My Mom, the Sweet Little Old Lady

Learning to see my mother in a completely different light

It was the only time I can remember feeling any kind of warmth toward my mother that didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. There were no thoughts about how she used to lock me out of the house, leaving my school clothes for the next day in a paper bag on the porch. No memories of how she used to drop lettuce on the dirty kitchen floor and then pick it up and put it back in the salad bowl.

What, you’re too good for lettuce that fell on the floor?

I guess I thought I was.

I wasn’t thinking of any of this when I walked toward her at the grocery store. We’d been on our weekly-ish trip to shop for what she needed: hairspray, yogurt, string cheese, grapes, stool softener, Pond's cold cream, and, of course, pens and small yellow legal pads for her to write hate letters to the people she loathed.

My mother likes to express her rage on paper. She goes through several pens a week. She likes only two brands — Sharpies (for the Warning-You-Better-Shape-Up! missives) and her beloved Paper-Mate Silk ballpoints. Armed with these and her legal pads, she consistently wages battles against anyone she thinks is a loser. And in her world, there are losers galore.

The crumpled-up, discarded versions of notes and letters that don’t make her editor’s cut are thrown in her bathroom trashcan and my sister and I cannot resist stealing a page or two when we see them there. Monica is an idiot. The guy down the hall is an asshole. The lady next door is a thief.

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You don’t want to get on my mom’s bad side. She holds a grudge like a McCoy and it's virtually impossible to please her. Because of this, and her inability to consider heartfelt pleas for normal boundaries, I made the difficult decision to cut off all communication with her for a ten-year period.

It took a decade for me to regain my composure after being under her rule. Ten years to see myself as a separate and viable human being away from the shadow of her demands, insults and overall quicksand-type nature. And as I grew in my own self-confidence, my ability to simply see her as a person — however wounded — grew, too.

During the time we had no contact, I felt grief, guilt and peace. I felt free and true to myself. I felt like a bad daughter and a good person. Nevertheless, the time came when I reached out to her and we reconciled. It was as if nothing had changed — in good ways and bad.

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But this time at the store, she had a certain aura about her and didn’t seem menacing at all. She was wearing a pair of navy blue sweatpants with very wide legs. They were about a foot too short and she had also taken the string out of the waist. She looked like the sweet old lady — right out of central casting.

Although she seems to have softened a bit, one must stay alert when in her presence and even more so in her absence. But this day in the store, I saw a different version of her. She looked fragile and sweet as she stood up, grinned and asked me if I’d gotten any good coupons. I replied yes, indeed I did, and I put my arm around her and led her back to the car, feeling thrilled in this moment when she seemed so easy to please.

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