Perception Versus Reality

In case you are wondering how our mother lived with herself and the less than stellar way she took care of her family, she had no problem. She thought she was about to be nominated for Mother of the Year, and I am not kidding. She would often say to my sister and me

You’ll thank me one day.

I think she was very disappointed that day never came.

Mother often reminded us that, in her mentally ill, delusional world, she “ran the Pressed Dress Shirtswheels off her car” taking us places. The reality was that it was extremely difficult to get her out of the big green recliner and into the car. Once she did agree to take us somewhere, the entire journey was filled with her monologue about how difficult her life was and how under-appreciated she was. Most of the time, the effort wasn’t worth it. Lindy and I would figure out another way to get where we needed to be.

Once every four or five months, Lindy and I would arrive home only to be greeted with

I’m cleaning.

Those were dreaded words which meant she had turned everything upside down and was now attempting to put some of it back. Instead of doing one room at a time, Mother employed the whole house approach and began by attacking everything. Once she had the whole house in a mess, she was exhausted and had no energy for putting it back. In reality, I’m not sure she knew how to correct all the damage she had done. No one had ever shown her how to clean.

Photo NegativesShe also had difficulty with some of the most mundane details of household life. Lindy has detailed our mother’s problems at the grocery store, but she also had trouble getting film developed (she would drop it off and forget to pick it up) and arranging for dry cleaning (same problem as the film). She often returned from her daily errands with bags of groceries (full of nothing to make a meal with), no photographs, and no cleaned clothing.

Laundry RoomIt was the same way with laundry and ironing. She meant to take the laundry out of the washer and put it into the dryer, but she lost track of time and forgot about doing it. Ironing was something Mother needed to be in the mood for. She didn’t often feel like starting to iron and she refused to allow Lindy and me to touch any of her appliances. They were her private property. It was pretty disappointing. Opening a cupboard, we would find a lot of specialized food like poppy seed filling (something Mother always had on hand) or anchovies. If you mentioned that you didn’t care for the choices she had selected, Mother would say:

Well, then you aren’t very hungry.

In terms of emotional support, Mother couldn’t offer what she didn’t have. She was unable to comfort us or help us to problem-solve. If I had a problem with a teacher, she would say:

You’ll have to figure out what to do. I can’t help you.

I now realize that her own problems were so overwhelming that she had no time or energy for ours. Luckily, Dad made time to listen to us and was always ready to help solve the problems of two little girls.

PsychiatryWe realized later that this was a sad symptom of our mother’s severe mental illness. The realization of this did not make the pain any easier for us, but it did help us to understand that Mother was a very tortured soul with mental illness (to a degree that we could never begin to diagnose or otherwise sort out).

Lindy has always contended that Mother was very satisfied with her job as a mother because unlike her own mother, she did not die. The bar was set pretty low if staying alive was the only criteria for a good mother.





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