“Mom drives me craaaaazy. Like, seriously.”
Half expecting an “OMG” to top it off, I cringe and want this to be coming from a 14-year-old, miffed at an early curfew, or whatever. But there is no 14-year-old in this household. The outcry seeps through my 30-something sister’s clenched teeth. She’s brought her laundry over to our parents’ house. Again. These laundry sessions are—let’s face it—the only point of contact Mom and Dad have with her from week to week, with no exception this particular Sunday: Mother’s Day. No flowers or acknowledgement of the special day accompany her. Only laundry.
As if she had read my thoughts, my sister spits out “Oh My God! Like, in Hawaii she just wouldn’t stop! Do you want the wedding inside or outside? On the beach? At a golf course?” I’m strangely comforted by the expletive that wasn’t present in her first proclamation, but troubled that basic questions about her wedding would cause such a visceral reaction. Hadn’t my mom just flown my sister and her fiancé to Maui for 10 days to plan their magical this-is-my-moment destination wedding?
I guess us kids have responded to my mom’s incessant and menial interjections that accompany every conversation and interaction in different ways: my little brother tunes her and whatever she has to say out entirely. I tend to keep as silent as possible, maybe provide a one-word answer, and fulfill basic familial duties; I admit that intentionally creating an inner, emotional detachment from the situation maybe isn’t the healthiest. It is increasingly apparent that my sister has developed another coping mechanism: a certain sort of hyper-sensitivity, a raw vulnerability that can be exposed at the drop of – well – a question. I don’t envy her being the eldest. Rumour has it she was only allowed a half-stick of gum a week, while my brother and I would consume it in volumes in order to imitate Babe Ruth’s balloon-like cheek.
We are at the back sink, and I’m feeling uneasy. Is anybody else hearing my sister’s complaints? I’m amazed at her over-confidence in the sound cover provided by the washing machine. Her voice rises brazenly over the noise of the second load. She’s strategically blocked the only escape route, and I’m pinned between the strain in her face and a pile of towels. In a previous existence I would have likely agreed, “Mom drives me crazy too.” Maybe even thrown in an anecdote to whet my sister’s appetite. These pow-wows used to make me feel giddy because it seemed we could share something in common. Until I realized that this form of sisterly bonding made me feel like a dishonest daughter. My mom doesn’t really drive me crazy. Lately, I’ve taken to responding to my sister’s anxieties with silence in order to avoid an aftermath of guilt for pretending to feel something I don’t. But now I feel like a dishonest sister. I can almost hear her wondering, “Where have you gone? You used to be my side-kick.” To compensate for my lack of emotional support, I grab a towel and start to fold, staring at my pale hands as they disappear into the starched whiteness of her linens.
My eyes shift from towel duty to look-out duty as I keep tabs on my Mom’s movements in the kitchen and try to forge an exit strategy, all the while evaluating what constitutes ear-shot distance. I return my gaze to the growing pile of tidy towels and it dawns on me that I haven’t been folding the towels the same way as my sister. Perhaps I’ve been more of a hindrance than help: I can’t even fold towels properly. My sister is a perfectionist, and I have a feeling she will re-do my pile later.
My portion completed, I drift past her and start on dinner. It’s the only thing my Mom wanted for Mother’s Day, for the kids to cook together. Being the worst gift-giver ever, I was granted the epitome of relief by this news. My sister still has a few more loads and my brother has claimed his seat on the couch, so I slump into the galley and take on a solo effort. I search for any sign that my Mom is hurt. She seems unfazed, though, making no mention of her initial Mother’s Day request. Instead she is bounding about the house with empty proclamations like, “This is so nice!” and, “Isn’t this wonderful?” to no one in particular. If she only knew the power her questions hold. Maybe she does know.
Dinner is ready. I announce this in a Harpo-inspired fashion: wide eyes, a pinned smile, and arms outstretched to the audience that has now gathered around the TV. My grandiose gesture is directed to the back of their heads. It’s the finale of Amazing Race and according to my sister, we had to watch it. Why not? Americans sweating profusely and running with enormous backpacks crushing their spines and yelling “faster” or a butchered “andale” to cab drivers in foreign countries, regardless whether or not they are in a Spanish-speaking locale. Fun times. I’m successful at sitting through the extravaganza without making a peep about the show’s exploitative measures in countries of the globe’s lower half. Instead, I find myself content to focus on how nice the beaches of Rio de Janeiro look. My mind can’t help but hum “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,” the addictive theme-song of the childhood game we all used to eagerly play together. I run the sentence of the song over and over, remembering how we used to sing the lyrics on repeat as kids. Somehow it’s still stuck in my head, but I know that no matter how many times I sing it now it won’t bring back those days. I miss my siblings, the way they used to be. I suppose they miss me too. These annual markers are not really acknowledged celebrations at all, but rather serve as a reminder of another year that has disappeared. Our adult differences become more apparent with each of these markers, and it feels like we grow further apart even as we sit next to each other on the couch, eating dinner.
The meal is consumed in a fraction of the time in which it was prepared. My mom “looooved” the salad. “Isn’t it great?” she asks my siblings. Their eyes fixate on the commercials streaming on the TV. The half-shrug and a nodding bobble-head motion is as good as it’s going to get. I imagine they liked it, especially my vegetarian sister whose rail-thin body looks like she could benefit from the non-beastly, protein-packed lentils (I am continually surprised as to where she can find energy to get through the day). My mom soothes their seemingly guilty silence by purring that the two of them would make “suuuuch a good” team on Amazing Race. This compliment gets their attention. They look at each other and nod feverishly in satisfaction. I sort of have to agree with her. They do make a good team.
I watch a pile of dishes soak under a generous layer of white bubbles and can hear the show is wrapping up. The winning team, a sibling duo, gets a million dollars. Happy Mother’s Day, America! My mom has drifted asleep in her throne for the evening, a faux lazy boy chair from IKEA usually reserved for my Dad. Tonight, though, my mom occupies his chair, and so he stood while he ate. He vanished after inhaling his food, opting to retreat to the man-cave that is his office. I float back to the family room to collect the remainder of the dishes and find my adult siblings huddled together, eyes locked, whispering. They stop suddenly, noticing I’m there. “Don’t worry,” they sputter, reassuringly. “We aren’t talking about you.” “Don’t worry,” I return the favour. “I know.” With tired eyes and a small smile I turn away, dirty plates in hand. I pass Mom, sleeping not four feet away from their chatter. For her sake I hope she’s actually sleeping. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Same time next year?