Actual , Better, Best... a Daughter's Quest


Even the best mother/daughter relationship can hit a rough patch; an innocent phrase turned out by a mother, totally upending an unprepared daughter. Often these exchanges result in annoying opportunities for growth, but not always. 

Prior peddlers of therapeutic wisdom have proposed that perhaps we’re not responsible for the first thought that comes into our head - only those that follow. Sometimes, there’s a delay in relay of this synapse between my brain and mouth though, and my first thoughts come tumbling out in words. Despite realizing I’ve said something that might wound, anger, or otherwise disrupt the zen of my 92-year-old mother’s day, I forge ahead. Not because I’m mean or insensitive, but because I’m a daughter who’s been in this game with this particular mother for 59.8 years.  

Offered below are three seemingly innocent statements uttered (with repetition) by Mom throughout our nine years as neighbors and - practically speaking – roommates. The first iteration represents my actual response to Mom’s predictably consistent statements; the one I always regret, after the fact. The second response represents a plausibly better way to manage Mom’s statements. The third iteration is the best; the one that would leave Mom smiling... the one that Mary would offer.

Interaction #1

Mom: Somebody keeps leaving the front door open.

(...said for the billionth time...)

Actual response: Don’t tell me to shut the front door one more time Mom! I mean it. I never leave that door open! The mailman and your tenant use it more than I do! I use the back door!

Better response: You know Mom, I don’t think I leave it open often. Sometimes I can’t manage closing it with your groceries or walker in my hands. I’ll try harder to remember.

Best response: Sure, I’ll close it tightly.

So simple, but never the chosen path. Mom’s world is getting smaller every day. If her biggest concern this morning is the door, then I should just shut up and abide. But I rarely do, because ultimately, I feel like Mom is telling me to do something any idiot should know; essentially, I’m insulted and take it all the way to why-doesn’t-Mom-ever-tell-me-I’m-doing-something-right? (My personal mantra)

Interaction #2

Mom: Somebody left two jars of salsa in my cabinet...I’m not sure how they got there.

(WHAT?! Someone left salsa in your cabinet!!!?)

Actual response:  I don’t know what you’re talking about Mom? I didn’t leave any salsa here...Why would I do that? If I’d bought it, it would have been for company, and I haven’t had company in weeks... Definitely not mine.

Better response: Hmmm... that’s odd. Maybe someone visiting brought it, never opened it, and I just put it away for you. Maybe you just forgot that you asked me to buy it?

Best response: Sure Mom. I’ll take it and if I can’t use it, I’ll donate it to the food bank.

Looks easy, but I feeeel like Mom is inferring that: a) I’m forgetful, and/or b) I didn’t do her shopping correctly. (See Interaction #1). If anyone other than Mom accused me of leaving the salsa at their home, I’d just shrug it off. It’s the mother/daughter thing that gets in the way...  

Interaction #3

Mom: You said I have an eye appointment next Thursday?

Actual response: No Mom. I never said that. Your appointment isn’t until next month. I don’t mind if you remind me of something I’ve forgotten, but I hate it when you tell me I said something that I’m sure I never actually said!

Better response: No Mom. Your eye appointments are at the last week of the month. Why don’t I just handle the scheduling myself.    

Best response: I don’t think so, but let me call the doctor’s office and check.

Why do the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when Mom’s sentence begins with “You said....”? After all, they’re only words (... said no daughter ever about her mother’s comments). My hairs may have inaccurately interpreted Mom's statements as being accusations which, of course, they are not. Being mean is just not Mom’s jam...

However imperceptible, I’ve noticed a shift in our mother/daughter patterns over the last few weeks. Mom’s predictable statements are being uttered with less frequency and with diminished intensity; fewer admonishments about the front door... minimal concern about random items showing up in her cabinets... complete willingness to turn all scheduling over to me.

By all accounts, I’ve come to understand that these nuanced omissions are actually signs of Mom’s further aging... that they are not personal victories in our lengthy mother/daughter dance... that they are symptoms of the physical and emotional decline taking place in her life.   

My actual responses to her statements would be expected and apt for a teenage daughter talking back to her youngish mother. The better responses would be understandable and acceptable for a 30-something daughter responding to her middle-aged mother. The best responses are what this middle-aged(+) daughter should be practicing with her 92-year-old mother.

I’ve heard that practice makes perfect. All things considered, I guess I’d better hurry up and get it right, or Mom may not be here to reap the benefits of my lessons-learned... She may not get my very best.



Emily GaffneyComment