Every so often, I make the arduous trip from the Left Coast to the East. (See last year’s post Lost in Newark, for example) I usually stay at my Dad’s in New Jersey as a home base. I rent a car and make forays to other localities to see other friends and family.
This time, I made the trip east with Eldest Kid, who now lives in Washington. This is the one in the process of switching gender. Forgive me if I make some errors in syntax when I write about him- I have no problem with it on any level but the long-time habits I have in referencing this child interfere with my consistent ability to get it right, when I write or speak, and I am working on that!
We flew into Long Island, where I rented a butt-ugly but fairly energy efficient blue Chevy Cruze. I drove EK to his Dad’s house. In a few weeks, those two will be driving EK’s own car across country so he will have his own transportation here in the west. Dad still doesn’t know yet that EK is now a son instead of a daughter, so I had to switch my gender-based pronouns again for this trip. So confoozling!
Then, I continued a little further east on Long Island, where I spent the night with my oldest, bestest friend. The one whose own mama taught me about Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits. We hadn’t been together in almost 5 years, except for monthly texts and a few emails here and there, so we had a lot of catching up to do.
Even though I had been up since 3 am my time, adrenaline and a bottle of wine made our visit a pleasure. We talked until I couldn’t keep my eyes open another minute. Actually, she talked, mostly, and I listened, mostly. This is a new development in our relationship, but she is going through a rough patch and I was happy to give her my shoulder. She has done the same for me many times in the past.
Next morning, a 150 mile trip through Long Island, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and finally New Jersey to my Dad’s house. The Verrazano Bridge costs FIFTEEN DOLLARS. Whaaaaaaaaaaat???
Good thing I love to drive, ‘cuz that’s what this whole trip entailed.
I adore my father and his wife. Dad is almost 83, and Dee is 10 years younger. I cannot know how many more visits I will have with him. I am happy for every opportunity I have to spend time with both of them. My stepmother has a sense of humor not unlike my own, and we all end up giggling like children. Her three children and I did not grow up together, exactly, but we have known each other for 38 years and have always gotten along well. This visit, I got to be a part of my step-nephew’s HS graduation. He introduced me to his friends as “My Aunt Rosi from Seattle”.
Okay. Now you have some context for the story I want to tell.
Earlier that Friday was the obligatory visit to my mother. She was about to turn 82 on the Sunday, and I was about to turn 59 on Monday. I was proud of myself for scheduling my 4000 mile trip from Washington so that we could be together to celebrate, as we had not done so on or near our birthdays in, oh, a dozen years? Anyway she lives with my Sainted Brother and his Wife, who have a perfect home, perfect jobs, two perfect children in the appropriate genders who attend college and maintain perfect achievements in all areas. Get the picture?
EK and her sister drove from Long Island to join us. I only had a 30 mile drive, but they actually arrived before me because unexpected road construction thwarted my ability to get to the Perfect House and I had to use the gps on my phone to find my way around a completely unfamiliar area.
As I arrived, I could see through the front door that Mom and my children were seated at the kitchen table at the back of the house. Mom came to the door to greet me, and we walked toward the kitchen. Suddenly, she grabbed Younger Daughter and pulled her aside into her bedroom.
“Not you” she said. “Just YD.”
I looked at EK.
“We are having secret meetings already, apparently? “
EK raised an eyebrow and laughed.
The secret meetings are a longstanding tradition. It is how Mom manipulates social situations. I used to get the occasional invite myself, back when I was inside her purview. A brief conversation, usually, that often involved the giving of a small gift or exchange of information too important to discuss in front of others.
It’s infuriating to be on the outside.
They soon came out, secrets done for the moment, and we sat down at the table to exchange birthday tokens. My kids are both artists, and each one made me a card. Hours and love went into these, and I was deeply touched. EK’s card was highly personal and funny, but only if you know me and my life. YD’s was sweet and loving. Mom printed out something generic from the computer that was just this side of impersonal. Ah well. It’s the thought that counts, right? The kids made lovely cards for their grandmother, which I did not get to see, as she snatched them up from the table.
Before I could put mine away, though, Mom grabbed them and read them, not understanding the references, and had a little miffed look on her face.
“Ha. What does this even mean?”
“Well that’s between me and EK, isn’t it?”
Hooo wheee she did NOT like that.
My gift to her was a charming little hand-made Japanese lantern that I designed especially for her. I carried it from home in flat pieces and put it together in front of her.
“What is it?”
I told her.
“Huh. I see. Thanks.”
Well that was a little anticlimactic.
Ok. On we go.
I had been told that Sainted Brother and Perfect Son would be present for the visit. Listen, I get along fine with them when we are together, we are civil and pleasant and quite able to leave the bygones in the past. I was actually looking forward to seeing them this time.
“Oh. Your brother was asked to play golf with his principal at the last minute and didn’t want to say no. He just got tenure at the high school!”
“Oh. Are they gonna take it back if he says No Thankew to golf because his sister is in from the West Coast and he hasn’t seen her or his nieces in 3 years?
Wrong thing to say, as the corner of her mouth was taking on a deeper twist.
“And what about my nephew?”
“Oh well he got asked to caddy at another golf course and didn’t want to turn down the money.”
This is a kid who just won a free ride to law school, fer crying out loud, and doesn’t even need spending money.
“I see where the priorities lie. Oh well.”
I could tell she was embarrassed by my Sainted Brother and his Perfect Son so I decided to leave it alone after that. My stomach was now officially in knots, and the look on Mom’s face promised thunderstorms on the way.
At lunch in a local Chinese restaurant, she tried to order for all of us.
I don’t eat beef or pork in any form, which is what Mom wanted to order, and YD hardly eats anything.
More miffness, as I said I would like to order something for myself and that YD would share it with me.
EK was being very, very quiet. I didn't blame her.
Soon, Mom found her opening and she pounced.
“So what’s going on with your brother?” she asked the girls.
Noncommittal answers followed from his siblings.
I took up the slack, even though the question was not directed at me.
You do know that I am a Bad Mother and a Terrible Influence, don’t you? The kids don’t see things that way, but that’s not what this tale is about. Mom sure as hell does.
My son, age 21 moved to Seattle a year ago. He rents a house with two friends, works at a minimum wage job to pay the bills, and makes art and music joyfully in all his spare time. Nope, he’s not going to college, and guess what! I am fine with that!
Button pushed, I didn't stop myself. And that’s what I told her. I reminded her that I did not go to college straight out of high school, either. Reminded her that I, too, moved out at 20 and worked and that it took me 10 years to figure out what I wanted from an education. And that I am happy and productive and that is what I want for each of my children, college or no college.
You should have seen her face.
That’s when she took the opportunity to remind us again about the wonderful achievements of her Perfect Grandson. It was all I could do to hold my tongue, but I did.
A few biting remarks about EK's bright blue mohawk soon followed ("You don't think you can actually get a job with that hair, do you""
"Well yes, if I work on campus its not an issue at all.
I stayed out of that one. EK can take care of herself.
After lunch I drove us all back to Mom's house. The girls were going to stay a bit longer and visit with their grandmother some more.
Mom walked me to the door. A stiff hug.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, as though I had simply dropped in for the afternoon.
“Ah you’re welcome, Mom.” I hugged her back, and smiled.
Drove to Dad’s. The whole way wishing I could be a fly on the wall back at Mom’s, listening to her rant to the grandkids. And I know she did, though I will never ask them. They love her and they love me and it would be wrong to try to get in the middle between them.
When I got there, Dad took one look at me and got the Johnny Walker. It’s the only time I ever drink scotch, when I’m with my Dad. It’s just a thing we do. I enjoy every sip.
Later, we went to the graduation party and I felt very much at home.
The funny thing about all this is that in the wake of my separation and divorce years ago, Mom sided with my ex and caused me so much grief that I cut ties with her for several years. Then I forgave her, and myself, and extended an olive branch. She was happy and grateful and we established a new relationship. It has never been as close as it once was, but it wasn’t bad, and it was nice to have her in my life again. Over the last few years, though, she has been once again falling into her old habits and disapproving ways, and while it bothers me plenty in the moment, I am able to shrug it off quickly and move on. Our monthly telephone calls and weekly emails have gradually disintegrated to holiday calls and two or three other emails a year. And I am the one who communicates first, always. Otherwise I just do not hear from her.
You would think that while I was there, she would put some effort into behaviors that are not off-putting. But that is her problem. I am fine and happy in my life.
Next visit to the East, though, I don’t think I will put myself through that again.