Blogsam and Jetsam

Flotsam is the part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the water. Jetsam is cargo or parts of a ship that are deliberately thrown overboard, as to lighten the ship in an emergency, and that subsequently either sinks or is washed ashore. This is my personal blog version of the above. Loot freely.

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Location: The Hinterlands, Upstate NY

I'm annoyed that the world is going crazier faster than it used to be. But it's interesting to watch.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A True Story

I’m beginning to question the wisdom of reading Pigs In Heaven, which is all about mother-love, right before my own mother is due for a visit. Here’s a little something to help explain the questioning.

At the end of my residency I had to take my two-part Boards exams to be a fully qualified member of my profession. Our Boards are notoriously hard with an exceptionally high fail rate (so high the regulatory body won’t publish it.) They are a two-day test with one part each day—first day is the traditionally "easy" part and second day is the traditionally "hard" part. I was coping with a new baby, a new job and a recent move so I didn’t study nearly the way I should’ve done. I spent all my time on the "hard" part and pretty much entirely blew off the "easy" part thinking I would skate by on accumulated knowledge.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? Sure you can. I wasn’t even halfway through the "easy" day when I realized that there was just no way I was going to pass that half of the test. (I didn’t, either ; passed the re-take instead.) You know the horrible sinking feeling you get when you can’t eliminate even one of the four multiple-choice options? Imagine pages upon pages of that feeling. For hours. I walked out of that exam room feeling like I’d just had the mental equivalent of a lubeless biker gang bang in all orifices.

Biggest test of my life and I’d just failed half. It wasn’t pretty at all.

After crying in my hotel room for a while, checking with the family and crying a bit more, I called my mother. She had been quite interested in the whole Boards process and I’d promised her I would call at the end of each day and again once I flew safely back from Florida. I thought that a mother would be good for sympathy and commiseration, right?

Well, not exactly. She brushed off all my concerns and fears with "Oh you always think you didn’t do well right after a test but I’m sure you passed."

"No Arnold**, you don’t understand. I know I failed that half. I’m just worried about being able to do anything with the other half tomorrow."

"Oh I’m sure you didn’t…I’ve got a really good feeling about it."

We did about four or five variations of that same conversation during which point I watered up again at least once. Never did get her to acknowledge my position at all. Never got anything even remotely close to the comforting I needed either. Even something like "well you’re still a good person honey, and we all still love you just as much! Don’t worry; I know it seems like the end of the world right now but there really are worse things that can happen. This really is just a test and you can always take it again" would have gone a long way.

Nope, none of that.

Flash forward two days. I took the "hard" half of the test (passed that part with flying colors first time out; go figure) flew home and was taking a much-needed vacation day. The telephone rang. Turned out to be the local florist wanting to know "if someone would be home to accept a delivery from [my mother]." Yes, of course.

While waiting, Hubby and I had a conversation about the fact that my mother was being sweet and was probably trying to make up for the fact that she hadn’t been supportive on the phone in the way I’d needed at the time. We thought it was a nice gesture and were feeling all warm and friendly toward her. I recalled that when a family member had finished a degree in my childhood she’d sent a dozen yellow roses and so was half expecting the same.

I got an inkling something might not be quite right when I saw the expression on the delivery man’s face through the window. Giving people flowers is a happy job so it’s unusual for the person handing them over to look both confused and sad. I got a bigger clue when I heard the strangely flat voice in which Hubby said "Um…thanks."

My mother had sent me two dozen helium balloons….every one of them pitch black.

Yes, you read that right. Less than forty-eight hours after I’d told her through tears that I’d failed at least half of the hardest test in my life, I was the recipient of twenty-four black balloons.

The card was a "Congratulations!" card on the outside and had "congratulations on your recent accomplishments—love Arnold**" on the inside.

No wonder the delivery guy looked the way he did.

Hubby was so sweet he actually thought there must have been some sort of mix-up at the florist. He said more than once "when you call your mother she is gonna be pissed at [name of local florist!] She’s gonna chew them a new one for sure!"

I knew better.

It took me over an hour to work up the emotional energy to call her at her workplace to let her know her balloons had arrived. I doubt I would’ve called at all if Hubby hadn’t persisted with the idea that it MUST be some sort of mixup because nobody would do that on purpose. Hope does indeed spring eternal.

I decided to play it ultra-cool.

I said "I wanted to let you know your balloons came and to say ‘thank you’ so…well…THANKS!"

"Well you’re very welcome…I was worried they might not get there today but the florist [LONG too-detailed monologue about the ordering process. No mention of color/style/sentiment.]"

"well thanks again…" [I wasn’t going to mention the color if she didn't.]

We got almost completely off the phone when she finally had to throw out there "I bet you’re wondering why they’re black…."

"Well, the thought HAD crossed my mind…"

Are you ready? Here it is:

Back in ninteen sixty-three I graduated on Saturday but your father didn’t graduate till the following Monday after we got married so I got to sit in the stands and watch him and everyone else. Back then the medical school was down on that campus and not up in Indianapolis where it is now and so the new medical students were all graduating too. Well when they stood up to turn their tassels everyone in the stands released black helium balloons in the air and I was just so impressed by that over all these years that I wanted to recognize you that way too.

Yeah, I know.


I ended up popping all the balloons later that night as therapy. I had many long discussions with my mother in which she would never once budge from her "I did it to honor you" position. She further insisted that she wasn’t going to apologize because there was nothing to apologize FOR. (Yes, even after my then-six-year-old said "...but Grandma, black is the color of hate!" )

So I quit speaking to her completely.

If I’d had any sense I would have left it that way…but I didn’t. In the aftermath of The Events Of Nine-Eleven (as my then-four-year-old said, "they bombed our two cities") I ended up calling her to let her know that none of my in-laws (some of which she thought were still working in the Twin Towers) had been harmed.

And now here we are.

** yes at the time I called my mother "Arnold." It’s a long story for another day.


Blogger Barbara said...

One of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in the past few years is to separate the intent from the action in others. To get past my own reaction to an event and see the action taken by another.

I think your mother's story is touching - that she remembered something from her early relationship with your father and tried in some way to share that with you is rare.

I also agree with you - you didn't get the comfort and reassurance from her that you were looking for - but it sounds like that was something you expected from her - right?

Mother daughter relationships are so tied up in emotional baggage. We are never as good a mother as we swore we would be and our daughters will not understand any of our decisions until their own daughters are grown - if at all.

As children, it is very hard to let our mothers be fragile human beings with their own share of mistakes to make. Our resentment of their inability to live up to the essence of "Mother" colors our relationship with them our whole lives.

I have been lucky enough to make friends with my Mother - but it took until I was close to 50, with grown children of my own, to do so.

Good luck.

September 27, 2007 12:29 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

Boy, talk about just not getting it. Even if she did mean to honor you, who in their right mind would send black balloons without giving some sort of context? It doesn't sound like you were brought up with that story as part of the family history, so why would you be expected to grasp the significance that she assigned to it?

That aside, though, and understanding that there's probably a lot more besides this one story, I think Barbara's probably right. Despite the abysmal execution, it doesn't sound as though the intent was necessarily malicious (though maybe within the realm of an Axis II disorder). Perhaps it's just a matter of acknowledging her place as "mother" without having any expectation that she'll ever step into the role of "mom". In any event, best of luck with the visit.

September 27, 2007 2:14 PM  
Blogger SamD said...

"I think your mother's story is touching - that she remembered something from her early relationship with your father and tried in some way to share that with you is rare."

It would be more touching if there were ANY truth in it.

September 27, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger SamD said...

"doesn't sound as though the intent was necessarily malicious"

I can definitely get you a really good deal on some land in Florida and a bridge in New York City.

September 27, 2007 2:30 PM  
Anonymous LD said...

wow. That is crazy. I gotta give you props for putting up with her. May the force be with you.

September 27, 2007 4:06 PM  
Blogger SamD said...

"May the force be with you."

And also with you.

Lift up your lightsa--No, wait, better not.

Anyhow, thanks for the kind words...and welcome!

September 27, 2007 5:18 PM  
Anonymous Diane in Chico, CA said...

It's a big disappointment when you are in a needy place (the exams) and the person who is supposed to be the adult in the relationship is so self-absorbed they can't help you at all. A big disappointment....

Hope her visit doesn't hurt too much.

At least you might have fun in the garden!

September 28, 2007 1:18 AM  
Blogger SamD said...

"Hope her visit doesn't hurt too much."

Thanks. Me too.

She left her house at 7:20 this morning with plans to drive more than half the 12 hour trip today and then finish tomorrow.

And so it begins.

October 04, 2007 9:19 AM  

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