On Friday, I’m flying to Rhode Island to spend the weekend with my parents and my cousin and her family.  Since my cousin, her husband, and their 3-year-old son live in England, their infrequent visits are a pretty big deal.  Since Mr. Apron is working this weekend, I’ll be transporting myself to New England via US Air.

My cousin’s plane doesn’t arrive until Saturday night, but I’m flying in Friday morning, which means I get almost 2 whole days with my parents.  That means, grossly speaking, with my mother.  When I asked her what flights I should book, based on what time she could pick me up from the airport, she cheerily replied that her whole day is wide open.  Mom is an attorney for the state of Massachusetts, and if she doesn’t have court scheduled or a visit with a client, she’s pretty much flexible in her schedule.

Which means I can prepare myself to get dragged around on pointless errands, wild goose chases for Scandinavian chestnuts or fire-truck-themed party hats, and to see countless things she’s been saving up for me.  I can usually only tolerate a weekend of being home, but I also usually have my buffer/husband around.  Last visit, over Christmas-time, Mom and I had a huge blowout, and I had to keep running back to Mr. Apron for moral support and to gather up my strength to do it all over again.  Last time, I had a meltdown in Nordstrom because Mom dragged me there to help her pick out a new shade of lipstick.  Last time, a major snowstorm stranded us at their house with our energetic, yet not quite potty-trained puppy, Molly, and their 3 insane dogs.  Last time, I struggled to communicate my needs to my mother, my needs to have my emotions allowed and validated.

Because I come from emotionally immature/limited stock, it’s challenging to express any emotions beside contentment, joy, gratitude, and agreeability.  These emotions will only encourage her to ask you to wrap packages, make dinner (nothing normal, of course, but something requiring the shelling of 7048 scalding chestnuts), accept vast quantities of expired and/or unwanted junk food, and “help” her with 3 dozen more mindless tasks.  “I don’t feel like it” or anything more negative than that (anger, depression, resentment, sadness) does not fall in the scope of acceptable. 

This either leads to a grin-and-bear-it attitude through clenched teeth and internalized resentment, or else an explosive drag-out match between logic (me) and stubbornness (her).  Mom is, after all, an Aries (and a narcissist). She finds a way to redirect all conversations to an anecdote about a client, or a tangent about some valuable lesson she learned, neither of which have to do with the issue at hand, but it’s not about the issue.  She doesn’t listen to me when I’m anything but happy, but again, it’s not about me. 

So I get a choice, of sorts this weekend – I can go along and get dragged around, or I can try to assert myself with my own preferences.  That is, if I had preferences.  But what do I want to do?  If I go along, that has to be my choice, too.  Mr. Apron shared a story tonight about David R. Dow, the author of “The Autobiography of an Execution”.  He relates in his book (which Mr. Apron is currently reading), that he, as a 3rd grader, missed a bathroom break at school and later pissed his pants.  Complaining to his father, looking for sympathy, he was met with the father’s maxim: “You shouldn’t do something unless you’re prepared to accept all the consequences”.  I guess my visit to my parents’ house is similar.  Not only the choice to go there in the first place, but my choice to either remain silent and complacent, or to speak up and assert my own preference for  activities. 

The latter is tricky for me – not in general, but in Rhode Island.  Since I didn’t grow up there, I don’t have any friends there.  I don’t have any old stomping grounds or hang-outs or places I remember going.  My longest period of time there was a summer I worked at Ben & Jerry’s and went with a coworker to gay clubs every weekend.  I didn’t exactly establish community or a sense of belonging.  I don’t have a childhood bedroom, or a space that is mine.  Everyone in that house seems to gather in the kitchen anyway, much the way kitchens functioned before central heating in Colonial times.  The kitchen was the center of activity, the hearth, the core of a home.  The living room and dining room are sealed off from dogs, as is the family room, or as we’ll forever call it, The Addition.  It will never quite be a part of the home as if we’d grown up with it.  We never played endless games of Monopoly in the family room, or opened Hanukkah presents there.  We never did homework sprawled on the couch or had sleepover parties on the floor.  My brother and I never built pillow forts or fell asleep under warm dogs there.  My father has installed a Rube Goldberg machine of a sound system  such that my mother and I can’t even sit down to watch Sex & the City without his tech support, let alone a movie.  During Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the last movie I watched at their house, the amplifier overheated every 9 minutes, letting out an ear-piercing spark, killing the circuit, and necessitating being reset. Though Dad has allegedly rectified the problem with another contraption, I think I’d have PTSD effects if I tried to watch any more movies there.  We watch TV instead on the 10” set mounted on their kitchen wall, while not lounging on the $5000 leather sofa purchased for The Addition, but perched instead on $5 folding chairs from Rite Aid while seated at the kitchen table.   We never established a use of the room as a family room, so it will always remain The Addition. 

I guess I never established use for Rhode Island either.  I’ve explored the far corners of the nation’s smallest state, from Purgatory Chasm to the Norman Bird Sanctuary.  I’ve hit all the small towns full of antiques, from Block Island to the shops of Newport, and I’ve seen Blackstone Bay, where my brother once took us sailing.  We’ve had soft-frozen lemonade and coffee milk, and the Mayor’s marinara.  We’ve eaten within walking distance of the East Side and on Federal Hill.  I’ve been to county fairs and triathlons.  I’ve been hiking in the woods of Chepachet, and partying in the mansions of Warwick Neck.  I’ve done it all, but as a tourist.  It’s a fantastic little state, but not one I’ve ever lived in.  Over the years, I’ve even managed to take Mr. Apron to all the sights I enjoyed, but none of them are mine.  And so when Mom asks if I have any special plans for my visit, I usually demur. 

I don’t have a solution right now, so I’m dreading the visit, as usual.  Maybe I should take a page out of Mom’s book, and invent some bullshit activity I have to do, like cutting out a dress pattern, or sourcing an obscure flavor of yogurt, so the running around will be on my terms.  Then I can make her chauffeur me around, since I don’t drive a manual, and every single one of the 5 cars they have parked at the used car lot their house is stick-shift.  Maybe I have to make her come with me to buy styling products to maintain my new hairdo.  Maybe I have to go to an antique store in Barrington, or look for cufflinks carved from Dodo whiskers for Mr. Apron.  Maybe I have to hunt down shoes and a headband to match my as-yet-uncut dress pattern.  Maybe I have to do things her way in order to do things my way.

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