

It was pretty much like hanging out with a not-very-fun grandma. And on two separate occasions, she got fed up with our behavior and took it to the next level! The ‘next level’, what does that even mean? What that means is, two different times in two different countries, we awoke to find her bed empty and all her belongings gone. Imagine our surprise the first time it happened! You wake up in a foreign country and your mother has gone missing? What the heck?! The first time it happened, we went into full panic mode. First, we checked every nook and cranny in the room while desperately calling out her name, hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Did she have a heart attack, was she kidnapped, what happened? We then searched the entire hotel to no avail. We finally took to the streets in hopes of finding her.

It didn’t take long to locate her. She was sitting at a bus station, suitcases in tow. I recognized the furrowed brow and the crossed arms. It took some convincing to get her to rejoin us and within a couple of days, it seemed like things were back on track. And then, to our utter disbelief, it happened AGAIN! Different day and different country, but the exact same scenario. We wake up and she has vanished without a trace. This time, however, we had a better idea of where she’d likely be and didn’t go into full-fledged panic mode as we did the first time. And just as she did the previous time, when she got fed up, she waited until we were fast asleep, packed up her things, and headed to the nearest bus station. What I want to know is, what the heck was she thinking? Where the heck did she intend to go? She didn’t even speak the language.

She knew what she was doing even though we didn’t at the time. We’ve been ‘controlled by guilt’ our entire lives. She never hit us (aside from the time that I decided to spend the night at my friend’s house when I was 5 years old and didn’t tell anybody) and she never cursed at us, but she sure knew how to ‘rein us in’. There’s nothing like a good old dose of guilt to kill a good time and she murdered it. She also had another card up her sleeve that was just as effective, the ‘I paid for this entire trip’ card. You play that card in a game of Poker and everyone will fold. I’m telling you, my mom had the moves! She knew them all. Many parents like to tell their kids the story about ‘having to walk 4 miles in the snow to get to school’ when they were children. My mom could beat that story in a heartbeat. Her saying was ‘I had to walk for miles with cardboard in my shoes in order to make a living and ensure you kids had enough to eat’.

Thanks, Mom! And while I’m thanking you, thanks for passing on that incredible gift! Yep, I learned from ‘the master’. I’ve got some fabulous moves myself! Aren’t you proud?! I can do them all and then some. I’ve got the accusatory glances, furrowed brow, crossed arms, loud sighs, and ‘the comments made under my breath’ down to a science. And man, they work like a charm! I haven’t tried ‘outright departure’ yet but I’ll keep it in my back pocket just in case. You never know when it might come in handy someday! Thank you so much for stopping by. For the folks that are ‘following’ me, I am grateful for you and the continued interest you have in reading my blog. I enjoy the opportunity to share things about my life and family or to just make simple random observations. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.

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