I spent days in a really bad mood, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that my feelings towards my mother-in-law and her condition cycle. I go through periods in which I really resent having her live with us and that every day I have to take her care into consideration. Even on those days in which her care-giver is here, I have to race home by 2 pm, and someone—either my husband or me—will have to feed her, change her and put her to bed. It’s exhausting.
I resent that her care is the reason that we can’t get a teenage girl to babysit kids at only $10 an hour so that he and I can have time together.
I resent saying “no” to my kids when they want to go somewhere and we have no granny-care.
I resent that my house smells like a nursing home.
I resent that the biggest and best bathroom in this house is hers while I have to fish the bath-toys out of the tub that the rest of the family uses.
I resent that every morning when I walk into her bedroom and see her breathing, I think, “Oh, crap. Grim Reaper didn’t come last night either.” Yeah, I hate that, but on a daily basis, I am disappointed that she is still alive—and I feel that disappointment for her as much as for myself.
And when I am like this, I get terribly jealous of people who aren’t faced with my particular set of challenges. It’s all a part of self-pity—comparing oneself to others. It’s the quickest route to unhappiness. I know this and yet…
The other day, I saw a minivan commercial in which some cute, young mommy-person was talking about how her minivan makes “the job of being a mom” so much easier. “Oh, vomit!” I thought. “I bet she uses that van to drop her kids off at her mother-in-law’s house so that she can get a manicure before date-night. Women who whine about ‘how hard it is to be a mommy’ have no eff-ing idea!”
Yeah, I’m yelling at the TV in my head. Sane people do that all the time.
But you see the theme here, right? Resent, resent, resent…and it’s only made worse by the fact that no matter how kind I am to my mother-in-law, she is nasty to me. She glares at me. She waves the back of her hand at me. She refuses to speak to me. I hear her converse with my husband and her care-giver writes “very verbal” in her notes, but for me—someone who is not a blood relative and not being paid to put up with her—she says nothing.
Remember how I wrote about treating others as if they were Christ? This is the challenging part. Other people don’t behave like Christ. Other people treat me like Christ. So, why haven’t I wheeled her to the top of the Bay Bridge and sent her sailing over the edge? Because it’s not about what others do, it’s about how I choose to respond. I know that. So, there you go, I’m not as crazy as one might think.
Besides, I also go through very sweet, serene periods in which I do not resent her, her care, or her behavior. I’m able to accept it all as just is and even see being with her as a gift—an opportunity to learn and grow. She has given me so much more to write about. My children have experienced life in a multi-generational home and I think they are kinder people for having had this experience. So, yeah, there’s an up-side, and I have weeks in which that little bit of up makes all the down worth it.
What’s interesting to me—and really very amusing—is that events that transition me from resentment to acceptance tend to be the more problematic moments of everyday life. It’s not the happy, good stuff you might think:
Friday, I woke in a vicious mood. I had spent Thursday trapped at home doing granny-care for the world’s most ungrateful old bat, and thinking how incredibly unfair it is that I’m the one whose life has changed the most as the result of her head-injury and just general dementia because she is old. Me—not someone who is paid to take care of her. Me—not some blood relative. Me! Me! Me!
And of course, I know this whole line of thinking—the expectation that anything in life be fair—is unrealistic. If you expect life to be fair, you are going to be disappointed a lot. I seem to say that daily to my children.
So, there I was in my witchy-bitchy mood when I got caught in traffic—the kind that doesn’t move at all unless the driver in front of you gives up and turns around. I was already running late and knew that my mother-in-law’s care-giver needed to leave by 2:30. I reached for my cell-phone. Oh, wait, I had taken it out of my purse and placed it on the nightstand the night before. Our power had gone out, and I had wanted my only link to the outside world in a place where I could easily find it. I guess I just forgot about it and left it there. And so, I turned my car around and re-routed my journey home.
On a narrow, hilly country road, I found myself in a second traffic jam. A truck had gone off road and was stuck on an embankment. A tow truck was pulling it to safety. The tow driver approached my vehicle and I rolled down the window. “If you are in a hurry, you might want to find another way to go. We are going to be a while. He’s stuck good.”
Okay. I couldn’t turn around on this narrow, hilly road and so I backed up to the nearest driveway and turned around there and I was on my way again…until I hit a third traffic jam? Yes. This time some drainage pipes had fallen off the back of a truck and two guys were scrambling to pick it up. Deep sigh.
I arrived home at almost 3:30. “I’ve been calling you and calling you, but you didn’t answer,” the care-giver said as she reached for her coat.
“I know. I left my phone here. Sorry about that.”
“I called my other job and told them I would be late.”
And because it was now 3:30, I had to head up to the bus stop to pick up my daughter. Because my son was still in the car and napping, I drove the half mile to the stop, instead of walking. And there, we waited and waited and waited and I began to wonder if I had missed her, but no, I knew I was at the stop earlier than usual. What was going on?
At around 4 pm, a bus—not my daughter’s—sped past me, and I realized that it was the first school bus I had seen. Usually, I get passed by four before my daughter’s bus arrives. Hmmm…odd.
A car flew past me, but then, stopped and backed up. The driver told me that traffic problems had caused a school bus shortage and that it would be at least on hour before all the kids were home, but we could go to the school to pick them up.
Okay, so I drove to the school—from the bus stop, I was half-way there anyway, but they wouldn’t release my daughter to me because I didn’t have ID–I had left my wallet at home when I went to the corner to wait for her bus. So, I drove home. I got my wallet and headed back to the school.
When I got there, I was told she had just left on the bus. Because I wasn’t at the bus stop, the driver kept her on the bus and returned her to the school, but not until I raced back to the bus stop thinking I could catch her.
We finally arrived home at 5 pm. Upon getting out of the car, my son wet his pants–his first accident since announcing he would no longer wear diapers—that was back in January. But this is the sort of thing that happens when you expect for be gone 5 minutes, but you end up in a car for an hour and a half.
And this, of course, meant that my mother-in-law napped an hour and a half longer and needed to have her diaper changed. I didn’t realize that she was actively going when I stood her up and pulled down her pants–and so, I had to clean her, change her, shower, clean the floor–all before starting dinner. My son kept coming into the bathroom and telling me that he was hungry–while holding his nose. “Not now, Sweetheart. Mama’s got poop up to her elbows.”
My husband didn’t get home until around 8 pm, and he said, “The school called to say the buses were delayed. I guess you got that message.” Um, no, no, I did not. But then I checked–messages were left on my home phone, my email, and my cell phone…only I didn’t get them.
And at some point in the middle of this, I burnt supper. A neighbor had knocked on my door as I was setting the timer to ask about a trashcan that had blown into his yard. I guess I forgot to press “start” on the timer.
Had I been in a good mood when this comedy of errors began, I would have described this as a rough day, a day in which nothing went my way, but because I was already feeling the gravity of life when this series of mishaps began, I found it all amusing. Instead of plunging me deeper into a funk, the events of the day pulled me away from the abyss. I had to laugh. None of what happened was anyone’s fault. It was just a whole lot of life happening at once. It was definitely the kind of day that could happen to the chick in the minivan commercial—at least the burnt supper and the botched school bus run–and she might have laughed it off, too or maybe it would have sent her sobbing about “the worst day ever!”
As for me, I’m back in that serene place of compassion and understanding. Nice.