Single White Nerd: Calling Mom
a blogumn by Michael Kass
Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I know this because I couldn’t get a seat anywhere for brunch. Also because my phone reminded me: “CALL YOUR MOTHER,” it blinked at 6 AM. And so I did. I called my mother.
I’ve written about my relationship with my mother here before. A couple weeks ago, I even told a story about her in front of people who paid to listen. I won’t belabor the point, but let’s just say that my relationship with mom has always been a bit tense. Our conversations are minefields filled with triggers and booby-trapped memories. I can’t bring up her smoking or the time she burned me on the head with a cigarette. She really shouldn’t ask me if I’m dating anyone or about work. And both of us should avoid the subject of my grandparents.
When I was growing up, Sunday mornings were “Grandparent Phone Call” time. At about 10 AM, my folks yelled for me to come downstairs. We’d all sit around the table and my father would drag his finger around our even-then-outdated rotary phone. The next 15 minutes or so were intensely awkward for everyone involved. A typical conversation might go something like this. . .keep in mind that I could only hear one side:
My Father: Hi, Edna (that’s my grandmother). Sorry to hear that. Well, fine. Ha ha ha. Sure, I’ll put her on.
He passes the phone to my mother.
My Mother: Mother. Fine. Well that’s stupid. Sure. No. No. NO. None of your business, mother, LAY OFF. I’ll put Michael on.
She passes the phone to me.
10 Year Old Me: Hi.
Grandmother: Hi, Michael. Boy, your mother’s a handful.
Me: Ha. ha.
Grandmother: How are you?
Grandmother: And school?
Grandmother: We love you, you know.
Me: Oh. Well. Me too. Ok.
Grandmother: Talk to you next week.
And that was it. We’d repeat the process for my father’s side of the family (except that my mother never spoke to them due to something mysterious that happened at my parents’ wedding). Week after week. I don’t know what my grandmother said to elicit such hostility from my mother. It might have been something as simple as asking about the weather.
Anyway, I think my mother and I avoid talking about the grandparents because we realize that our relationship mirrors the one she had with her parents. We may have tried talked about it once or twice. If we did, I’m sure it devolved into mutual snippiness with the quickness. We are not very mature.
Rather: we are not very mature together. On my own, however, I maturely decided to attempt a feat of Herculean proportions: breaking the cycle of crappy intergenerational communication. Or, if not that, to at least not snap at her like a petulant 12 year old.
I can only conclude that my mother made a similar decision. Because yesterday’s phone call was nothing short of cordial. We politely asked about each other’s health. She told me about the new condo she and my father moved into. I told her about the weather in Los Angeles. The whole thing went a little like this:
Me: Happy Mother’s Day!
Mother: Thank you! How are you?
Me: Good. You?
Mother: Really good, kid. The new condo is great. We have a big TV. The guy just left it behind. It works and everything.
Me: Great. Big TVs are good for watching things on.
Mother: Well, thank you for calling. I love you.
Me: Sure. Me too.
Not a single snippy comment between us! Of course, it seems that my relationship with my mother now mirrors my relationship with my grandparents, but when you’re starting from a place where every conversation is a tennis match of passive aggressive put-downs, manipulation, and screeching, that’s definitely not a bad thing. I mean, you know, it’s a step forward.
So with that said: Happy day-after-Mother’s Day to all you moms out there! Tough job you’ve taken on. May your communication be good and your child not grow up to blog about you!