Saturday, May 14, 2011


Card I made to go with the present.

Today was my roommate's fiancée's bridal shower. A very lovely, pleasant, delightful event. Lovely, pleasant, delightful food. Lovely, pleasant, delightful people. Totally normal and uneventful. In a good way.

I got home from it and, instead of enjoying a nice glass of white wine with her and her family, crept into my bed and cried softly to myself until I started to hiccup and had to tell myself to stop acting like a baby. Oh god what a day. I can't remember the last time I cried like that. But maybe I needed it...

This morning Bubs and I were supposed to go through some of the "less emotional" areas, list out the various categories of items, and specify what the organizers were to do with those items when they come next week.

Of course there is no such thing as a "less emotional" area. Silly us.

I flipped out on my mother a little bit about halfway through the morning. I can't remember what set me off - probably my mother crying over cloth napkins and place mats we uncovered that she hadn't seen or used in 25 years. It is frustrating when it takes half an hour to decide whether or not to keep the dance costumes that no longer fit any of the girls who are now women who don't want them themselves. It is annoying when even the dumbest things, like empty cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, plastic containers, etc are being saved in massive quantities for potential uses which will likely not be warranted.

Ok I do remember what it was.

I started putting stuff back into the linen closet after we had sorted it because the knee-high piles were preventing people from safely using the hall to the bedrooms. On her way upstairs with Bubs to start going through some stuff up there, my mom called down, saying it was a waste of effort to put it back into the closet if we were just going to be paying someone to take it back out. I said it was just better to put it away, got kind of annoyed, but stopped doing it. She went upstairs and I could hear her crying, that sad, sickening sound of my own mother's agony over things that most grown adults don't think twice about.

I shouted something like "YOU CAN'T EVEN WALK THROUGH THE HALLWAY LIKE THIS." Knowing I was going to say even more hurtful things, I removed myself from the situation, but like the mature woman I am, made sure to close the front door a little extra hard. So everyone would know I was MAD.

Down the steps I went, past my dad who was stirring up puffs of dandelion seeds with the lawnmower, fuming my way up the street. I heard the mower engine stop. Heard the car starting up. I kept going. I got halfway up the hill and found a low wall on our neighbor's property, along with a single yellow dandelion, which I plucked from their yard and began to dismantle. I was sitting on the wall stewing when my dad pulled up a few moments later... still wearing his lawn mowing gear: face mask and protective earphones, curly white hairs poking out from his arm braces. Everything okay? he asks.

Yeah I say, looking up for only a second, because my eyes are burning. I didn't want to say anything mean. 

I continue to mash at the dandelion.

Thanks for doing this, he says. Earphones, face mask still on.

I nod slightly, don't look up, keep mutilating the yellow flower in my hand.

After a pause, I'm going to go back to mowing the lawn now. He rolls up the window and I hear the engine fade away. He drives around the block and I finish the flower off by pinching its head with a pop, lie back in that pillowy grass thinking UGHHHHHHHHH to myself. Somebody is using a leaf blower just out of sight. Two neighbors are having a friendly chat. I hear the car door open and close in our driveway again. The lawnmower starts up.

I go back into the house, I apologize, we finish going through the rest of the rooms...

My mom drops me off at the train station with the last box of my own stuff I will ever remove from my family's home: high school and college diplomas, a couple pieces of my own artwork, some field hockey trophies. I remember that I have to get a gift for the shower. Stop by Crate and Barrel. The only thing on the registry that seemed appropriate was a spice rack, which apparently weighs the same amount as the box of memorabilia I'm carrying (i.e. quite a bit).

I walk half a mile along the sidewalk toward my apartment, with what is apparently some sort of anguished grimace on my face, because, when I take a break to rest the box and bag on a brick wall, a kindly-looking gentleman says Yes, good, you look like you need that, you should rest there for twenty minutes (sympathetic chuckle).

No it's ok I'm only a block from my house, I gesture up the street.

He smiles and continues past me, then hesitates, You're going up the street this way? Would you like to put that stuff in the back of my station wagon? he asks.

I pause, realize that yes yes I would, I don't care what I have learned about strangers, I don't think I can carry it any further. So I tell him I would like that, if he is headed that way anyway.

A feeble black dacschund barks twice at me from a towel on the front seat. Don't mind him. He's seventeen years old and can't see strangers. The man gathers the towel and dog onto his lap and lets me into the passenger seat. We drive the one block - not very far, in a car, apparently. His name is Robert. We chat a bit, he jokes that the station wagon makes him very popular among friends with things to carry. I laugh a bit. Mention we are thinking of having a block party, wouldn't that be nice?

He helps me unload the stuff, I thank him. He drives off with the little doggie.

I take advil and a long hot shower, blow dry my hair, wrap the present, make a little card...


So. After the party, fiancée's family - mom and grandma - and my roommate and his brother are in the other room. I can hear them laughing and chattering. So pleasant. No ugly piles of weird useless stuff. No mothers sobbing over eleven used field hockey sticks that none of her girls actually played with which she now must part with.

I am jealous and sad. Why can't my family be normal? I wonder. I think of how I have behaved earlier this morning. Ashamed. How much I know my parents love me. I feel super guilty thinking that, wishing they could be different. But I am jealous of how everything in a lot of other people's lives seems so effortless, how they don't have such ridiculous things to have to deal with, how they know all the ways to behave in different situations because they had normal adults around them to model that behavior for them. I envy this nice normal family in my living room, I am tired, I feel lost, a lot alone, like there is nobody but me to keep the pieces together.

I cry and cry and cry. I can't seem to stop!

I remember letters I came across another time I brought a box home from my parents'. I had gone to sleep-away camp for one week in the early spring of fifth grade. My entire family wrote to me.

I love you so much, my dad writes, after describing the growth he'd noticed in the various areas of my life - dance, basketball, faith/spirituality. I'll cherish your childhood memories. I look forward to the next stage of your life. Love, Dad. 

My mom's letters read more like a play-by-play of every moment of the day. Now it's Monday morning (11:00 AM) and we are waiting at the pharmacy for a prescription for an antibiotic for [Nipper] - one ear has an infection (again) and she will need to take a different medication for 10 days. This explains somewhat how cranky she's been the last few days... etc etc etc............. I hope the bus ride was fun. Is there much snow? How are the meals? Is the bunk comfy? I love you - we love you. Have fun. Stay warm. Love, Mom. 

The letters from the other kids reflect their age and level of fine motor skill development. There is an entire page of scribbles which is apparently a portrait Nipper drew of herself "eating butter." She used to pull a chair over and sneak up onto the counter top to eat the butter straight from the dish. We'd find little tiny finger-shaped swipes out of the softened stick of butter. No joke.

Nipper eating butter..

Ok I don't hate my family. Just frustrated.

Let's not fool ourselves. There's no such thing as "normal." But there is "healthy," and we're all trying our damndest to get there.

Yep. We are.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


We met with Dad last night. I did most of the talking this time. Went pretty well. He and my mom are going to talk things over and get back to us. I am hopeful.

He said that he did think that we were maybe blowing up the negative possibilities (i.e. if we end up having to go the dumpster route, how Mom would respond - he didn't think it would be as bad as we did). But he did say that he respected our opinions. We framed the whole thing in how we CARE and are CONCERNED. Basically we all see her making a lot of progress in terms of being able to let stuff go, and want this to be a permanent trend.

So, they'll get back to us this weekend. But even if they decide they won't go with the organizer, at least it is a good feeling to know we are doing everything we can.

It's inner growth for me too, standing up to my Dad like that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


So, I was talking to my roommate the next morning after my previous post, and he said "basically you have to stand up for your mom," and as soon as he said it, I realized with that sinking feeling that it is the truth, because she's not going to stand up for herself in this situation.

Bubs and I met with her Saturday, and we sort of got her to admit that yes, this is what she would prefer (over trying to do essentially it on her own, and then resort to the dumpster scenario on whatever's left). Even though it is going to be a lot of work. Even though it is kind of scary. This way at least she will get to be a part of the process. This way at least most of the stuff will be going to good homes, at least as much as possible, which seems to make it easier for her to part with it.

Anyway, we just skyped (Bubs and I) about the conversation we're going to have with Dad tomorrow. That might be one of the scariest things I've ever had to do. It seems scary.

Basically we're going to tell him how much we care about both of them, but especially Mom in this very vulnerable transition for her, present to him all the research we've done on compulsive hoarding, how it seems to indicate that throwing the person's stuff away without their involvement is probably the worst thing you can do, etc etc. Explain that we're willing to pay for all of it, no strings attached, no need for reimbursement. Because we care. Because we want this to be the healthiest transition for Mom possible. Then we'll ask if we can have his support in the matter.

We hope and believe that he will agree. But if he doesn't we're going to say that it is their decision, and we'll continue to help out as much as we can, but, if it comes to the dumpster scenario, we are not taking any part in it. We do not want to put Mom through it and we're not going to participate.

So, a mini-ultimatum of sorts.  But hopefully it won't come to that.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I am super annoyed right now. 

Okay. Backtracking. We set up a consultation with a professional organizer. This evening. She had a lot of energy, seemed really positive about the stuff, really together, like she enjoyed doing this sort of thing. We went around the house (this was actually quite draining to me to look at ALL the rooms, ALL the stuff - I saw some things in dark corners and cupboards that I hadn't seen in years, decades perhaps). I felt really glad about the idea of having her on board with us. I have to confess, holding my mom's hand as she makes a decision about every single piece of paper or plastic beaded bracelet or broken appliance is EXHAUSTING. The idea of going through all of those rooms just made me feel so hopeless.

Anyway though, we sat down with the organizer the little house tour, she talked about what she was envisioning: a team of 3 people who would come in and take on the different rooms. She said there would be a discount for having three people at a time (instead of three times the hourly rate of one person). Great! I thought. It sounded really good to me. Three, non-me people taking this on, all I have to do was pay and be somewhat helpful. 

After the professional organizer left, I asked my mom what she thought about it all. She started to cry and said "looks like we're just going to have to get some dumpsters and throw it all away!" 


Excuse me?

She didn't think my dad would see it as a good investment. Bubs and I called our dad over (he was watching TV in the other room) and asked him about the potential selling price differential between trying to sell the house its current state versus cleaning it up and getting it to look quite spiffy. It was significant. More than the cost of the organizers. I pointed this out, but he didn't really see the value of it.  My sister said that it seemed like the best option for them. He didn't agree with her. 

"We get some dumpsters, throw it all away, Mom moves on." Neither my sister nor I said anything for a moment, because we weren't quite sure about the moving on. We probably should give her some credit. But she has a hard time of moving on, of letting go of anything, which is sort of why we are in this problem. 

Bubs says that she means the best - not the cheapest - option. 

"Essentially we're paying somebody to throw away our stuff," he said. Then I said "well you guys seem to be having trouble doing it yourself."  They both protested, saying it wasn't "us," it was my mom. "I could throw it all away right now," my dad pointed out. My mom had tears in her eyes and looked down at the floor. That is not the point, though. I said that the point was that they hadn't done it. I got mad at them for putting all the blame on my mom (even though it is primarily her stuff everywhere, there is some reason he hasn't thrown it away yet). "I know it's an emotional time, but you guys are a couple! A partnership! You're in this together... this is YOUR life, YOUR future... TOGETHER!"  Neither of them said anything.

I was way more confrontational than I usually am, but I was way more mad than I usually am. I don't think they're being realistic about the situation or honest with themselves or each other. I mean I know they aren't talking about how the change is impacting my mom, because she has said so herself. I am just really annoyed, want to wash my hands of the whole thing. I really feel like I have tried everything within my power to help them. I don't know what else to do.

Anyway, the professional organizer is going to get back to me, once she's had a chance to double check on the team discount and prepare an estimate of how many hours it will take/how much it will cost. So we'll see. 

I feel so tired of it all. It has been weighing on me. It really has. I was a bit sad when I first heard they were selling the house, but now I really just cannot wait until they're out of there.