Jen Jeffrey: The Blind Leading The Blind

Tuesday, January 08, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey
Jen Jeffrey

When you put two women together who are a lot alike, chances are there will be a bit of turbulence on the trip. Mama and I both are good at making a home a ‘home’ – complete with special touches. Cue the conflict; both of us trying to be the lady of the house.

Just as most daughters do when leaving their mother’s side; I found my own unique way of doing things even if taught by my mother to do them. I like being the lady of the house and so does she.

I could have titled this, “Dissension in the Ranks”, “Mutiny on the Bounty” or something along those lines, but it really isn’t that bad. It’s actually quite comical and I love it. When I tell people I have moved in with Mama, I get a curious reaction from a few women who wonder how it will work out.

Living with your mother as an adult is different than living with her as a child - especially if the mother still sees her child as …‘a child’. Most ladies my age love their mother dearly but they vow they couldn’t live with them.

I have a very patient and tolerant manner with most people so I understand and empathize with whatever Mama might fret over.

I am human though and I will let things get to me at times. Luckily, I am one who gets over things quickly. I’d like to think I am a help to Mama, rather than causing her grief. Not just in being here for her so she won’t be alone, but to make things pleasant for us both.

That is where the ‘housewife’ in me comes in and, unfortunately, Mama is used to being a housewife too. We are not the housewives who took their husbands’ credit cards and went ‘shopping with the girls’ or who sat around watching soap operas all day while eating bon-bons.

Mama worked at Suntrust and pulled her own weight and, before my divorce, I was working two jobs. We are independent but we are very domestic and love to make things clean, nice and pretty.

I also have a lot of my daddy in me and along with making something pretty I like to make it practical as well. I am an organizer and I like things to flow well. I am good at that.

In trying to find my role here, knowing that I have 29 years of youth on Mama; I have been ‘helping’ by changing things around; things that I know she would have liked to have done but age keeps it from being so easy. While it has been a help and it is for practical purposes… any change at all is overwhelming for an older person.

When we age, we like things to stay the same and we like routine so that when our brain is a bit slower it doesn’t have to work so hard. Mama is no different. She dealt okay with me making my office back in the study but anything more than that had to come slowly. Being patient, I knew that I needed to let Mama warm up to any ideas I had and take it slow. I began with one closet at a time.

At first, Mama was stubborn and defensive if I wanted to throw something out or if I asked her “will you ever use this?” She emphatically would tell me ‘yes’ even though it had dust on it and she hadn’t seen it in years.

I knew this was going to be tough. I was aware that this was Mama’s house and I didn’t want to change her whole world, but I did want to help her to be practical and make things easier for her. The first closet was the cloak closet where I made all our coats fit nicely (and my grandkids now have a small toy box inside). Old things were ‘let go of’ and Mama had seen how efficient it was to have that closet ‘user friendly’.

I have taken on these little projects one at a time, giving Mama a chance to get used to things - letting her see how the last 20 or 30 years of ‘stuff’ can add up and you don’t even know it is there. She began to get excited to see the pile we had gathered for the Salvation Army to pick up and she had begun digging in her own closet to clear out.

Of course, I am not a woman without a heart and would never ask her to give up sentimental things that are very personal, but just the things that she didn’t even know where they came from or that were buried in a closet for years.

This has been helpful to her and it makes two households coming together more pleasant. I even made a utility closet and bought a nice shelving rack for tools and such, with everything easily accessible.

But what is not helpful to her is when I change something around that is not for practical purposes but just because I happen to think it looks good that way. Mama has her own idea of what looks good. Enter the “clash of the housewives”.

This is where we tell ourselves, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. But try as we might, we both are human and, like any couple, partners, sisters, friends or business partners, there will be friction from time to time. That is normal.

It is also ‘making memories’. Mama has her idea of where the paper towel holder should be. It is her kitchen after all, but if I am doing the cooking and have cleaned out cabinets and some things have been re-arranged on the counter, I thought the paper towels could go right beside the sink. Practical.

Men probably have territory wars more than women do but when two ladies of the house try to ‘make things nice’; it reminds me of a dog marking his spot!

There is a light switch in the kitchen that will turn on both the dim light over the sink and the center light on the ceiling fan. Mama likes the dim light and I like the bright light. She will pull the string to the light on the fan to be ‘off’ where only the dim light will come on when we flip the light switch. However, the dim light does not come on. It is fluorescent and has a short or something so Mama has a trick that she does in order to make it work.

She will grab a metal spoon to turn on the dim light by rubbing the metal across the bulb until it flickers on. When I wake in the morning, all I want is coffee; I don’t want to stroke a light bulb to get it to turn on. The center light is just a flip of the switch if the cord is pulled to ‘on’.

Mama has not convinced me that the dim light that takes more effort is better and I have not convinced her that the simple brighter light first thing in the morning is better, so it is left to “whoever wakes first” to decide.

At least we are not Joan Collins and Linda Evans fighting in a mud puddle. I think we would both want to be Linda (I don’t know though, Joan had more kissing scenes…).

I can deal with the little conflicts of how we like things to be, but I guess where I have to bite my tongue is when Mama babies me. Believe me – I am very grateful to have a Mama that babies me rather than to not have her.

I am just like her and independent where I want to take care of myself. When I had a sniffle a couple of weeks ago, Mama wanted to make it better. She cut an onion and told me to put it on the table by my chair. “Ew! Gross!” It stunk and burned my eyes and I didn’t want it near me.

Mama insisted that the onion would ‘take out the sickness’ and then turn black after it ‘got all the germs out’. I listened to her about gargling salt water because I know salt is a healer …but salt doesn’t smell.

While working on my laptop, Mama left me in the living room with the onion on the table by her chair. After a while my eyes were burning and the smell was stronger. I looked over at her table and it was gone.

“Mama! Whe-e-e-ere is that onion?!” I heard a sweet little voice coming from the dining room where she sits at her computer, “I’m not telling…”

“Mama where IS it?” I got up and looked under my recliner and around my table wondering how she snuck it closer to me. “I hid it” she said. Finally I saw it on a book shelf close by my chair.

This is when I just have to laugh. Mama is so precious to me.

I have needed to go to the eye doctor for a few years now but I don’t have health insurance so I have put it off. My life has been a blur, so to speak, to where I can’t even see the choir at church very clearly.

Mama has trouble seeing things too, but I expect that with her age. I try to fake my way around with my own ‘aging eyes’ and pretend I don’t have a problem (or that I am aging).

Forgetting seems to be a problem too. One thing she and I both forget is ‘garbage night’. We will forget to take the garbage to the curb on Wednesday night and there have been many Thursday mornings where I am racing the garbage truck.

“Jenny! The garbage!” Mama will wail when she hears the truck pass by our dead end street. I don’t even throw shoes on; I just hit the pavement and roll the heavy bin to the curb as fast as I can.

Then we both will watch out the window to make sure the truck was coming down the street when we heard it instead of leaving and make sure it picks up our garbage. One rainy Thursday morning after racing the garbage down, I watched out of the window and I saw a black cat just sitting in a puddle out in the middle of the road.

Feeling like Mrs. Cravitz on Bewitched, I summoned my mother, “Mama, come here and look at this cat!” Mama came to the window and couldn’t find the cat that I was referring to. I kept pointing to it, “It’s right there, just sitting in that puddle!” Mama laughed at me and said, “That is no cat, it’s the reflection of that tree in the puddle!”

It was dark but also a little blurry. I knew then that living with Mama …is like the blind leading the blind.

jen@jenjeffrey.com

 


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