Monday, September 7, 2009

The Perils of Mahjongg and Sudoku

It's the tail end of a long weekend, and we've had a lovely family weekend. Herb has been home for a rare six day period, with doctor's visits sandwiching the time with us. The grandsons came for supper on Saturday and spent the night so that my son, Corin, and his live-in girlfriend, Ashley, could celebrate her birthday at an adult dinner. Corin and Ashley picked the boys up for an outing on Sunday afternoon while I prepared a birthday dinner for Ashley, complete with gluten free birthday cake and brownies. I don't cook often, but I do enjoy doing it when I have the time and a reason to put in the effort.

Today was a quiet day at home. Herb has been watching the Golf Channel. I've been puttering in the kitchen, making breakfast and lunch and one more batch of brownies, because, after all, one should eat brownies everyday! Mom went to the Apple Store in Boulder to take a class on how to use her new iPhone, which my brother, Jon, bought for her when he was here for a visit two weeks ago. I've been thinking off and on all day about duty and responsibility with regard to family, in between chores and Mahjongg and Sudoku on the computer.

My mother has lived with us since we moved back to Colorado in 2000 and into this house that year. In fact, I flew my mother in from San Diego and my daughter and I drove up from Amarillo to house hunt in March of 2000, while Herb was working for an extended time in Scotland. I bought this house because of its configuration, two master suites and a Jack and Jill suite (two bedrooms connected by a bathroom), which was suitable to blending my mother into our household. Mom occupies the Jack and Jill suite, which gives her (and us) a great deal of privacy while also integrating her into our household rather than segregating her into a mother-in-law apartment.

Our daughter, Cece, was entering tenth grade when we moved here, and she greatly benefited from having her grandmother in her daily life for those last three years of high school. Cece often needed the coddling and cuddling that her grandmother would give her, because Grandma didn't have to deal with any of Cece's homework or friends drama, which fell to me. Herb was traveling constantly in his job as a consultant and, lucky for him, missed out on most of the nightly drama of an intense young woman with teenage angst. It's remarkable that Cece made it to adulthood and that I didn't commit murder. I don't take getting through those high school years for granted at all. I recognize that some families don't make it through in one piece.

Mom had lived in San Diego for six years, since the death from cancer of my youngest brother, retiring from her restaurant business to help raise my brother's then five-year old son. As my nephew got older and more independent, he spent less time in the company of his grandmother, which made Mom very lonely. San Diego is a large town, and even after six years, Mom hadn't put down the roots that she did almost immediately here in rural Boulder County, Colorado. It became clear that it was time to move Mom in with us when I grew tired of hearing her complain of how lonely she was and how she didn't have an appetite. I had begun to dread answering the phone.

I was engaged in wishful thinking today about how nice it would be if it were just Herb and me occupying this house and I didn't have to cede control of my kitchen over to my mother. My lovingly collected artisan pottery dishes and gourmet kitchen gadgets have all been relegated to backs of cupboards and bottom drawers in favor of Mom's preferred plastic bowls and recycled jars with old labels not indicative of their present contents. I thought about not having to worry about another person in the house when we wanted to turn the volume up high on the TV. I looked around at my endless piles of books and papers in the family and dining rooms in addition to my office and how they offend Mom's sense of tidiness and order and how much I hate it when my piles get moved.

Then I thought about being a mother and what that means in terms of a mother's sense of responsibility towards her children. I know from my own choices and behavior towards my daughter that I am constantly concerned about her well-being and eager to offer help when it's needed, asked for and appropriate. I've been there to help her move from one apartment to another during college and to her home in another state for law school. I've lent an ear in person and by phone when she's been in the throes of relationship issues or doubts about the next step to take after college graduation. I know that my mother would be there for me, too, no matter what my issues were, without any hesitation or thought about sacrifice of her time and energy.

Why, then, do I sometimes chafe with resentment at my sacrifice of privacy and the occasional deferment of my own chosen activity to be here for my mother? For me, the answer is multifaceted, but boils down to one dimension: the tension between my upbringing as a dutiful daughter/female/wife and my inculcation into the feminist movement. Perhaps someone else observing me might name the one dimension differently: the tension between a selfish woman and her obligations to her family, between self and duty. I name the dimension not particularly to comment on the goodness or badness of either end of the spectrum or weigh one against the other. That commentary I will save for a future post.

Feelings of resentment are interesting phenomenon. My sense is that even for someone who is supremely and constantly resentful, resentment is not an emotion that is easily sustained when one is preoccupied with full immersion into life and all that life has to offer. I speak from anecdotal observations. I know that when I am fully engaged in my life - in pursuing my interests, in spending time with my family and friends, in attending meetings or worshiping in church - in all the myriad activities that keep me busy, even the mundane ones like washing the dishes and doing laundry, I feel so alive that I have no attention leftover to apply to fostering resentment.

Another way to say this is that I have no need for feelings of resentment when I am feeling worthy and valued, because what I do matters to me and to others. So, maybe, as it has been said by critics of our online and computer-based time consuming activities, I should lay off Mahjongg and Sudoku whenever I begin to feel resentful about my mother or anyone or anything else in my life, and get up and tackle my clutter. And surely, my observations reaffirm for me why it is important to acknowledge and thank people for what they do, because it all matters, it all counts, no matter how small the contribution. It is all gift, and your gift of a "thank you" or a compliment to another just might be the antidote to that person's feelings of resentment. Think about it.

1 comment:

Deborah Sampson said...

Oh how I treasure your wisdom! I wrestle with some of the same resentments,(though not a live-in mother -- more wondering about my perceived value in the world)and some of the same downfalls (isn't suduko a wonderful way to keep the mind awake?). Somehow you find a way to put in words the things I am feeling. Thank you!