Aging with Grace: Dinner with Mom
By Grace Harrison
I invited Mom over for dinner to see our new house. Mom recently moved to be closer to me. After spending her entire adult life in Upstate New York, she uprooted and moved to be near her beloved daughter. Well, actually, I think she moved so I could help take care of her, but that’s for another story. I called on Thursday and left her a voice message on her cell phone. “Hi Mom, we’d love to have you over to see the new house and share a meal. Either breakfast, lunch or dinner on Saturday, Sunday or Tuesday. Just let me know. Love you!” By Saturday afternoon, she hadn’t called back.
I got a text message from her late Saturday night with a photo of her backyard.
“Are you going to respond to the invitation?” I asked.
“What invitation?” she texted back.
She called me on her cell phone. Think Amy Schumer’s counseling session with her mother over technology. If you haven’t seen this on YouTube it’s the literal personification of my interactions with Mom regarding anything tech.
Mom finally picked Sunday night dinner. “What time do you want me?” she asked.
“7” I clearly stated.
“Okay. I’ll be there at 6:30” she noticeably replied.
My husband and I spent the day organizing, moving boxes, cleaning and doing our best to clean up the house as best as possible before Mom came over. We had only been in the house a week. By 5:00 pm we were both exhausted, sweaty and in need of a shower. We quickly showered and got dressed while I found a million other things needing tidying in my line of sight.
“What are you doing? It looks fine.” my husband comments seeming perplexed.
“It’s my mother. She’s going to find everything wrong, so I want to minimalize her menu of items to choose from” I gently explained. Although, I’m fairly certain he already knew this. It wasn’t his first rodeo with Mom.
Precisely at 6:30 pm, we were in the kitchen ready for her arrival. As I started to cut vegetables, set the table and get things ready, Mom called. I have this pet peeve about people who call right before a party, get-together or anything. Don’t they realize the hosts are busy? I clearly had no time to chat with her while she drove the twenty minutes to my house.
She called again. “Oh geez. I bet she’s lost. You answer it!” I stared at my husband pointing at him with the carrot peeler. He looks at me sheepishly. He definitely did not want to get involved. I stopped prepping and called her back.
She was lost. Again. Twenty minute drive. She has a GPS and Google Maps on her IPhone. How is this possible? I took a deep breath. “It’s okay Mom. No worries. Where are you?” I asked gracefully.
At 7:15, Mom finally arrived. I opened the front door and said “Welcome!” in my cheeriest of voices. Mom didn’t skip a beat and said “I have stuff for you in my car.”
I groan. I hate it when Mom brings me “stuff.” Usually it’s junk that she wants to get rid of or crap that is so old it’s unusable or worse, it’s stuff that simply clutters my home. “Oh, okay, Mom. Well, why don’t you come in and I’ll give you a tour first” standing back from the door and grandly sweeping her in the house with my arm gestures.
“Well, I think the stuff in the car is more important right now. I want to get it out before we forget” she persisted.
I grumbled something ungracious under my breath while smiling and said “Okay. Let’s see what you have.”
We walked out to the car. It was sweltering hot outside. She opened the back hatch and it’s full of jars, bags and cans with old chemicals that are most likely illegal by the EPA by now. “Well, Mom, it’s still pretty hot outside. Why don’t we do it after the sun sets?” I was in no hurry to re-sweat and could tell by the look on my husband’s face, it was all going in the trash anyway.
She sighed, shrugged her shoulders but agreed. We went back inside the house where I poured her a glass of chardonnay. We sat at the kitchen counter and I asked her again if she’d like a tour.
“It looks exactly like your old house” she mused.
“Yes, mom. We rebuilt the same house, just relocated it on several acres and made some significant upgrades. Especially upstairs” I responded.
Oblivious to my answer, she retorted “Why don’t you keep your hair short like you had it awhile back? Everyone liked it that way? And why is it blond again? It looks better brunette.”
My husband jumped to the rescue. “Well, the only person that really matters is me – and I love it the way she wears it.” I wanted to wrap my arms around his face and kiss him!
We chatted, while my husband started the grill and I finished prepping the food. Steak, salmon, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and roasted vegetables. “My god, you’ve made enough food for any army!” mom exclaimed. Couldn’t she just be grateful? Proud of me? Anything but critical?
“No. Just the three of us” my husband quietly replied.
Ten minutes later Mom can’t let it go. I guess the glass of wine I gave her to soften the blows hadn’t yet taken effect. “Why are you making so much food? We can’t possibly eat all of this?” she criticized.
My grace has started to wane. I looked down at the chopping board and gently said “Mom, why don’t you just appreciate the beautiful spread we’ve prepared for you instead of complaining about it? A ‘Wow, this is fantastic’ would be much more appreciated.” She didn’t say a word and sipped her wine.
Dinner is ready and we sit down to our “beautiful spread” complete with the new dishes I bought for the new house. “Are these new dishes?” she asked.
“Yes, mom. They are” She made no comment whether she liked them or not; which can only be interpreted (if you know my Mom) that she disliked them. I am spared her criticism on this one.
Mom turned the conversation to Dad which she most often does. I don’t mind this at all. My sister-in-law thinks it’s a sign of depression. But I know Mom is not depressed. She misses Dad, but she’s not the depressive type. She’s a go-getter, doer, busy bee lady. She has no time or patience for depression. Since Dad died five years ago, she has forged ahead and moved on with life. I can’t imagine how she does it, but she definitely does it with grace. But grace is nothing I learned from Mom.
“You know, I know that you called Sam and told him about Dad” she slyly stated. Sam is (or was) my father’s law partner. Sam looked up to my father as a Dad since he didn’t really have one. They were close and Sam ran the office logistics in the last few years. He is still at the law firm today and kept Dad’s name on the firm. Nice touch.
“What? Told Sam what about Dad?” I asked honestly and completely perplexed.
“That he had a stroke. Dad never had a stroke” she insisted. My eyes went wide.
“Mom, Dad had a couple of TIA’s (transient ischemic attacks). Yes, I called Sam to let him know the symptoms of a stroke so that he could let the entire office know what to look for. MSG (what we call the three siblings) all agreed that this is what we had to do since you and Dad decided to keep it a secret” I retorted.
My husband kept his head down, looking at his plate. I’m sure he was wondering when she’ll leave.
“Well, he had a mini stroke, but it was for your father or me to tell Sam, not you” she contended.
“Mom, we (MSG) agreed that the office needed to know. Mini strokes lead to grand strokes which could have killed Dad. You and Dad wanted to keep it a secret.” I calmly stated.
“Well, that didn’t kill him anyway. So, it was inappropriate for you to have told Sam” she replied.
Gracefully, I let this pass. But, I want to put my hands around her neck and squeeze. Mom has blamed me with “inappropriateness” rather frequently lately. I’m not sure why, nor am I sure that I can take on the burden or blame of such a claim. But I’m happy to be her target if it gives her the chance to blame someone who won’t hold it against her, get mad or take it personally.
Dinner ends and it’s dark outside. Mom starts to get up and said “Well, I have a long drive back and don’t want to drive in the dark.” I cocked my head wondering what she’s talking about. Since when did driving in the dark bother her? How is twenty minutes long? She’s getting older and I refuse to acknowledge this.
“We have coffee and chocolate cake for dessert” I implored her to stay a bit longer. I wanted her to know the extent to which my husband and I tried to please her. She still hasn’t mentioned seeing the house.
“Oh. Well if you have cake then I’ll stay” and she sat back down.
“Mom, if you’re having trouble seeing in the dark, I’d be happy to back your car out of the driveway for you or call an Uber.” I offered. We have yet to organize the three car garage. It’s filled to the brim with boxes, yard equipment and lots of power tools thanks to my husband. Consequently, all our cars are parked like pickup sticks in the driveway. There would be no way for her to turn around without turfing our new grass.
“No. That’s okay I can do it” she stated. Ten minutes later she second guesses herself and asked my husband “Well, if you’d rather back it out, that’s okay.”
“Actually, Grace is the one to do that, not me” he lobbed back. We finished our coffee and cake and started to clean up. Mom again asked my husband to back the car out of the driveway. I’m appalled. Since when did she become sexist, too?
“Mom, he can’t drive in reverse to save his life. I’d be happy to do it for you” I explained.
We all walk towards the front door and as I open it, Mom remarked how dark it is. “Well, we’re in the country now. There are no street lights. I’ll back up your car and meet you at the end of the driveway” I gracefully told her.
I did and she drove off without ever having seen our new home.
Photography by Daniel Vidamasu (Columbia) “Dinner Time.”
Grace Harrison is a Silver Sager and proud of it. She's a ghost writer for national and local magazines. She is excited to write for Silver Sage Magazine and hopes readers will enjoy her musings.