Three Generations Under One Roof

It is Mother’s Day and I am sitting here reflecting on the past year. Last May, I knew that I would be moving my mom to Raleigh to live with us. What I didn’t know was that my 25-year-old daughter Lauren would be moving back to Raleigh for a new job.

Since Lauren was in the middle of a sublease in Aspen, she rented her apartment with the furniture in it. So guess what? She had no choice but to move back home for the interim. With her little puppy Henri. And camp out in our study. For three months.

So what is it like having three generations of strong-willed, passionate, perfectionists living under one roof? Do you really need to ask?

Really, most of it has been fun. Lauren and I love to cook so we take our weekly trip to the Farmer’s Market, make these elaborate meals together, and pick out good wines to match. We take our dogs on walks together, talk. We’re both busy with work, sometimes burning the midnight oil until … well … midnight.

But there’s tension. Mom thinks she’s the boss. She tells us when to cook and how to chop the veggies, comments on our clothes and hair, laments when we don’t put on lipstick. And more. (Today’s example: Mom says, “Lauren, I saw your recipe and it says that your cake takes three hours to make. You better get it started now.” Well, it’s 12:30 and we’re eating dinner at 7. Lauren says, “I’ve got it under control, Grandma.” Mom, “Well, I’m just reminding you.” Five minutes later, she says the same thing. You get the picture).

Lauren is a little bit bossy herself. I remember when I was 25, I thought I knew everything. It’s only later that you figure out that your parents are a little smarter than you give them credit for. So she’s at that stage where she’s asserting her independence. And she’s not afraid to take charge or speak her mind. (Example: Moms reading this don’t need an example. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Enough said.)

And then there’s me. I admit,  I like to do things my way. I’m really independent, have been since I moved out of my house at age 19. Now I’m 54 and I really don’t need my mom telling me what to do. But that doesn’t stop her. So I’m learning to listen to her “suggestions,” say something like, “Thanks, mom, for the suggestion,” and then go do what I want. It’s better than getting into it with her. (Example: I say to mom and Lauren, “Enough out of both of you. You think you’re the boss, mom. And Lauren, you think you’re the boss. Well, I have news for both of you. This is my house and I’m the boss. So both of you knock it off right now.” Then I walk away and mom sticks her tongue out at me. Highly effective.)

Lauren has now moved to her own apartment. But she’s here today for Mother’s Day. The dogs are chasing each other around the house, barking. The TV is on too loud because mom can’t hear it otherwise. Lauren just discovered she forgot buttermilk for the cake. She’s running out the door, leaving a mess in the kitchen, and yelling these instructions: “Don’t touch anything. I’ll be right back.” Mom is yelling, “See, I told you to start the cake earlier.” The phone is ringing. Mom’s “offering a suggestion” about how to get the dogs calmed down.

Ah, the joys of family. But I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s something to be said about three generations under one roof. It’s never dull. Just ask my husband.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Emotional Side of Growing Old

I finally got to my Sunday New York Times (okay, it’s been a busy week), and I came across an interesting article about Dr. Marc E. Agronin, who cares for seniors at the Miami Jewish Health Systems. His focus isn’t on the physical, it’s on the mental health of his patients.

As people age, they deal with different issues … like losing a spouse, their best friend, their independence. Their body doesn’t work the same, there’s the aches and pains, and for many a move to a new place, where it be a child’s home, a nursing home or an assisted living facility. No wonder seniors suffer from depression, grief and anxiety.

One of his patients describes him as a “lifesaver,” saying, “He helps you walk down the mountain.” That mountain, of course, is growing old and all that is associated with the aging process.

One of the reasons why I insisted my mom come live with us is I felt she was depressed after the death of my dad. In fact, I think she was depressed before that. Once a social butterfly, she lived a very isolated life. She wasn’t eating right (frozen dinners) and she wasn’t getting any exercise. You could hear the sadness in her voice.

If this sounds like your mom and dad, step in. You don’t have to move them in with you, but can get them an exercise bike. Take them a home-cooked meal. Or get them to a group therapy session like the one that Dr. Agronin holds. It will improve the quality of their lives. And ultimately, yours.

Watch Your Language!

When I attended the University of Rhode Island (many years ago), I was a journalism major. Writing was my passion, but I also tried my hand at radio and TV. It was not to be. Unbeknownst to me, I had an accent. A Boston accent. You know, as in “Park the car in Harvard Yard” — with none of the r’s actually pronounced.

Eventually I left RI and moved to Westchester County, NY, where I was teased relentlessly about my accent by my fellow reporters. I worked hard to get rid of it. Or at least loose enough of it so I didn’t get ribbed every time I opened my mouth.

Then a move to Raleigh, NC, in 1988. Living in the south changes your pace. The language is slower, a relaxed cadence that I soon picked up. I even found myself greeting people by saying, “Hey” instead of “Hello.” And what the heck, I can throw in a “Y’all” with the best of ’em.

I thought I had done a pretty good job of eradicating my accent. And then my mom moved here from RI. In with us. So I listen to her thick, RI accent 24/7. We tease her because one of her favorite expressions is: “That’s the good part.” But it sounds like this, “That’s the good pot.”

Yesterday I heard myself say, “I’m going to go take my showa.” Instead of shower. And I thought, “Oh My God, I’m sounding like a Yankee again. Mom is rubbing off on me.”

It’s interesting to me how you can revert back so easily to your linguistic past. But before I think more about it, I’m going to go enjoy a bowl of chowda for lunch.

American Idol, Dancing With the Stars

Before mom moved in, I prided myself on the types of TV shows I would watch. Sure, I had a guilty pleasure: Law & Order. Couldn’t get enough of it, would watch every marathon over the holidays (Isn’t that what holidays are for?)

Normally, I would watch National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, the Food Channel, the Travel Channel. Some of it was fun, some intellectual, some emotional. But I guess I had a bit of a superiority complex … I wasn’t watching network TV. (OK, TV snob, just say it).

But that has changed. Mom is a huge American Idol and Dancing with the Stars fan. As a result, I now find myself rooting for Scotty McCreery and Kirstie Alley (is she really 60?) when I watch TV.

Ok, so it’s not intellectually stimulating, unless you find the blonde on DWTS shaking it an inspiration. But my mom has so much fun. She votes for her favorites, talks to her friends on the phone about it, and looks forward to the entertainment.

I actually caught myself saying tonight, “OMG, this is the best group of talent on American Idol.” Next week, Scotty and Kirstie, I will bring myself to vote for you. In my mom’s honor, of course. But don’t tell anyone.

Unsolicited Advice is the Worst, Or So I Thought

There are a lot of books and articles written about communication between men and women. I remember reading Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. And although it was many years ago, the one thing that stood out for me was: unsolicited advice is never appreciated.

Women, for instance, like to talk and vent. They really don’t want you to say anything, they just want you to listen. (By the way, that’s why we have girlfriends. They understand that instinctively, offering sympathy or empathy). But men are different. They listen, then offer advice because they want to help you solve your problem. It’s maddening to women because all they want is for someone to listen.

This all came back to me the other day after listening to my mom give me unsolicited advice time and time again. I was getting frustrated to the point … well, you don’t want to know. And after a conversation with my sister, she said: “Unsolicited advice is the worst kind.” Ahhh, it suddenly all clicked. When you ask someone for advice, it’s appreciated. Otherwise, not so much.

So I had a heart to heart with my mom the other night and told her that when she gives me advice I didn’t ask for, it makes me feel like I’m a four-year-old again and i really wished she wouldn’t do it. We talked quite a bit, she apologized profusely, and I really thought she understood. Success!

That was Saturday. This is Monday. I’m leaving the house and she says, “You work too hard. I can’t believe you’ve been on the phone all morning and now you have a meeting. Is that what you’re wearing? Really? Where’s your lipstick? You look really pale.” Seriously. My response: “Mom, don’t you remember the conversation we had the other night about you giving me advice I didn’t ask for? I’m more inclined never to wear lipstick if you nag me about it.”

She looked at me dead in the eye and said, “What conversation? I don’t know what you’re talking about. But if you don’t want me commenting on your lipstick, then fine. You’ll just look pale.”

So I found out there’s something worse than unsolicited advice. It’s when someone doesn’t remember giving it to you.

Do Words Hurt If You Don’t Intend Them To?

This is the most difficult post I’ve written so far. And I am really struggling about how to deal with this with my mom. I was brought up in a very liberal Democrat household. I remember as kids we were brought up to be respectful of all people … black, white, Asian, Latino. We lived in an old mill town in RI with people from all incomes.

Heck, my grandparents both came over here from Europe — one from Portugal, the other from Poland. They lived among other immigrants. My dad had a funny sounding Polish name until he changed it. My mom’s family had olive skin. In fact, my grandfather on my mom’s side is also part Native American Indian.

So here’s what has me in a tizzy. My mom refers to any dark-skinned person as colored or Negroes. I never remember any member of my family saying this in my household. I’ve tried to tell her that it’s not kind or politically correct to use terms that might be hurtful or insensitive to other people. We have this discussion every week, week after week. I’m ready to pull my hair out because when she says something like this it literally makes my stomach turn.

I know she doesn’t mean it. But my worst fear is she’ll be out in public and say something offensive. How do you tell someone you love that words hurt, even if she doesn’t mean it? Any suggestions?  I’m sure I’m not the first person to deal with old-found prejudices, buried deep, now rearing their head.

Happy 88th Birthday, Mom!

Well, we partied so hard on the weekend of mom’s 88th birthday celebration that I forgot to post about it! OK, well not really. But mom had a big time. We all did. It was fun to see her so happy and know that I was part of it.

When people get older, they measure the happiness factor of their birthdays differently than younger people. I’m usually happy if no one sings Happy Birthday to me in a public place. As you might be able to tell, I’m not a huge BD person. Now my husband and daughter … that’s another story. For both of them we have to celebrate birthday week.

Well, mom has never really been a big birthday person either. Or so I thought. If we sent cards, she was happy. Well, this year she had two birthday dinners (one out at her favorite local Raleigh restaurant, the Player’s Retreat, aka The PR, and the other home cooked by yours truly). She got three bouquets of flowers, 19 cards, 12 phone calls, and eight wishes through my facebook page.

Mom said it was her best birthday EVER. That’s quite a feat, considering it’s her 88th birthday. But what I also realize is she got more attention than ever. Lots of cards, calls, and the most beautiful flowers from some of the most unsuspecting people.

You know, in life they say it’s the little things that matter. Next time remember that. Do something nice, as small as it might seem, for your mom, dad, sister, brother, friend, enemy. And make their day. Better yet, don’t wait for their birthday.