Sometimes when I hear the Vaudevillesque ringtone I set for my mother’s calls I roll my eyes, press “Quiet,” and continue with my life. At other times, before the “answer phone call” instinct evolves into reflection and a pass on answering, I answer the call. And then, after the starter wave of information about her day, I wonder how I let myself be tricked again.
It’s not that I don’t get along with my mother or even that I dislike her, but I’m tired of the “world-revolves around your mother” conversations that we have. Sure, there’s the occasional “So how are you?” and “How are the girls?” but if I venture into an answer beyond “Fine,” I find her attention span diminished. She’s bored hearing my response or, and this is worse considering that her life and mine have never had anything in common, she’s done it/knows it/anticipated it, whatever “it” may be, from her place in sunny Florida.
I have learned that I need to accept that these calls are about her, they are not about me—that time has passed. I know that I’m not a young woman first stepping out on her own who needs all the concern and compassion she can get from her mother to shore herself up against the cruel, cruel world, but, seriously, isn’t my mother supposed to care more about me than the chicken she got at Costco that she’ll freeze in individual servings for when she’s in the mood for chicken?
Her loneliness is understandable. My father passed away almost two years ago. She went from having my father by her side to listen to her every critique for fifty-four years to having her distracted daughter via cellphone. One thing is clear: my father was more patient than I had ever imagined because, surely, she has not recently discovered the need to digest her day’s minutiae in talk. No, this must be a habit that she has transferred from my father to me. Before his passing, her calls had the endless detail of things of absolutely no importance, but the calls and the details weren’t endless, and, on occasion, there was a point. I had received the pearls that were gleaned after going through the mire with my father. Besides, she didn’t have as much time to chat since she needed to keep my father entertained with her non-stop talk show.
All that aside, there’s just so far compassion can take you when you hear the deliberations taken to go or not to go to tennis, and then to go or not to go out with “the girls” (who are all in their 70’s and 80’s) for breakfast after tennis. And to hear for the unknownth time that friend A doesn’t dress as nicely as she does, and that friend B thinks that restaurant A is good but she knows that it is not. Yes, I know, my life isn’t a fount of excitement, but at least I generally have a sense of audience and refrain from providing ad infinitum details ad infinitum times.
Unfortunately, I generally check out of our phone calls; I just can’t take the tone and substance of those conversations. Really? Does it matter? And that makes me feel bad. But I just can’t bring myself to focus on her monologue; it needs an accompaniment, like TV viewing needs food.
Maybe the point is that I had hoped that at some point from the time I became aware of her conversational limitations (at about fifteen) to now to have found more to my mother than she has revealed. But I have not. Is that why her calls are so hard on me? She is the sum of the details, and I need to accept that and stop expecting: voila, your philosopher-mother is on the line.
She is who she is—and she does a darn good job at being who she is. No, she is the best at it. No one does it better.
So here’s to you mom: You are who you are, fully. And I apologize for not having valued you before. Maybe at some point you’ll pause and I can tell you that. And if not, I will try, I will, to honor you for who you are—in all your glorious detailing. But maybe during shorter phone calls.