My heart feels like it’s caving into my chest. I know of no other way to describe it. It’s a very heavy feeling.
My mother wasn’t a perfect person. I know this. She had her quirks. (Don’t we all?) Some of them were more palatable than others, but they were just Mom’s way. And you simply didn’t rush Mom into altering her behavior, either. She was amenable to change, but, like most of us, it was best if you allowed her to make those changes on her own terms.
I’ve inherited many of those quirks, both the good and the bad. It’s natural – one learns by example, after all, and Mom was the only mother I’d known. Everything I’ve learned about housekeeping, motherhood, and taking care of the family, I learned from her. Is it perfect? No, and I know this. Are there a lot of things that can and should be changed? I’m sure there are. Like Mom, though, I need to be allowed to make those changes on my own terms.
What I cannot stand right now is criticism of my behaviors – my quirks – especially those I shared with Mom. I know cerebrally that the person offering those criticisms (constructive or not) is not attacking Mom (or me, for that matter), but emotionally, it feels like an attack on Mom, my memories of her, and the legacy she left me. I can feel my blood pressure rise, my hands clench into tight fists, and, for lack of another outlet, I find that I burst into tears because the other person will not stop.
The first time this happened, I was on the plane coming back from Manila with my sister. I was sharing with her an ironic anecdote. You see, Mom had a recipe on her refrigerator for pan de sal, a traditional Filipino bread. Years and years ago, I was in search of such a recipe, but at the time, Mom said to me, “That’s too much work. I just go to Magnolia and get pan de sal when I want it, and it’s much easier.” So it was very ironic, then, that here she is, actually in the Philippines, and she has a recipe for pan de sal on her refrigerator.
Rather than seeing the irony in it, my sister instead tried to solve the perceived problem of not having a Filipino bakery nearby (which really isn’t an issue) and suggested that the next time I visit her, I purchase a few dozen pan de sal and store them in my freezer. When I reminded her that I don’t have enough room in my freezer to do so, she then asked, “Then what are you going to do when you make the recipe? It makes 30 pieces!”
Honestly, I hadn’t thought that far ahead. The recipe was written in Mom’s handwriting. She didn’t have the oven temperature or baking times listed. I was thinking that it would be a nice recipe to test out with a friend and figure out the missing elements via trial and error.
Then my sister offered a major blow: “You take on too many projects, Eileen. That’s your problem. You take on too much.”
She might as well have added, “Just like Mom.”
Last night, my husband said something very similar in reference to household chores. He didn’t say, “Like your mother,” but the particular things he was referencing were things I specifically learned from Mom. And, just as I did flying over the Pacific Ocean, I lost it.
Mom wasn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. I’m doing my best, just like I think she did. Somehow, she was able to get a lot more accomplished than I can, with less help from my father than my husband offers me. I think a major difference, though, is that Mom had help in looking after my sister and me when we were very little. Mom had help from all sorts when it was just my sister; they immigrated to the United States after my sister was more than a year old. And she stayed at home with her in those early days, which I don’t have the luxury of doing. When I was born, and Mom was already back in the workforce, my lola, her mother, lived with us and took care of me during the day and in the evenings, affording Mom the opportunity to cook and clean and do all those other necessary chores.
There are a lot of chores that need to be done around our house. Basic things that should be done each week, like changing bedsheets, Swiffering the floors (especially now that Baby C is super active), vacuuming the areas where Baby C spends a lot of time, cleaning toilets, cleaning bathrooms, etc. Could I have been doing any or all of these last week instead of sitting quietly on the couch playing solitaire? Definitely. Did I want to at that moment? Clearly not. Housework isn’t something that relaxes me, and the one thing I need to do at night is try to let my brain unwind so that I might be able to fall asleep on my own and possibly even sleep fitfully.
So, rather than getting up and cleaning the house, I sat on the couch, Palm Pilot in hand, and played a few dozen rounds of soliaire.
Just like Mom did in her later years.
I don’t want to feel guilty about what I believe are core housekeeping competencies – or my tendency to always want to do more – right now because these are things I’ve largely picked up from my mother. My mother, who was the first person who ever loved me and who, until the day she died, knew me better than anyone ever could or ever will (including myself) because she was the only one there from before the very beginning. My mother, who taught me to the best of her ability, which, for better or worse, included some quirky behaviors. My mother, who was the first person I ever loved, the first person who made me feel safe, the first person to offer me true, unconditional love.
My mother, whom I will never see again, and whom I miss so very much.
I don’t want to feel guilty about being like Mom. And I don’t want to be criticized for being like Mom, either. Mom was who she was, and I am who I am largely because of who she was. Do I think some of my behaviors need modification? Absolutely. But I need to make those changes on my own terms.
Just like Mom.