In the Middle

I’ve shared with you previously that my mom moved in with us after my dad’s death last year. She has been with us almost six months, and I’m grateful this was an option for her. She would not have done well alone.

But it has been a stressful time for me. When Dad had his heart attack, I became a de facto head of household for her. And when his stroke sent him to Denver, she relied on me for everything: finances, major decisions, day to day details. And again, I’m happy to help her. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I feel like I’ve been ‘on’ twenty four hours a day for almost a year. I don’t have anyone to take some slack for me when I feel overwhelmed or when there is simply too much on my plate. I had to get Mom on track with transferring financial matters into her name, getting her house packed up and moved over here, dealing with medical bills and horse-related decisions, and her fragile mental health.

My brother has been useless, and that is being kind. He has thrown added stress into every situation from the beginning of this ordeal. So, I can’t even rely on him for assistance.

Add to that the logistics of creating a three generation household. All of the boys were on board with Mom moving here; they all said there was no other option. And I agreed. Still do. We are still adjusting to this change.

Mom took over two bedrooms and one of the living areas on the top floor of the house. She has her own bathroom. We share the rest of the house: kitchen, laundry room, dining room. And she really doesn’t spend any time downstairs, where Garris’ room and bathroom are. I have my own room and bathroom and a living area outside my bedroom. There is definitely plenty of space for everyone.

But sometimes I feel like I have another child in the house. I walk around behind my mom and turn off lights, pick up wrappers off the kitchen counter, and pick plates up from the table. I’ve asked her to watch the lights, because there is no sense paying for electricity we aren’t using. (I got the same lecture as a kid).

And I’m trying hard to avoid micromanaging her. She is an adult, and my mom, and I want her to feel comfortable here. But we have had to figure out a division of tasks. When she first got here, I did all the cooking and cleaning, including washing dishes. And I didn’t mind. Mom does not enjoy cooking, never has. I do, so it makes sense that I do the cooking. But what surprised me is how little she offered to help. And usually only when I was almost done with the meal. And then, when it was time to clean up, she would stand and watch me do dishes and wipe down the kitchen.

After a couple of months, we came to an agreement: I would cook and she would do dishes in the evening. When we were working outside last summer, I fixed two meals a day. Once the weather turned colder and we were stuck inside more, I whittled that down to one meal a day; the rest of the time we are both on our own for snacks or a smaller meal if we are hungry.

One of the biggest struggles for me is having another adult around twenty four/seven. I’m not used to that. I have my own routine, and I talked with Mom about that before she moved over. I told her we did not have to, and wouldn’t be able to, do everything together. I encouraged her to develop her own hobbies and meet with friends if she wanted to. I spend a lot of time by myself, as I have to concentrate. And I think she got her feelings hurt a bit when she first came over.

I shut the door to my room when I need to write. Or when I just want some privacy. When she first moved over, she would just walk into my room without knocking. It took me yelling one day for her to stop. I wasn’t proud of myself and didn’t do so intentionally, but she startled me and it was a knee jerk reaction.

I know that I have a certain way of doing things. A couple of things we had to hash out seemed obvious to me but apparently were not to her. She would go to the horse pens and walk through manure then walk through the house. In the summer, it was her tennis shoes, and lately, it has been her winter boots. I asked her to leave her manure shoes by the door and to not walk through the house. But she kept doing it, until I finally had to be more forceful.

I told her that she was dropping manure onto the carpet and that was smelling and staining it. I also reminded her that she used to get pissed off at Dad for doing that very thing. She got mad at me and told me I was being fussy. But I stood my ground.

Another thing has to do with garbage. We take our garbage to the dump, usually Garris does once or twice during the weeks he is here. I asked my mom to put her garbage into bags and tie them. She kept putting her garbage into the cans loose and it was flying out when Garris went to the dump. Week after week, I asked her the same thing. Week after week, she kept slipping in her garbage loose. Until I got mad again. I explained that it was easier to grab tied bags and take them to the dump. Plus, we didn’t lose as much garbage on the road. She pouted for a few days but has been complying.

It’s like she is reverting to a childish state of life.  And it’s frustrating.

She can be a bit sharp with words. She has no filter most days. And sometimes she seems to be intentionally hurtful. I can let a lot roll off me, but there are times she goes too far, and I have to bite back.

One example is the first week she was here. We had eaten an early dinner. And I was fixing a bowl of cereal to have before bed.

“I though you already ate.” She had a very judgmental tone in her voice.

“I did. And I’m going to have some cereal instead of dessert.”

“You don’t need it.

“How many ice cream bars have you eaten today , Mom?”

You see, she weighs about 85 pounds and is seriously underweight. Her biggest goal in life is to be as tiny as possible. It’s obvious to me now that she has at least a couple of eating disorders. And she is the reason I have struggled with my own. When I was in high school, she told me I was too big and too fat because I wasn’t the same size as her. (I was a size four!) I was always in sports and built muscular. I never had chicken legs or a non-existent butt like her. So, in her mind, I was too big.

So, I started starving myself and purging, trying to please her and to be closer to her size. Looking back, I was perfect. I regret abusing my body for so many years to reach an unattainable size. I didn’t realize at the time that she was purging after every meal, making herself sick.

But back to now. I told her that she didn’t get to comment on what or how much I ate. I recently lost about 35 pounds. None due to her comments. That topic is off limits.

I admitted to Garris the other day that I wish sometimes I had my house to myself. Even if it was only a couple of days. I miss feeling free in my own house. I feel like she’s judging me if I want to have a pop in the afternoon. Or if I decide to watch an episode of a tv show. (She doesn’t watch tv and makes snide comments about everything Garris and I watch.)

I think one of the hardest things for me has been her negativity. She is not a happy person, and I don’t think she ever has been. But she wallows. Focuses on everything that is wrong, instead of the things are going well. She overreacts any time some small thing happens, as if the world was ending because she deposited money into the wrong checking account and now has to transfer funds.

I’m most disappointed with her selfishness. I don’t remember her acting this way when I was growing up. And part of this is probably just aging. I see her mom in her, and my grandma got to be very nasty as she aged. But Mom doesn’t offer to help around the house much. She can’t seem to see when the garbage needs to be changed. Or when the rugs need vacuumed. She expects me to drop what I’m doing at any time during the day to focus on something she wants.

I drove her all last summer to her reined cow horse lessons and to her shows. I was happy to do it. We used my truck and trailer. And it was all on my dime. I didn’t expect her to pay for fuel. But it did surprise me she never offered. If we stopped for something to eat, I paid. When we stopped to pick up groceries, I paid. And I am fine with that. But she just didn’t seem to appreciate anything.

Most surprising is the fact that she won’t eat unless I fix her something. I have told her if she’s hungry and I am not planning a meal until later, to go ahead and find something. There is almost always something leftover in the fridge. But the pantry is chocked full. The freezer has ready to eat meals in it. I know she was the cook during the entirety of her marriage. And I know she can make herself a sandwich or warm up some soup. But if I don’t make her something, she walks around sighing, saying how hungry she is. I have gotten to the point, I just ignore it or remind her to find something to eat.

I do vent to Garris and to Sylvis occasionally when I find something overly amusing or overly irritating. I love my mom to pieces. But there are days she drives me crazy. And I guess the most positive way to look at it is this: she must think I’m the safest person in her life, because she is the most disagreeable with me. I don’t regret for a moment having her move in. I just wish she could try to be a little more content. And complain a little less.

I can go down a dark road very easily, so having another person in the house who says and does negative things pushes me that much closer to a depressive episode. And I know most of the time, what sets me off is probably insignificant to others. But this is my house. I pay the bills. I keep things running. I feel like I have the right to set the rules of the house. And Mom should do her best to abide by those rules, whether she agrees with them or not.

I used to think my dad was harsh with her. I thought he treated her like a child at times. And I thought he barked at her when it wasn’t necessary. But now I am understanding more the dynamics of their relationship. She isn’t an easy person to live with, and she seems to thrive on discord. I feel like any little thing sets her off, and that isn’t a great way to live.

It has been a role reversal. And not one that I wanted.  It’s hard being the middle ground, between my mom’s generation and my kids’. I feel like I have to be everything to everyone and I don’t get a chance to relax or take a few hours ‘off’.  I look forward to the time spent with my best friend. Every couple of weeks we go to Butte for a day of shopping and lunch, and I’m able to let off some steam. She’s willing to listen, and I feel better when I get home.

As we move forward, we’ll continue to fine tune this living situation. Hopefully Mom can settle in more and reach the conclusion that this is as close to her old life as she’s going to get. This is the best I have to offer. Hopefully she’ll she that she’s fortunate. Not all adult children welcome their parent(s) as they age. She is in a safe home, with family who love her, and does not have to face growing old alone.

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