My mother, myself: I love her, but can I avoid becoming her?
“Would you care for an olive? Auntie Mame says olives take up too much room in a little glass.”
Being a mother makes you crazy. I used to think The Crazy was directly correlated to the act of squeezing a human being out of a too-small opening, making me immune because I adopted. Initially, there is no evidence anything has changed, but The Crazy surfaces and intensifies over time. Trust me. I have the craziest mother of anyone I know.
Gaye Donna came from Seattle for a brief visit last month. She had business in L.A., so she stopped in for two nights, shimmied her way north for a bit and flew back to San Diego on her broomstick for two more nights. Sam and I have a strict Four Day Rule for visiting parents, should they choose to opt out of the enthusiastically encouraged hotel option. Pointing out that we never stipulated the four days had to be consecutive, my mother creates fun combinations of overnighters, discussing at great length all the various permutations, thus complicating the simplest of situations. It is in this manner that her craziness begins to permeate my world before she ever explodes her suitcase in my living room.
To an outsider, two nights here, two nights there might seem like a cakewalk. But remember The Crazy. It’s a good crazy if you’re not her daughter, a very difficult-to-endure crazy if you are.
Gaydi is like Auntie Mame (Rosalind Russell’s Mame, not Lucille Ball’s Mame—an important distinction). Only, she’s Mame with attention deficit disorder and blurred vision. She’s Mame on a shaken martini, two-day-old coffee, stale Red Vines and lots of kind bud to even it all out.
I call her The Gaydi Project because being with her is an event. She necessitates more patience than navigating the Cox Communications call center and the concentration level of a tourist trying to spot a green flash. My Auntie Carroll—who herself is bat-shit crazy—used to lovingly refer to her as “Gaye Donna Marie Donnetta Louise Vagina Clitoris Unique,” a bit of a tongue twister, sure, but it stuck—because it fit. Gaydi’s friend Jon explains away her nuttiness to strangers by claiming she’s a world famous Russian ballerina. “Don’t y’all know who she ee-is?” He’ll say in his charming Okie drawl. “Why, she’s Whirrled! FAY-mous!” By this time people have already gravitated to the Pied Piper, their eyes swirling under the hypnotic powers of her eccentricity.
This is a woman who doesn’t much care to color inside the lines, whereas I like to boldly define them, making for a tumultuous, sometimes treacherous bond between us. She careens wildly through life much the same way as she smashes against and bounces off curbs when she drives, which is, thankfully, infrequent. She prefers the freefall of life; I like to keep my feet on the ground. She likes to start little fires, figuratively and literally; I run around behind her with an extinguisher.
Her wild conversational gesturing has been known to knock a glass of port so magnificently that spilled wine has splattered into the corners of adjoining rooms. She misplaces necessities—glasses, keys, purse, bus pass—with such regularity that going to the grocery store requires a dedicated event planner. She chews ice vigorously; no other mastication has ever made ice seem more jam-packed with flavor. Her little Chihuahua wears a service-dog vest so she can take him to restaurants and circumvent additional charges for air travel. Sometimes she dresses Perrito in a yarmulke.
When I picked her up at the airport several weeks ago, she immediately kicked off both shoes and began picking at the dried skin on her heel, a habit that makes me want to replace her morning yogurt with Eucerin and caused one of our more pointed arguments.
“You know, it’s the oddest thing,” she said in the car after I grumbled that she was Doing. It. Again. “Your brother comes over and I sweep. I have to sweep. I can’t help it. And I get in your car and, without even realizing it, I pick.” With that, she chuckled and flicked a little bit of calcified flesh out the window.
“Well,” I said. “At least you’re throwing the detritus of your foot outside instead of leaving it on the floor mat like before. I’d say that’s progress.”
We laughed and she put her shoes back on. In recent years, The Gaydi Project and I have found some middle ground, each of us becoming a little less of who we are, to the betterment of who we are together. We’re more conscious of stepping around each other’s last nerve rather than directly on it. She works hard to let go when I become tense in response to her maddening loosey-goosey style. And I work hard to let go when she takes my latest New Yorker—the one I haven’t even cracked yet—into the bathroom, getting poop fumes all over it, rendering it unreadable. So maybe I haven’t let that one go just yet. But I kept my trap shut when it happened. I’d say that’s progress.
Minutes after breaking the No Reading Material in the Bathroom Rule, my mother accidentally Super Glued her lip to her teeth, which is the danger of impatiently trying to yank the lid off the tube with your mouth. In her defense, there is no warning about this particular hazard anywhere on the label. “Oh my God!” I yelled at her before I folded in half with laughter. “You’re not supposed to eat it, you’re supposed to sniff it!” We were a mere 10 hours into her stay.
Our bookendish adventure carried on like this, The Gaydi Project crashing through my world and me trying not to short-circuit from frustration. I held my ground. But I’m beginning to wonder whether The Crazy isn’t actually contracted by cumulative exposure.
(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)