When someone tells me, “You’re so nice,” I suppress the urge to scream in his/her face or step on my cat’s tail. I see “nice” as a smear of margarine on a slice of stale white bread posing as a breakfast sandwich. “Nice” is a word that hangs out with “weak” and “bland.”
Yesterday my youngest son told me, “Mom, you’re too nice.” I stared at at the floor and counted to ten while my cat sensed danger and ran under my bed. Evan was referring to how I don’t know how to say “no” when he or his brothers ask for help.
People confuse my awkward attempts to fix my loved ones’ problems as kindness. But I’m really thinking more about myself than them. Seeing my grown children wrestle with hardships fills my head with zombies craving human flesh and my stomach with rotting raw oysters. I want to get a lobotomy and puke my guts out! So when a son’s troubles make me sick, I try solving their problems so that my own head calms down and my stomach stops churning. Like the momma pelican on the Louisiana state flag who feeds her babies with her own flesh, I give parts of myself to those who were once part of me. It’s not “niceness”; it’s self-preservation.
Back in the 1980s and 90s my number one job was to feed, love, and protect my kids. For twenty years I enjoyed the unconditional love and respect of at least one of my sons at a time. Baking poppyseed bundt birthday cakes or taking them to see the latest Pokemon movie made me a momma bear they could count on, and in return my head and tummy relaxed. Back then all I needed was a quick hug from a sweaty five-year-old to make me believe I deserved all the gold foil stars life could give me.
Crystal, my mom-guide/ consultant/ therapist, told me, “Living and caring so much about our kids is the yen and yang of our lives.” Preach! My own momma taught me to feed my kids rich, spicy foods, to make them laugh, to sing them songs as soon as I first made eye contact with their infant eyes, and to crave their company as much as their approval.
These days I pray to Mother Mary, “Please evict these hornets from my brain and settle the marching soldiers in my stomach – or at least make them trade their combat boots for Dearfoam slippers.” Is “Let go and let God” even possible? When a grown son sobs or has no appetite for his favorite food, I’m pulled into an underworld ruled by a satanic kind of Worry. I obsess and ask, “How can I help him smile again?”
I’ll drive the streets to help Evan put up fliers about his lost dog. I’ll make Casey a turkey sandwich and drop it off at his work when he’s too busy to take a lunch break. I’ll drive Shane to an urgent care clinic when he’s on crutches and worried about a swollen foot, and I’ll try not to take offense when he criticizes my clinic choice.
Last week Evan told me,”You worry too much, Mom.” He didn’t know that as soon as each son took his first breath of life I became his caregiver, protector, cook, teacher, nurse, dictator, confidante, and judge. And then Worry (a huge belching, farting, frowning dictator) plopped down in my head – forcing Common Sense (a tidy secretary) and Optimism (a grandma who crochets as beautifully as she cooks) into the back room of my brain. Worry claimed a throne right next to Love (a wise, patient librarian) where they both have ruled my life from that day forward.
When I told Evan I was writing about my tendency to be “too nice,” he gave me a side hug and said, “You’re not really too nice, Momma.”
I nodded at him and winked at my cat. “Right!”
Then my boy with the dark beard that hides his half-smiles and the keen brown eyes that reveal his artist’s soul turned up one corner of his mouth and said, “Everybody else is just not nice enough.”