Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sibling Assignment #198: Ghosts

Christy gave us this assignment back in September and I'm only getting to it now.

We are approaching the one year anniversary of Mom's Celebration of Life. Reflect on life with our mother.

Carol's reflections are here. Here is Christy's.

When the Deke and moved to Maryland in 2014, I was concerned that we were moving so far away from Kellogg. Mom's health was declining. She required more and more help with managing her household and other things, like mobility and driving, were becoming increasingly difficult for her.

I was concerned because all of us siblings were busy with things in our own lives. I lived in Maryland. Christy was teaching in Inchelium. Carol and Paul both worked at the high school.

So, when the Deke and I moved to Maryland, we agreed that I would come to Kellogg from time to time for anywhere from a month to three months to be with Mom and help her out.

For me to reflect on life with our mother, my mind goes immediately to these visits.  I arrived in Kellogg, walked into Mom's house, and I always greeted her with a hug, usually while she remained seated in her chair, and she greeted me with the same words, "Well, you know, I've got a lot of things I want you to get done around here."

She handed me a list.

*Move the couch and vacuum behind it.

*Move out my bed and sweep behind it.

*Take down the things off the kitchen walls, dust them, and clean the walls.

*Take down the angels and dust them and dust the shelves

*Rearrange the living room and put up the Christmas tree

*Get the Christmas ornaments and decorations out of the storage closet

*Decorate the house for Christmas

*Wash the mop boards (what we used to call the woodwork)


Mom's to-do lists revealed a lot about her. Mom liked to get things done and when the time came that she could no longer do them herself, she still wanted things to get done. When Mom was in her prime, we used to call her the Energizer Bunny. Once the Today show was over and until the soaps came on in the afternoon and then after the soaps, Mom was in perpetual motion, whether dusting, mopping, sweeping, loading the dishwasher, or, in the warmer months, weeding, feeding, dead heading, and otherwise tending to her yard and garden.

I, on the other hand, have never been thought of as an energizer anything. I move slowly.  I do housework and other tasks at a leisurely pace. I take a lot of breaks. I'm not always exacting. Mom was exacting. She wanted things done and wanted them done "right", the way she would do them. She also wanted them done when she thought they should be done.

Because I move slowly, Dad used to call me "Speed". Dad used to mock me and call me a "real bundle of nerves and energy." 

Dad found this funny when I was younger, but my pace of doing things annoyed Mom.

I do things at a very different pace than Mom did and when it comes to cleaning and working in the yard and other tasks, I don't often have the sense of urgency Mom did. I like to sit and write for longish periods of time or sit and edit pictures or sit and watch movies or sit and read. I'm becoming increasingly introverted as I age, and, for better or worse, I spend quite a bit of time alone.

My more leisurely approach to things and my going into a room by myself bugged Mom and was a source of tension between us. This tension sometimes resulted in Mom getting mad at me and left me feeling guilty, guilt often compounded by my sense that Mom didn't often seem pleased with how I did the things I did for her. Sometimes I tried my best to please her when I dusted or cleaned or took all the things on the kitchen wall down and other times I got numb and tried to do my best and tried not to care if I disappointed her.

And now, the Deke and I live in Mom's house. Sometimes when I'm sitting in our tv room or out in the living room reading or writing or watching a documentary series on television or even watching a baseball game, I'll hear the Deke close the door to the basement and go downstairs or I'll hear her working in the kitchen or I'll hear her head out into the backyard and I feel guilty, just like I did when I'd hear Mom doing things, but I wasn't.

Other times, when I hear the Deke doing things and I'm in another room alone, I sometimes shudder at the thought that she's doing this thing Mom used to do. If Mom didn't think I was getting to a task she wanted done as quickly as she wanted, she'd start doing it herself, as if to say, "Well if he won't do it, then I'll just do it myself." My fear that the Deke is doing this doesn't last long  because when the Deke wants me to do something, she says so and doesn't put me on the clock. But, my reflex response in this house is that I'm not doing something Mom thinks I should be and she's annoyed.

Now, I admit, I can be too sensitive and too preoccupied with displeasing others. I might also have been too sensitive about those times when I angered Mom.

But, the fact remains, that for me, Mom's presence is alive in our house. It's a strong force. I experience it as a ghost. Fortunately, Mom's ghost can be friendly, reminding me that Mom appreciated it when I shopped for her groceries and cooked for her, was grateful for my company when we went to appointments together, enjoyed our outings together when we traveled to Orofino or ate lunch at Applebee's or went to North Idaho Retired Teachers meetings together, and treasured our stops in Coeur d'Alene at Macy's and J. C. Penney.

But, I made Mom mad, too. Often when I least expect it, the disapproving or disappointed ghost pops up. Inevitably, the ghost comes when I'm not busy around the house or I'm not being social because I've retreated into solitude to read, to write, to watch movies or television, or to rest. Usually I can shoo the ghost away, but I really hate it when I feel like I've let someone down or brought on the disapproval of someone I care a lot about and, consequently, sometimes the ghost rouses my anxiety and worry that I'm doing something wrong.

I don't like having these memories of irritating Mom or the ones of her being impatient and starting to do things I hadn't started to do myself. I don't like still feeling the guilt and I really don't like reliving these incidents when I think, even if momentarily, that I haven't done something around the house I imagine I should have and that the Deke is responding like Mom did, doing it herself.

But the ghosts of those who came before us and are gone are powerful forces.

Many times, the ghost of Mom is enjoyable. I enjoy the ghost of Mom in the kitchen from whom I learned a lot about cooking. I am grateful for my mother's devotion to our family, for the way her love of teaching inspired me to also become a teacher and love it. I admire how strong my mother was, how much she loved so many people in our community and in her extended family.

And, at the same time, for now, I am at odds with myself and with the ghost who want things done better and wants them done now.

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