I had expected a few things when I headed home this week. The Metz would have saved a variety of tasks for me to do, for instance, and I would be drawing upon unknown reserves of patience to kindly but insistently shut down any conversations where she began criticizing other family members.
My stock line (“I’m not comfortable with this type of conversation. Let’s discuss something less negative”) was repeated ad nauseam until one day in the car, I cut her short and said, “I haven’t heard you say a single positive thing since I got here two days ago. You might not realize it, but you are being intensely negative and critical.”
That was, in a nutshell, my trip: Several, repeated attempts to have a productive, respectful exchange, followed by an inevitable, more blunt and slightly less respectful come-to-Jesus moment.
- “The neighbor girl is eleven years old. No 11-year-old gets up in the morning and thinks, ‘You know what sounds like an awesome way to spend my summer vacation today? Pulling my neighbor’s weeds for $10.’ You might have to ask her more than once.”
- “I understand that you like living here, but do you think it’s really fair to rely on other people to do all of the work so you can live like a recluse in a house you can’t help maintain?”
- “You need to tell your neighbor to stop asking you to save things for her, because she’s not picking them up and they’re cluttering your house.”
OH MY GOD THE CLUTTER. Not the large-scale things, like the treadmill and recumbent bike that hadn’t been used in years, but an overwhelming quantity of clusters of small things. In-sane.
That’s a kitchen counter/dining room and a corner of the family room downstairs. (Go on, click to see them bigger.) I tackled the kitchen first, because it bothered me most.
So much stuff needed like five seconds of work — why are those (empty) boxes sitting there? (Answer: no idea.) What’s in all of those old paper bags? (Answer: photos.) Where’s the lid for that green lettuce holder? (Never found.)
Plastic containers proved to be a point of contention. Between the dozen empty plastic margarine, Cool Whip and ice cream tubs and another dozen Tupperware, Ziploc or Rubbermaid containers and lids that were missing their partner pieces, there was a big opportunity to streamline the offerings down to what you see here. That’s 40 containers of various sizes (plus four glass ones, on the lowest shelf so the heavier items are at arm’s level instead of higher) — and The Metz still fought me. Eventually we compromised: I did not make her take the other ones to Goodwill right away, but I did not put them back in the cabinet, either. (Consider them in storageware limbo.)
When people look at organized cupboards/cabinets/closets and say, “Oh, I wish you would come and do that at my house,” most often I reply, “No, you don’t, really,” because most of us are uncomfortable letting go of things.
Sometimes you hold on to possessions because you don’t want to admit that it isn’t worth as much as you had hoped. (That six-pack of J.R. Beer you’ve been carting around since the ’80s? A novelty item, not a collector’s item.) Sometimes the value is more sentimental than material, evoking either pleasant memories or future plans. (Those aren’t just margarine tubs, for example. My niece and nephew were going to need them for “craft projects” at some school, some unnamed year in the future!)
I may appear to fall on the unsentimental side of the spectrum, but it’s more that what I keep has particular use, meaning or value. Those photos from an Easter at my aunt and uncle’s when I was a sixth-grader can go. A Bible written in German that belonged to my grandfather? Sorry, but ditto. Just because an item belonged to someone special doesn’t make that item special, too.
And that’s where the real battle is going to lie for us. Even as The Metz realizes that she’d be better off at a senior residences type of place with activities, meals — hell, even a spa and weekly linen service! — I think the prospect of giving up so many mementos will be overwhelming. My friend Krist was very wise in suggesting that the process could be two steps — first, moving into the new place; then, after a few months for acclimation, going back to sift through and give away, sell or trash what didn’t make the cut.
In the meantime, I had hoped to introduce her to email, but we actually needed to start with how basic computer skills. Not like, “Oh, she’s not familiar with Excel spreadsheets” — like, she had never used a computer or a mouse before. The day we visited the library, the Internet was down — gaahhh! — but I was able to at least get her familiar with the mouse, thanks to the joy of Bejeweled. (She didn’t master the click-and-drag technique, but moving-and-clicking was progress enough for the few hours we had.)
We also took some time to compose a letter in Microsoft Word. You and I take even basic computer literacy for granted — email, word processing docs, mp3s … but everything was brand new to The Metz. It was amazing for her to see how if you mess up when writing something on a computer, the error can be rectified with just a few keystrokes. (But a little intimidating to tackle those keystrokes, and the differences between a typewriter keyboard and a computer keyboard.) I’d love to see her take a Computers for Seniors class so she’d have another outlet and activity.
I got to sneak out occasionally, whether for drinks one night with my niece and her boyfriend or an afternoon excursion to wash the car and get Potato Oles, a delicious little side dish from Taco John’s. (They’re basically tater tots with seasoning on them, and they are amazing.)
After four days, I was ready to get home; I have no idea where my sister TJ, who lives only about 15 minutes away from The Metz, pulls her reserves of patience and love from, but I salute her for it. Like I told my mom right before I left: “The rest of us parachute in for a few days, then disappear for the rest of the year, but she’s here every week. When you consider that she’s also trying to have a full life as a mom and wife, it would be great if you could respect the effort that she’s making, instead of telling me how she’s not ironing your jeans when she’s here.”
We’ll see. In the end, I told her that I can only suggest things, and it’s up to her to either do or reject them. At least I can say that I gave it a good-faith effort. And that I was really smart to book my return flight on Thursday, so I’d have the full weekend to recuperate before I headed back to work.
|WHAT SAM WORE: 7-24-11|
|The shirt: Vintage tee from Buffalo Exchange.|
|The shorts: Workout shorts by Champion, from Sports Authority.|
|The shoes: “Top Winner” sneakers by Puma, from the Puma store in New York.|