Yesterday afternoon we shipped my mom to Germany for the second time. She went to visit friends for a week during our second week in Paris and now she’s going for another week to see another friend. Even though the plan had been for her to look after the kids while we lost ourselves in Paris, I hate to admit we tend to enjoy ourselves more when she’s gone. Maybe it’s because we’re living in such close quarters, but she can be hard to handle sometimes. It’s the same vicious cycle: her nagging, me snapping. Nag, snap, nag, snap. I feel instant regret almost every time I react to her and yet I can’t stop myself. The crazy thing is, I know she can’t help herself either. It’s got to be a compulsion that drives her to correct every single thing I do. Things that I’ve been doing for decades, things that anyone with half a brain can do.
She can’t deny that I’m more meticulous than her in the kitchen. When she washes vegetables, there’s a high likelihood that a rotten leaf or two or a few grains of dirt will end up in the finished product. That never happens when I wash vegetables. I’ve been doing it and other kitchen prep since I was prepubescent. And yet while I was trimming some leafy greens the other day, my mom insisted on hovering over my shoulder to check if I was doing it right and pointing out a leaf that she thought was slightly yellowing. I bit my tongue on that occasion, but I’m not always able to. Last week, she made rice porridge and gave me specific instructions on how to heat it up with a raw egg. If I was going to heat the egg with the porridge, I should set the microwave for 30 seconds. If I was going to heat the egg alone, I should set the microwave for 10 seconds, then add porridge, then heat for another 20 seconds. Even armed with instructions suitable for a five-year-old, I sensed that she still didn’t trust me to microwave porridge by myself. I waited for her to leave and then ladled some porridge into a bowl, cracked an egg into it and popped it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Almost instantly she leapt up from the dining table and ran into the kitchen — I’m not exaggerating when I say that she ran (she literally ran as if I dumped the entire pot of porridge on the floor, smashed a dozen eggs into it, and set the whole thing on fire) — went straight to the microwave and shut it off. She didn’t bother to look into the microwave because if she did, she would have seen that the bowl contained BOTH porridge AND egg, and I wasn’t microwaving just an egg, God forbid, by itself for 30 seconds because THAT WOULD BE THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD. She automatically assumed that I was doing it wrong, even though she gave me really fucking insulting instructions not five minutes before and even though she’s witnessed me flawlessly prepare Thanksgiving, Christmas, and miscellaneous holiday feasts for 20+ people year after year after year since I was 13. And deep in my heart of hearts, I knew that this was how she was going to react. When she shut off the microwave, I wanted to either slit my wrists or start screaming at the top of my lungs. So I flipped out. “Leave that alone!!! I know what I’m doing!!!!! Stop treating me like I’m stupid and don’t know anything! GO AWAY!!!!!!!!!!” She mumbled something about being afraid that I had microwaved only an egg and retreated.
The next time she questioned why I was doing something, I flipped out again.
“Why are you adding olive oil to that?”
“BECAUSE I’M MAKING SALAD DRESSING!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!! GO AWAY!!!!!!!!!!”
“Why are you yelling at me?”
“BECAUSE YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY!!! YOU ALWAYS THINK I’M DOING EVERYTHING WRONG!!! I HATE IT WHEN YOU TREAT ME LIKE I’M STUPID! THIS IS WHY I CAN’T STAND BEING IN THE KITCHEN WITH YOU!!!”
“Okay, OKAY. I don’t think you’re stupid. I just worry that you’ll forget if I don’t remind you.”
Now that she’s gone I can evaluate my feelings and our relationship with a little more perspective. As much as I hate her second-guessing me, I know I do exactly the same thing to others, especially my husband. I’m almost as compulsive about it as she is, so how can I criticize? It’s hypocritical of me to get pissed off at her for not showing more restraint. I don’t mean any harm when I’m being anal-retentive, I never intend to offend with my OCD. I can’t help myself sometimes. So why can’t I just chalk up her nagging to an uncontrollable compulsion and learn to not take it personally? In theory it sounds so easy.
When she’s gone I’m able to see more clearly the ways she tries to make our lives better. I can appreciate that I have a mother with whom I can be honest, a mother who’s willing to hear constructive (and sometimes not-so-constructive) criticism, and who in her heart of hearts truly wants me to be happy. It’s much easier to see these things and appreciate her when she’s in another country.