What daughter doesn’t have a complicated relationship with her mother? I mean, we love our moms, but they also drive us crazy. Simple every day things can have an undercurrent that’s rife with past hurts, misunderstandings, obligation, and of course, love. I think I’m pretty typical in that regards to my mom. With my own daughter, I’m trying really hard to build a solid foundation so that when she’s a teenager and hates me, that years later she can come back to me knowing I’ve always loved her and been there for her. This week I moved my mom from Kealoha’s house to an apartment. She was staying in the house temporarily until she could find affordable housing. If you read my books, then you know a lot of the kooky mom-characters are actually inspired from her. Mom’s a free spirit. She loves to play games and do crafts; she still pretends and plays with the kids as if she’s a kid herself. But lately, her quirks have become more complicated and disturbing. Her quirks aren’t just quirks anymore…it’s actually more of an illness and it saddens me while it also infuriates me. Nothing’s every easy in regards to my mom.
Last year we moved her out of her retirement apartment in Coopersville. You might remember some of my blogs on that. We found her apartment stacked and stacked with boxes and garbage. Boxes were stacked to the ceiling with just a path to walk through. She was ‘downsizing’ after leaving her marriage and just hadn’t ‘had a chance to go through things’. It seemed plausible. Of course, we found jars full of strange, homemade rotten stew. When we found a box containing human remains of a guy named Joe, I knew something was deeply wrong with my mom, but we’d get her a new start at Kealoha’s. It’d all work out.
It was mind blowing, but still a little funny. Oh, quirky Mom.
This time, though, the move stopped being funny. We’ve put Kealoha’s house on the market and Mom was going to make the house look warm and inviting. She knew for over a month that she was going to move. I didn’t go over to her house because I have trouble with how messy she is. So I didn’t realize the extent of what was happening.
Every time I talked to her she was ‘packing’ and ‘sorting’. Things were going ‘really well’ and she was ‘excited’. I told her I’d be over to help on Friday morning and the movers were coming at 1. Then I heard the panic in her voice. “I think I need some more time” she said. I said there wasn’t any more time left. My brother couldn’t help her this time because he’s been sick and travelling all over the country. And after school started again, I’d be swamped with teaching, narrating, and taking care of the kids. She’d been packing for a month. How much time did she need?
When I walked into the house, I felt something inside me break. Maybe it was faith in my mom. She’d been lying to me. The house was in terrible condition. Nothing was packed. And there was more stuff than when she moved in. She hadn’t packed or sorted or gotten rid of anything. There was stacks and stacks of half-packed boxes, but they were packed with things like craft magazines from the 80s. I tried to throw some out and Mom got mad at me. “What are you doing? Those are really special to me. They have ideas for all the crafts I’m going to do.”
I found a stack of canvas that was so old it cracked when I opened it. “Can I get rid of this?”
“No!” she said. “Those are for canvas floor mats. I’m going to make some and offer classes.”
“Did you make a floor mat this year?” I asked. She didn’t answer. “What about last year? What about in the last five years?”
She grabbed the floor mats. “I have a woman who wants me to teach her.”
This isn’t quirky or funny anymore. The house felt like walking into a chaotic mind, a mind filled to the brim with things that don’t matter, but to my mom there things filled with meaning. A broken plate is something someone gave her and she’s going to fix. A pile of old sticks is a craft she’s going to make. The weaving loom she carries with her is a project she’s going to do, though she hasn’t used it in thirty years. It’s almost like my mom tries to fill the emptiness in herself. She wants to be close to people, but she’s very hard on them. Has super high expectations. She’s on her third divorce. She’s made terrible financial choices. And now she has all this stuff around her and it’s actually isolating her. How can you connect with someone who's surrounded by stuff?
A couple came to look at the house while we were packing. I saw the house through their eyes: stacks of garbage, a house not tended to, total disorganization, boxes filled with garbage, piles and piles of broken, useless things. It was dirty. Chaotic. Uncomfortable. Not an inviting house, but a dark, broken house.
I love my mom. I do. But I think that her hoarding and how she lives is really just a symbol of something deeper. Something broken. I worry (like daughters do) that somehow I’m going to become like her in the future. Alone. With little money. Surrounded by things that I attach false memories and emotion to.
And the couple, needless to say, didn’t make an offer on the house.
Yeah. Downer blog, I know. Sorry about that, but as my friend Laura and I have talked about on our many walks, life isn’t tidy. You have good times and bad times. So this is one of the low times.
I take my mom’s condition as a warning. I need to make real and deep connections with the people in my life, and set aside the importance of things.
You can fill your house with boxes and plans of things to do…but it doesn’t fill your spirit.