Playing rich

I talked with my Mom while I was baking today. And of course, I didn’t talk to her in the normal way. She’s been dead for 20 years. But we talked, just the same. You might understand.

I asked her about “real” cooking, instead of basically reheating frozen food. A lot of what we ate came from boxes, and tasted like it. A lot was brown.

I said, if you’d practiced more, then cooking wouldn’t have been such a burden to you. It wouldn’t have been so hard.

She pointed out that they didn’t have much money. My Dad was chronically underpaid as an English teacher. He never got his full professorship. He never got tenure. Every semester it was a challenge to see if he had three classes to teach or none. He had started to teach long-distance. This was in the days before the internet. He couldn’t teach at home with everyone Skyping in. He drove. He drove long distances and late in the day, so that he could teach adult students who were juggling college with a career. They met in high schools after hours. Sometimes he taught in prison. He taught wherever he could – in part because he loved to teach, but also in part because we needed the money.

So we didn’t have much.

But it also wasn’t spent well.

I remember that Mom lived rich. She didn’t get much love from Dad. It was a cold marriage, one of duty. They didn’t have to marry, but they had married fast, without much time to get to know each other. She certainly didn’t know that he was mentally ill and not properly medicated. Not like the medications back then were any good. Mostly they turned you into a zombie, a shell of your former self. No wonder the compliance rate was so low.

My Mom stayed with the marriage out of a sense of obligation, and perhaps out of fear. What was a woman with no training supposed to do on her own? How was she supposed to support herself and two children? So she stayed. It wasn’t bad enough to leave. They didn’t yell at each other. They just didn’t speak either.

So she got what she felt she was owed through material things.

There were expensive perfumes. There were jewels. There were nice clothes. There was even a mink stole.

She didn’t feel loved in a non-tangible way, so she demanded it in a tangible way. This is so sad. It was like she was a prostitute in her own marriage.

So we were shortchanged on actual nutrition because my Mom felt slighted. She didn’t feel nourished, so we didn’t get nourished. I know this wasn’t intentional. I know she didn’t think of it like this. She didn’t see the connection at all.

If she’d worked on the real problem, she wouldn’t have had to supplement with things. If they’d gone to marriage counseling, then there might have been something real there.

And then she reminds me that they did go to marriage counseling. It was through their church. It was with the priest, who had taken a vow of celibacy. This man knew nothing about how to live with another person. He’d never been married. They didn’t get the help they needed. So instead of finding a real counselor, they just left the church.

And just existed, together, in a sad way. For years.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, true. And happiness sometimes is hard work. It is hard to fight for yourself. It is hard to stand up for yourself when you feel beaten down. It is hard, and it is tiring.

The more I dig, the more I uncover. The more I uncover, the more compassion I feel for my parents. The more I understand why they made the choices they did. The more I am determined not to make the same mistakes.

I’m sure I will. Not all, but some. Nobody is perfect. That is impossible. But intentional living and mindfulness are showing me things I never saw before. Perhaps things I never wanted to look at before.

Plants and problems.

Why do people insist on giving me plants? They give me live plants and I don’t know how to take care of them and they die. Then I feel bad.

But I shouldn’t. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. I didn’t want it.

It reminds me of when my parents died. People gave me azaleas as “living memorials” to them. I planted them in the back yard. Nobody had a clue that both parents would die so close together. So I got two azalea plants within two months, from different people.

I moved a few years later. Then I had a dilemma. Do I take the plants? I couldn’t, because I was moving into an apartment. So they might still be there in the yard, serving as a mute memorial to someone the new owners don’t even know.

My brother gave me a lily plant after our mom died. Well, he didn’t give it to me. He gave it to the house. I’d never planted a lily before so I asked a friend who was in the landscape business. It turns out that you don’t just plant lilies. You have to dig them up every fall and store the bulbs in a cool dark dry place over the winter and then replant them in the spring. I just spent a year watching my mother die. I wasn’t prepared to spend any more time watching a “living memorial” to her die.

I took it as yet another thoughtless thing from my brother. I took the plant out the front door, walked down to the ivy at the edge of the yard and pitched the plant. I said “good luck, lily”. I had nothing against the plant. The plant was beautiful. But I didn’t want to be responsible for its demise. Its survival was up to it and God at that point. It honestly had a better chance of surviving that way.

I was given a Christmas cactus as a gift for volunteering in a school. It died in short order. Those are supposed to be very hardy. I was recently given a miniature rose bush. I suspect it will shortly follow the cactus to the plant graveyard.

I get it. A living plant has more meaning than cut flowers. It will last longer and provide more joy over the years. But I just don’t know how to handle them. Either I water them too much or too little. Then I don’t know how to feed them. I pay attention to them for about a week and then I forget them.

I’m starting to think of everything the same way I think of plants. If someone gives me anything and I didn’t want it or ask for it, I am not obliged to take it. This applies to feelings, ideas, and ideologies. People try to give me their baggage all the time. Perhaps you know what I am talking about.

It is part of why I no longer watch TV.

I don’t want to be dragged down by someone else’s fear and pain. I can’t handle it. I don’t want it. I’m not tall enough for it. It is like I’m swimming in the ocean and someone comes along and they are drowning. They thrash about, and they grab me and start to pull me down. I can barely keep myself afloat on a normal day. When someone tries to unburden themselves on me and I’m not ready for it I start to go under along with them.

It reminds me of one time at work. There is a lady who constantly is complaining. She huffs and stomps around. She gossips. She never has anything good to say. I realized that she was dragging me down into her hole, and listening to her wasn’t helping her and was actually harming me. When I realized this, I prepared to stand up to her and braced myself for her reaction. So when she came up to me one day and asked if I minded hearing the latest gossip/complaint, I said that yes, I do mind. That no, I don’t want to hear it. That I was tired of it. She was stunned. She was angry. She said that she needed to vent. I said that I didn’t need to be the person she vented to.

She needs a therapist. She needs a friend. She needs a life outside of work so she can get a sense of perspective. I can’t provide these things. This is her journey.
The best thing I could do was say no, I can’t take this. I’m not the person for it.

I think there is a lot of healing in knowing what you can take and what you can’t take.

We want to be everything for everyone. We want to help them and heal them. But we aren’t trained and we aren’t able to all the time. I think the healthiest thing is to only take what you can handle, and that is only what you are ready for.