I Called My Mother

My husband and I have some strengths.  Dealing with household maintenance is not one of them.  Several weeks ago, when we noticed the odd moth flying out of the pantry, we probably both knew this was a sign of something.  True to form, though, we both ignored it.  Perhaps they would go away, or someone else would do something?  Perhaps they they were flying in from outside, it being summer and all?

Perhaps not.

At, like, three weeks post-partum, I decide that maybe the moths are actually coming from within the pantry.  In a fit of courage and competence, I pull out the drawers of the pantry and take a look.

What do I find?  Just, in a bunch of foodstuffs, the nauseating sight of what I will refer to as “bugs” to spare  you the disgusting details.  I pinch a corner of some contaminated bags with a finger and a thumb and throw them in the garbage.

Even I know this will not do.  The cupboards need to be emptied and cleaned and all the affected food tossed.  In addition to six deep shelves of the pantry are also three cupboard shelves on the other side of the fridge that need attention.  It’s a big job.  BIG.

So, I do what any self-respecting, almost-forty-mother-of-three would do.

I call my mother.

Not just call.  I practically hunted her down.  When she wasn’t at home, I left a message there and contacted my sister.  My mother was supposed to take care of my sister’s daughter the next day but understanding the desperate circumstances, my sister arranged alternate childcare for her daughter.  Yes – we changed my mother’s schedule for her.

Did I consider other options?  Fleetingly.  I certainly did not want to do it.  And I did not trust my husband or a hired cleaner to do it, because I believed that a missed crevice would mean the bugs would just come back.  I wanted someone really careful.  An expert.

I did ask my mother if she would please help, but this was kind of a formality.  I arranged a babysitter for my two older boys, and told my mom that the job would take approximately two to three hours, with both of us working.

And possibly the job would have taken about that long, or maybe only an hour or two longer, had I actually helped.  I preferred, instead, to watch my mother work from the couch and moan periodically at my lot.

In my defence, I was tired, and I did have to nurse the tiny baby.  On the offence, however, I didn’t have to nurse for over eight hours, which is how long my mother worked to make my kitchen less attractive a homestead for the bugs that had perched there for God knows how long.  The truth is, I’m not sure I’d have been less useless had the kid count stayed at two.

Predictably, my mother was annoyed at points.  She said things like, “Don’t talk to me”.

She also discussed the situation with my kids, because of course when the babysitter returned the boys, my mom was still working. To my older son, she said matter-of-factly, “Your mom is bullying me”.  She was more cheerful with the three year old.  While teetering on a chair to reach the back of a high shelf, she sang out “Nat, you want to catch me when I fall, Nat?”

At one point, my mom pulled out some wild rice in a glass dish covered with a plastic lid. Although we could see no bugs in this container, my mother didn’t dump its contents straight into the garbage.  Rather, to be thorough, my mother retrieved a small plastic produce bag from a rack in our cupboard, placed the bag in the kitchen sink, and carefully poured the wild rice into it.  But when she lifted the bag to put it in the garbage, the rice gushed out of a huge hole in the bottom of the bag.  “This useless place,” my mother seethed.

I lowered my head and didn’t make much noise, but couldn’t stop my body from shaking.  Eyes on the floor, I could feel my mother staring at me, pissed, and eventually I was overcome, laughing with abandon, tears coming down, at her expense, at her trying so hard to help me, at the life that is mine and that I apparently cannot manage.

And then, instead of taking the rice and whipping it at my head, which was surely in order, my mother burst out laughing too.  Which is all the testament you need about the sheer manipulative power that children lord over their parents for all time.

As the night waxed on, though, and my mom got visibly tired, my brazenness waned.  The job turned out to be huge; I didn’t think it would be that bad.  Or maybe I did, and that’s why I called for her?  The last thing I said to my mother when she left late that night, and when I called her first thing the next morning, was “I’m sorry”.

How did my mom react to my pathetic requests for help, apart from giving it?  Well, she did say that she didn’t want to come over for two weeks, that she needed a break from her weekly visits.  But then she showed up at our door the following week as usual.  And in response to my morning-after apology, she just chuckled and said, “It’s okay, dear”.

One of the perks of exclusively breastfeeding a newborn is reading more than I have in ages.  A few days after The Big Clean, I read this excerpt from Kristin van Ogtrop’s book Just Let Me Lie Down (p. 138):

Mother load:  The hard, enduring truth that you are selfish and your mother is not, and that you must pay her selflessness forward to your own children, who may never thank you and certainly will never love you as much as you love them.

Good God, I hope the last part of the sentence isn’t true; but up to the word “children”, the statement sent rounds of recognition ringing in my head.

Of course I ought to have cleaned my own cupboards and I won’t be making such ludricrous requests of my mother in the future (I hope, I hope).  But I’m in the midst of a fairly high dose of selflessness myself these days, with three kids five and under, and I guess I was simply seduced by the luxury of having someone to fall back on.  Not just any someone, but someone who wouldn’t say no.  My mother, in other words.  It’s hard to describe this kind of security, but its value, I suspect, is understood equally well by those of us who have it and those of us who don’t.


15 thoughts on “I Called My Mother

  1. Oh how I love these blogs… Not sure what we would do without our Mom’s.
    For those who know my Mom the advice flows freely whether you want it or not but she has more energy than I do…and it amazes me.

  2. Wonderful post. And you have a wonderful mom. And that quote rings true all the through for me.

    Also, a tip on those nasty moths: I put all dry goods, upon purchasing, into our freezer for several weeks. Apparently this kills the moths (or the larvae). While I only have anecdotal proof that this works, it has worked for years at our house. Tightly sealed containers are a worthwhile investment too, to prevent the spread, if you happen to bring home an infestation.

    • Thanks, Carrie. I’ve put flour into our freezer before, but just for 48 hours. On the advice of my mother-in-law, I now have most bulk food items in glass jars with lids that twist on. And I may now have to take my mother’s advice, which is to do a yearly clean out of the darn pantry.

  3. I call my mother anytime that I need serious reinforcements. No matter how old I get or how many children I mother, I still need her. There is something very comforting knowing that you can pick up the phone, make an insane request and know that the answer will never be no.

    Aren’t mothers great??

  4. Those bloody moths. Very tough to get rid of.

    Get rid of all dry goods that are not, have not always been, completely sealed. Take some clear tape and tape over all of the screw holes. Store all open packages (like that bag of almonds you rolled up and tied off with a twist tie) in the fridge. They can grow in the slimmest of crevices.

    Your mom is a saint. Your moths are the devil’s agents.

    • Hadn’t thought of the tape idea – thanks! So far, so good – no return of moths (thus the desire for expert help). My mom is incredibly helpful, and the moths came close to undoing me, I swear.

  5. Oh, your blessed mother!
    Ted’s brother taught us that tape trick, I think. The moths like to lay eggs in tight spaces, and apparently all those pre-drilled holes for shelving are ideal homes. Also, when you now bring in new bags of flour, oatmeal, etc, empty them into sealed containers and toss the paper bags immediately. The eggs are often in the folds of paper at the top of the bag.

    • Thanks Nathalie – I’ll take the tip. Just bought a 5 kilo bag of whole wheat flour. We bake quite a bit, so it shouldn’t last that long, but I’m loathe to take chances now.

  6. We had that happen once, a few years ago. Luckily, they only took over one cupboard, not several, but it was a job and a half. Your mom is indeed a saint.

    • You kinow, Marcelle, the worst part is I’m not sure I would do the same in her shoes. She’s a good cleaner and gets pleasure from a clean job well done, but I don’t! I hope my sons’ ridiculous requests hit me more towards my strengths so I can pay it forward, because I know I can’t pay it back.

  7. Yuck. We have a mousy house so all our dried goods are in sealed containers. One cupboard with bottles of stuff has had moths for ages, however, and we’ve been ignoring it. And now you’ve made me realize that I can do so no longer. I have enlisted my husband and we’re getting to work. I’m terrified of what we might discover. Wish us luck!

    • Oh Kerry, I feel for you. Hopefully your stores won’t be a total mess. For what it’s worth, only parts of the pantry and other set of shelves were affected, but we (I mean my mother) had to clean out the whole thing to be sure. But because I was grossed out, I threw out tons of stuff to have a fresh start. I wonder where they’re coming from if your bottles are sealed? I guess all it takes is one little thing. Luck, luck, luck.

  8. I love your mum! This resonated with me because my mother passed away the year before I gave birth and, to this day, I feel her absence desperately. She lived so far away, I couldn’t have called her to come and help — but even a voice on the other end of the phone makes a huge difference.

    Make sure you think of little ways to let her know what a treasure she is.

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