Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Aftermath of Hurricane Mom

I've had my apartment back for a couple of days now. After the 3-week visit, it's a relief that my mother is gone, but of course I kind of miss her too. As she realized the day she was leaving, this time has been the longest we've spent with each other since I was about 19... and it went a lot more smoothly than it did back then.
But what I really need to talk about are the financial aspects of my mother's visit!

One thing I realized is that my mom is one hell of a consumer! I don't just mean that she likes to shop-- and she does LOOOOVVVE to shop. She kept raving about what a wonderful store Macy's was, and was almost whimpering when I kept hustling us past enticing things that were not the target of our designated purchasing! What I mean about her being a consumer is that she literally consumes a lot. In the 3 weeks she was here, she somehow managed to rampage through most of a 12-pack of paper towels, half a bottle of Windex, about 10 gallons of Poland Spring water (even though I bought a Brita pitcher the last week she was here), and a whole box of large Ziploc bags. She also leaves a lot of lights on. And I told her where to find my two rolls of quarters in case she wanted to do laundry, knowing she doesn't like to use the same towel for more than a day or two... sure enough, within a week she said "you know, we could use some more quarters for the wash..."
She believes that the kitchen dish towels should be washed separately from any other laundry, and I just realized all 10 of mine are dirty and shoved into a plastic grocery bag in the closet. Speaking of plastic grocery bags, I thought I'd accumulated enough to last a lifetime. I take out the kitchen garbage every day but I never actually BUY garbage bags... but now, somehow, my mother seems to have used them all up!
She also did some local grocery shopping during the day while I was at work, once she got over her reluctance to leave the house. While she was here, my fruit bowl always looked still-life worthy, it was so overflowing with apples and bananas and avocados and oranges. It's a bit emptier now, but I keep discovering other remnants of her shopping: a huge bag of rice and various kinds of beans that I have no idea how to cook, extra soap, Metamucil, toothpaste, oatmeal, and instant coffee, which she never calls just "Taster's Choice." She refers to it as "MY Taster's Choice," as in "I love my Taster's Choice," which is her response when others in the family express a preference for brewed coffee. When my mom likes something, she really wants other people to like it too. I can't just have a cup of coffee without her saying I should have some cinnamon in it, because it tastes really good that way. And if I say I like plain scrambled eggs, she says I should really try it with garlic powder, because it's good that way. She is always trying to improve on things, whether or not other people are perfectly satisfied with them as they are. And that definitely includes living spaces.
I did make it clear to Mom that I would not do a whirlwind top-to-bottom redecoration of my apartment while she was visiting, partially because I hadn't decided on everything I wanted but mainly because I couldn't afford it. She kept saying "don't worry about the money, I want to give you something!" Given her recent history of money mismanagement and debt, I don't want her to do that. She did help motivate me to make some decisions and buy a few things I would eventually have bought anyway, but I tried to keep her in check, although she kept sketching all these little pictures of window treatments and making lists of things I "need," to keep in mind for future gift-giving. Hopefully one thing she'll put at the top of that list is wine glasses, since she broke one of my favorite pair-- the ones I got for free when I was in college!
I can't really quantify how much her visit cost me. I spent thousands of dollars on home stuff while she was here, but I would have spent most of that anyway. I also probably spent a couple hundred dollars extra on food. I was planning to spend more money on entertaining her, but she mostly just wanted to stay home and relax, except for one day when she said she wished we could see Madame Butterfly but it turned out to be too late as it was only being performed that same night.
But what about what I gained from her visit? She did a lot of cooking and cleaning and laundry while she was here-- this makes me sound awfully lazy, and of course I told her I would do these things, but she just likes to do them. And not just because she was bored-- though I have no TV, I got her into reading The Makioka Sisters-- she loved it and had to take it home with her because she hadn't finished it yet.
I also got to hear some fun family stories. She told one about her grandmother, who lived on a farm and was illiterate. She did sewing to make extra money so her sons could take the bus to school. If there wasn't enough money, the boys would head to the bus stop with eggs in their pockets. At this point in the story, my mom and my aunt started laughing-- it was shameful enough to have to pay for the bus with eggs from the farm, but even worse if the eggs broke before they got to the bus stop!
My mom also gave me some money. I discovered that she had dumped all her spare change into the desk drawer where I keep my laundry quarters. She also gave me a check for $1000. At first I tried to refuse it, telling her it was too much, and that I'd rather she kept the money. But she kept insisting that she wanted me to have something, that she felt bad that my sister had had a big wedding and gotten so much from my family that I hadn't...
I didn't deposit the check until today. Part of me wanted to just rip it up and give my mother another lecture about saving money. But it seemed cruel. She truly wants to be generous-- she IS generous, she just doesn't have the money to justify financial generosity. Somehow money just slips through her fingers... so I decided to keep the check and think of it as a "Mom Fund." I know she'll need money at some point, so from now on, I'm going to try to track the value of anything she gives me and deposit it in the Mom Fund. I've had this feeling for a while now that I'd be left holding the bag if she ever got into trouble once my dad is gone-- my sister has her kids to worry about and never has any spare cash, and I'm the older child, the responsible one, the one who just handles everything calmly. I don't exactly WANT to have this role where my mom is concerned but I know it's just going to end up that way. So I'm trying to prepare for it, and if I feel like I have a stash of money that is actually my mother's already, I won't resent bailing her out.
I guess I'm just at that stage of life where you start to think about that role reversal, the point where things change and you have to care for your parents after decades of them taking care of you... and though Mom drove me a little nuts at times, maybe this visit was some kind of transitional moment. After 20 years of me being very independent, it was a chance for her to take care of me again-- she'd come into my room and kiss me goodnight, and some days she'd send me off to work with lunch neatly packed-- though she didn't draw a little smiley-face with pigtails on a brown paper bag as she used to when I was in grade school, which embarrassed me to no end. This time it was just one of those many Ziploc bags she managed to use.
And at the beginning of her visit there was a big snowstorm, so the first time we went into Manhattan, on a sunny day when everything was melting, I found myself reaching for her hand as we'd cross the street, to help her hop over all the big puddles at the corners. In that and other little ways, I had a chance to kind of take care of her too... which is good, because I'm going to need all the practice I can get.

P.S. Did I mention that Mom reorganized all the socks and underwear in my drawers, rolling them all up and sorting them by color? Please don't ask me to post photos...


frugal zeitgeist said...

The Makioka Sisters is one my favorite books. I'm not surprised your mom's enjoying it.

I am sure your mom's visit was frustrating for you, but your compassion is easy to see as well. Good going.

*Tanyetta* said...

too funny! i love ziploc bags too :)

Tiredbuthappy said...

This post struck a chord with me. I made a similar decision about a generous but spendthrift relative. I'll accept her gifts, but add them to the secret tally I'm keeping that will guide how much $$ I'll give her in the future:

Gifts to Family: Unconditional but not unlimited

The consumption thing--I had roommates once who never ever washed a dish because they bought huge bags of plastic cups and plates and flatware. It was amazing how much trash the household produced every month. I couldn't stand to live with them for very long.

Bitty said...

I loved this post. After hearing so much about your mother -- and knowing firsthand that the mother/daughter (in my case, it was mostly the grandmother/granddaughter) relationship is always an ambivalent one, I loved reading about all the good that came from the visit.

Last weekend my uncle and aunt visited for a long weekend. I know I spent more than usual -- my sons showed up hungry, too -- but it was worth every single penny.

Anonymous said...

Visiting parents are always fun and frustrating at the same time.

As an adult, you witness the reversal of roles, when you take care of your parents the way they took care of you as a child. Parents love taking care of you the way they used to. Some things just never change, but that's the most endearing part of them.

Anonymous said...

Bronx chica...Your mom's visit was awesome to me! I'm glad you kept cool and just let things flow.

Anonymous said...

It amazes me how people in poor financial situations always seem to be able to give away money like it's nothing. I'm glad you realized that your mom's visit was important and you did learn something. Now you can relax.

Anonymous said...

Ziploc bags are easily reusable. I often keep the empty ones (1 or 2) that I use for food in the fridge or freezer, so that if there are microscopic bits of food leftover they will not spoil.
Seems like a shame to throw away a ziplock bag after all it has done is transport one sandwich from home to work.
You can also rinse them out and hang them upside down to dry overnight.

StyleyGeek said...

That post could have been written by me about my Mum (except there is no way the $1000 cheque would have been coming in that direction!)

Thanks for sharing!

Josh said...

The issues you've mentioned (about role reversal) have me very worried lately. My parents are in bad financial condition now. They've always been up and down, and as a result I'm about as money obsessed (in a healthy way, I hope) as you are. But can we deny that we are the way we are in proportionate (or disproportionate) response to the fears instilled in us by big spender/consumer parents?

And it's cruel, because my thrift is why I'll be able to help them out if it comes to that. I've already covered maybe $800 of spending. The last time I went home, my brother's haircut, etc. were on me. My college loans, which my parents had offered to pay before I left for college, are not finished, and I've chipped in maybe $700 for those recently, because they couldn't keep up with the payments. It's infuriating, because if they hadn't offered to cover college, I wouldn't have attended a private school that made them so proud at the time. I would have been money smart, but I accepted the gift. Only now that I'm paying for it, it's not really a gift, is it? At the same time, I know I'm very lucky to have had any of it covered, but it makes me very sad and not a little upset.

Every birthday, my mother says the same thing yours does, about wanting to give me something. I always tell her I'll let her know what I want, and as a result I don't know the last time I've gotten a gift. My brother, who is less aware (or less concerned) with their inability to stave off their spending, he gets laptops, a car, his insurance covered, clothing, etc. He's in college still, but I never accepted as much as he has. I think he just grew up at a time when my parents appeared to have more money than when I was younger...but I know better.

So, he being like them, who will be there to cover them when they want to retire on 1 meager pension?

I feel emboldened that you were able to buy an apartment under the circumstances. I don't know if I'll allow myself to be anything less than fully liquid, though maybe if I buy things, I won't have as much money to throw away helping them.

What a way to have to feel!

Sorry for ranting...

Tired of being broke said...

Can we get pictures of the sock drawer...pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Moms are good at reorganizing everything. Although my mom does the opposite, she does not do the work herself, she orders me around to do it. I find myself doing more house work in a week that I would do in a whole month when my mom visits.

Madame X said...

Joshua-- Of course I don't know the details of your situation, but I wouldn't let your family stand in the way of buying a home. If owning a home seems like the right decision to make aside from concerns about your parents, I'd say do it! You'd be less liquid but you'd still be able to help them out in a true emergency, and maybe that will make them think more seriously about turning to you for help.

Madame X said...

Optioned-- fortunately my mom does believe in washing out Ziploc bags depending on what they've had in them! She reused some, threw some away, and the rest all seem to be in my freezer full of frozen rice and assorted chopped peppers and onions! That was a recent discovery!

Anonymous said...

yes, we all like to spend money on certain things. Your mom likes to spend money on ziploc bags and new towels, you like to spend money on new pda's, we all have our interests.

Single Ma said...

LOL @ Hurricane Mom. You wrong for that! LOL

Sounds like a very nice visit overall. I bet you rekindled a bond she thought was lost. Hat tip to you for being such a good daughter.

I would have only survived ONE weekend. Ha!

mapgirl said...

WOW! Glad you survived!

I think the Mom Fund is a great idea. I know you read my blog sometimes, so you know I forked over my last bonus so my mom could fix the windows on her house. I figure it's only fair of me to do so since my sibling gave her money for the property taxes last year and my parents helped me with my downpayment.

I've noticed lately that the cash birthday presents have stopped completely. Not that I mind. It was always nice to get them, but a card or a nice shirt on sale is fine with me these days. If my mom ever goes back to cash gifts, I probably should do the same as your Mom Fund. But I know my mom is pretty good at finances, she's just having a rough patch with the family business during my dad's stroke. I think she's going to end up being ok with what they have. If anything, it will be little things here and there, rather than wholesale bailouts of credit cards. I think I can swing that. Or at least try to be in a good position so I can do it.

I can't spend more than about 48 hours with my parents, but I love 'em. I actually feel good that I can repay my parents for all the great things they've done for me financially and otherwise. I figure it's my turn, but I still reserve the right to complain about it. ;-)