once upon a time, i lived in NJ with my parents. they’d recently moved into a lovely but enormous house. my mom was overwhelmed by the white walls while my dad failed to notice their color at all. the options were two: spend their golden years in an entirely white home or routinely hear my mom lament this fact.
something needed to be done and luckily a third option presented itself. my mom hired a cool but fussy decorator to guide her. he’s the type who, when he saw our jackets on the back of the sofa, would ask, “oh, are we decorating with clothing?” over time we learned to appreciate his tough love approach, but his visits still evoked fear in my mother’s heart.
he was expected at the house one day and i was in the kitchen, being part of the solution by emptying the dishwasher, when my mom pounced on me.
“julia! what are you doing? john’s coming and this place is a mess! roar!”
now, for as long as i can remember, my mom assumes certain postures that correspond to the gravity of a situation. if it’s bad but reparable she’ll put her hands on her hips. sometimes i even call her “arms akimbo.” but the mayday signal is when she shoots her hands directly to her head.
so there she stood, hands in hair, yelling, trying to rile me up and “take the bait” by engaging her in a pointless argument. the problem was my lack of stress. i was not combustible with anxiety, which did not fit into my mom’s plans. she wanted a fear festival in anticipation of john’s visit. and ordinarily i might have yelled back about how i was helping by emptying the dishwasher, etc.
but i’d recently started this yoga thing, where the teachers kept talking about reactions versus responses. the first is knee-jerk, impulsive, and unconsidered. in short, the stuff you might regret later. the latter is planned, measured, and bulletproof, argument-wise.
i took a moment to think, then said, “mom, you can try and make me upset about john coming over, but it’s not going to work.”
wanna know what happened next? she walked out of the room.
it was surreal. this coup rivaled anything that’s happened on “homeland” this season. by calling her on her nonsense and denying the reaction she wanted i’d completely deflated her.
as the holidays rapidly approach and tensions run high with preparing, shopping, traveling, wrapping, and negotiating various relatives and personalities, take a minute to consider, how you can be more responsive and less reactive?
i imagine this is how my mom felt after i dissed her: