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A Map of New Orleans

Having vowed (in writing, which makes it serious) to have a more open, less fraught relationship with my mother, I am making time at least once a week to take her to lunch and have a good talk. By that I mean that I drive, and she pays for lunch. If my mother lets me pay for lunch, and we are not sharing a meal to celebrate my new job, bonus, lottery winnings or inheritance, it’s time to begin steering her gently towards a neuropsych evaluation.

So yesterday we ended up at a lovely little sushi place where I could eat sushi, and she could have something else. She had already asked me to take her to Talbot’s, for me the retail equivalent of the Bataan Death March, and I had agreed; the whole point of our time together was that I would not look at my watch, think about what else I could be doing, or patronize her with my opinions of her taste in preppy shifts and cardigans. She is my mother, and it is not only unkind but backwards to assume that age and illness have rendered her a child requiring my guidance. As I dabbed a little wasabi on my spicy tuna, she made a second request: since my brother and his wife were going to New Orleans soon, could we stop by the book store so that she could buy them a map?

Before I could stop myself, before I could re-direct my automatic inner know-it-all, I said “no one uses maps, mom. I mean, I’ll take you if you want to go, but they both have smart phones, and he has GPS on his phone, and I just can’t see them hauling out a map.” She put down her chopsticks, and narrowed her eyes.

“Sometimes,” she said, ” no matter what kind of bells and whistles you have, it’s good to have a map to spread out to see what’s near what. I’m not talking about looking up how to get to a specific place; I’m talking about planning a day, or an evening by figuring out what’s in a certain area and within walking distance. I’ve been planning trips since before you were born.” She was right, she was right, she was right, right, right. She had, however, triggered my competitive inner monster, the one which could, if allowed to emerge, cause me to say the sky was puce if she claimed it was blue.

“They can do that on a computer. There are all kinds of programs for trip planning, they have maps, you can do it on Google. We do it all the time. If they really want to,” I added, taking it the inevitable step too far, ” you can even print it out and carry it around.” She was not eating at all any more.

“There’s really no need to speak to me in that tone of voice.” The Tone of Voice. I was immediately tumbled back to my Marimekko high school bedroom, complaining about some injustice or other, claiming that I was being perfectly rational. She would tell me not to use the Tone of Voice because she could tell that beneath my alleged innocence and righteousness,  I was angry, mutinous and sullen. Were I, unaccountably, to fetch up on an abandoned street in Istanbul and whisper something in that tone, perhaps between the posts of the gates to a shuttered mosque at midnight, she would know. She would hear it, she would call me on it, she would be right, and I would feel the tic forming beneath my left eye.

“Okay,” I said, willing my voice to pass the radar, “we’ll go get a map. It would be a nice thing for them to have.”

“Don’t patronize me; I’ll ask your father to take me to the book store. It’s really fine, let’s talk about something else.” I had failed.

“No, really,” I begged, willing her to hear that I was sincere, apologetic, getting back on track. “I think it’s a great idea. We’ll go after we go to Talbot’s.” The tide had turned, as it had every time since approximately 1966. She picked up her chopsticks, contemplating a golden plank of Tonkatsu pork.

“No,” she said as she toyed with the meat, “you’re probably right.” I examined her words for meaning. Did she mean I was right? Did she mean I had been unconscionably cruel and she was wishing she had given birth to someone nicer, like Ted Bundy? Were we past it?

“Really? Because it’s really okay with me,” I focused, and breathed. “I’m so sorry I was snotty about the map. It was a nice idea and I’m sure they’ll use it.” She looked up at me; I knew it was okay. Really okay.

“Thank you. I’m already tired, and I think I’m really only good for one stop after lunch anyway.”

“I can take you another day – maybe after lunch next week?”

“That would be great.” She meant it. She ate her pork and rice, I ate my sashimi, and we were easy again, both eavesdropping on the tables around us, raising our respective eyebrows when the group of women at the corner table burst into raucous laughter. We were okay, and if I needed to take her to buy a map of New Orleans next week, that was fine. If my brother left it behind on his kitchen table, that was life. For two strong-willed women leaving the terra firma of my 47 years and moving gingerly into a delicate boat on uncharted waters, we were doing better than might be expected. If one of us fell overboard, the other would be there (possibly in a tasteful Talbot’s nautical ensemble) to pull her out. There are no maps for where we’re going.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

8 responses »

  1. Yikes, this post made me laugh — and wince in recognition. You and your mother seem to have almost the same relationship I have with mine, complete with all the friction, battle of wills, different world views, IDENTICAL world views (therein lies the real problem, I think), and love. It almost sounds like you were transcribing the fraught conversation I had with my mother at lunch (Thai, not Japanese) just yesterday.

    I wonder how my two daughters, both in their 20s, would transcribe their lunches with ME? On my good days, I think my relationships with them are so completely different, with a higher degree of mutual respect and more sincere, less dutiful affection, than my relationship with my mother. On my bad days, I’m not so sure.

    • My mother will not eat Thai food. I’ve given up. Not lack of adventurousness, just a firm conviction that it’s all too spicy. I would love to know what your daughters think…I think I might see this all very differently if I had daughters, and saw it from both perspectives.

  2. well, all i can say is that the mother thing? it is SO HARD. my mom lives about 1000 miles away but put us in the same room? oy vay… she’s negative, critical and loud and she honestly doesn’t even mean it. she honestly can’t help it. but it makes me defensive. it sets me off.

    what i do know is that she loves me deeply. and she’s my only mom.

    and in her words: “you know claudia, one day you won’t have a mother to yell at….”

    despite that it’s laced with guilt, truer words were never spoken…

    • My mom doesn’t do that, although she has female relatives (now singing with the Hebrew Choir of the Afterlife) who did exactly what you describe. The guilt is real, but the love is real, and so is the fact that we will both wish we could have one more annoying episode, once we can’t.

  3. Ouch. Familiar.

    It’s so difficult to acknowledge our own snottiness and apologize, and that’s really all they are looking for, these Moms.

    OMG. I am a Mom.

    And this morning, all I needed to turn my mood was for my daughter to acknowledge that she was being bratty to me while I was trying to do a quick minute of computer instead of helping her with her hair. All of her explanations for her behavior, and any why mine was bad, did nothing for me but make me get my grouch on.

    Hmm. I’m going to be pondering this all morning, I just know it. Thank you, Lady.

  4. Ann, you really need to warn me when the topic is gonna be your relationship with your mom, so I can know not to start reading when I’m at work. They move me and stir us such stuff in me that it makes it hard to get back to scheduling and taking notes on constituents’ crises. Other than that–fabulous post. I wish you so much good will on this journey you’re taking with your mom and I’ll try to keep my own feelings of regret out of it (my mom died in 1996). But know that they’re there.

  5. One more thing–holy SHIT I’m a mom too, but maybe I’ll be spared a little of the worst of this since my kids are both boys? I know in my life there was nothing like the mom-daughter thing (and nothing like the mom-son thing but in very different ways). This somewhat eases my other regret, that of not having a daughter of my own. (Yep, if you hear of any medications that help one deal with a major tendency to regretfully, call right away.) See, again I should be busy at work doing umpteen million things and I’m adding a second comment…

  6. Ann,

    If only I had a nickle for every time a friend has confided what an absurd trip it was/is for them.

    What we havent been doing is studying closely the beautiful postcards left to us by the ones who went before us and came out of the journey unscathed.

    Please continue to post the stops along the way, rain or shine………


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