The Meat and Potatoes of Life
It’s all relative: Am I becoming my mother?
Special to Stars and Stripes February 17, 2023
My daughter, Anna, has a 30-second video on her phone, buried among thousands of digital photos depicting her exciting young life in New York City. This particular video is unremarkable compared to all her others, but for me, it invokes a mix of significant emotions.
The video was taken last spring when Anna came home to see my 79-year-old mother who was visiting from Pennsylvania. It was a sunny morning. My mother and I were wearing our respective robes and pajama pants, walking around my fenced yard looking at flora and fauna together. Anna, who was on the porch watching us, decided to record the scene because from a distance, my mother and I appeared to be comically identical in appearance and movement.
In the video, I move slowly along the fence, cradling my Polish pottery mug with two hands, stopping occasionally to point to a passing bird or to invite my mother to inspect a rhododendron bloom. My pillow-head hair is artificially colored to cover my gray, just like my mother’s. We sip our coffee every few steps, and chat casually about the things that catch our shared attention.
Anna posted the video on her social media, garnering LOLs and laugh emojis from her followers. I laughed when I saw it too, but it struck me in a deeper way that I didn’t immediately understand. On a recent trip to Pennsylvania to spend the week helping Mom around her house, my fuzzy feelings about becoming more and more like my mother came into sharper focus.
“Lisa!” my mother gasped one morning, “I just put my hearing aids in, and I think I’m hearing Francis’ voice!”
“That’s impossible, Mom,” I told her, explaining that my husband was more than 400 miles away in Rhode Island.
“But…,” she looked at me with fear in her eyes, “maybe I’m tuning in to a computer?!” To Mom, all modern technology — including smart phones, computers, printers, email, routers, televisions, DVRs, Keurig coffee makers, ATM machines, and yes, hearing aids — is cause for panic.
I chuckled, made a joke about my mother getting herself a tinfoil hat, and carried on with my to-do list.
The next day, we met with a realtor to discuss the possibility of Mom selling her house and moving closer to family. At the dining room table, the realtor patiently answered the list of questions we’d prepared in advance, but my mother’s discomfort was palpable. Although maintaining the old house and its acreage had become a huge burden, if not dangerous, for my mother to handle on her own, moving terrified her.
By the end of the week, I’d found all of my mother’s passwords, account numbers and important information among countless handwritten scraps of paper. I deleted over 1,200 duplicate photo images and 391 junk emails on her phone (at least a dozen were from Perkins Pancakes). I connected her television to the internet and her car to her phone. I conducted mandatory training sessions on navigation apps, Bluetooth capability and why Mom needs to stop punching “later” every time she receives a message about a system update.
I was in the unenviable position of having to push my mother beyond her fiercely-guarded comfort zone to make decisions about her devices, her health, her paperwork and her future. My mother was truly grateful for my help, but she resisted every step of the way.
I’m just like my mother in so many ways — sensitive, introverted, nostalgic, analytical, creative, witty, sentimental and easily overwhelmed. However, my mother has built a fortress of familiar places, routines and objects around herself. Her home and habits have become her shell, where she can avoid life’s scary demands and modern realities.
On the other hand, I’m a Navy wife who has been exposed to a life of constant change and unpredictability. Even during tough times, I had to be adaptable, self-sufficient, resourceful and able to manage complex tasks in unfamiliar environments.
While standing before my mother’s packed refrigerator, gawking at countless opened jelly jars and unidentifiable freezer foods labeled with Post-It notes, I realized that military life forced me to overcome my genetically-determined tendencies. Like Mom, I resisted, but I was truly grateful for the help.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org