Talked to my mother on the phone yesterday. Somewhere in there, she threw in, “Oh, by the way, pray for me, I have a job interview Monday.”
“Where, doing what?”
“Well, you know the person who comes to visit your sister and help her out…”
And then my mind was blown.
See, my sister and my brother–the two who still live near my parents–have continued struggles with hoarding. Well, I think we all do in one way or another. But that particular sister, even when utterly disgusted by my parents’ house, has essentially admitted that she doesn’t care if her house is a level 1 or level 2 hoarding house, but she freaks out and cleans furiously if it gets to a level 3. Now, to me, I don’t want my house to class as a hoarding house at all. A level 1 barely classes, but a level 2? No. Not okay to me. (For more about hoarding levels, see here.)
But that same brother and sister have each done something with their own homes that my parents never did: they sought help. They have people from a particular organization come help them with . . . organization. (Why are those the same word? That’s confusing.) These visitors (different visitors for each sibling, I believe) help them get rid of things they don’t need to keep. They help them generally have a better house than we grew up in.
And this is the job my mother wants and has an interview for tomorrow.
But in me there’s a person who always wants to believe the best of everyone when it’s at all possible. A person who firmly believes people can change, and that said change is only made more difficult by others assuming that the person won’t change and treating them as though they haven’t changed even when they have.
And there’s this personal scenario that keeps running back through my brain. See, a couple years ago when we lived with a friend, I hadn’t even wanted to move in with him because, while I was trying hard to learn how to keep a house better, I wasn’t there yet. (I’m still not 100% there yet, but way closer.) But he was my husband’s friend, my husband discussed this with him and he said he didn’t care, and he really needed roommates to help with rent until he got married. So we moved in.
I tried. I tried very hard. And I grew, and I learned. But I still look back on that year (slightly less, actually) with guilt and shame. For one thing, whenever I wasn’t there yet for whatever reason–depression hitting again and I just didn’t care, or I really was trying but was still in the learning curve of how to manage the various things, or whatever else–it wasn’t just our friend who was affected. His fiancee frequently came to visit. His parents occasionally came. And of course we had our own visitors as well, but at least we knew when they were coming. I felt awful when our friend had visitors. I wanted so much to explain to them–even just to explain to him–that I knew this wasn’t a good way for the house to be, that I was trying really hard to not keep it that way but it was so unnatural for me and I’d never been taught how to, that I really was growing and changing and getting better at keeping up with the house but it took such a long time that it was hard to see unless you’d known me for a couple of years.
He was a very easy-going guy. He really never seemed to mind. But I’m fairly certain his fiancee did. And I know for a fact that at least two other friends of ours did–one of whom essentially cut off our friendship for many reasons, but a starting point to the ending conversation was pertaining to the cleanliness of the house, how we’d packed and cleaned while moving, etc. In other words, how the house was while we were there (living in most of the house, with our friend actually living mostly in his room) was affecting, not just us, not just our friend, but many other people as well.
And I have this recurring fear that one of those people affected by that will come to our current home and see that I’ve improved even more, and rather than rejoicing with me over how much more I’ve learned about keeping a clean house and encouraging me as I continue to learn, that they might instead say (or at least think), “Why couldn’t she do this twgo years ago? Why was that house so messy and now she’s actually taking responsibility?”
It’s something similar to various other things I’ve experienced. About correcting the grammar of others, about interrupting people, or in my brother’s case, about irresponsibility. I’ve realized that no matter how you work to change these things, a lot of people will continue to treat you as though that’s who you still are. No matter how many years you’ve been making a point of, say, not correcting the grammar of others, some people will still treat you like you do it every time anyone else speaks.
And that’s what I do NOT want to do to my mother. For one thing, my father is really the hoarder. My mother acquires the traits of those she’s around, absorbs those traits as long as she’s around those people. Therefore, with over 30 years of marriage behind them, she’s absorbed certain of my father’s traits, including the tendency toward hoarding. But left entirely to her own devices, she’s not naturally a hoarder. She’s not much of a housekeeper either, but she can do some things.
But the other thing is, their current apartment, as of the last time I was there (admittedly a couple months ago), was actually being kept in a fairly reasonable state. I mean, my husband is still allergic to it because of mold spores long-since settled into the furniture. My mother spoke of needing to sweep the floor as though it was a rare occurrence that needed doing only because my son got popcorn on the floor, even though I (who hate shoes) refused to walk barefoot in there because the floor was so gross. And I am fully aware that they have about half a houseful of useless stuff packed away in storage somewhere. Boxes of papers they don’t need and such. But still, there weren’t other things on the floor. There was miraculously no cat mess. There were actual floors, not just narrow pathways through large rooms. The dishes, though still not what I would consider well washed, were at least washed and put away.
No, my mother never taught me how to clean or organize. But then, she was working full time and the only driver in the family, and I was only one of five children. My father was home with us full time. The responsibility for teaching us should have fallen to him.
And no, my mother never kept a very clean house. But again, she was working full time. At least some of that responsibility should have fallen to my father.
I have never felt any real connection with my mother. Never in my entire memory, and I have memories from when I was about 18 months. But I’m realizing more and more how much should have been my father’s responsibility that, whether due to physical health or mental health or just his own laziness (and I’m convinced it was a combination of all three), he did not take responsibility for. So right now, I’m just holding out hope that my mother sees how she failed us growing up (not entirely of her own doing), and she wants this job to help others avoid the life that we had. Well, at least the physical household. The yelling and blaming and neglect are something she can’t fix by helping others get organized, but maybe she hopes to at least teach others what she failed to teach her children.
But I have to admit, as much as I hope that’s true, I’m much more inclined to believe that it is as my sister said: “She wins at denial.”