Of late, my 84-year-old mother has developed a tendency to latch on to random ideas and not let go. This past Tuesday was no exception.
I sprang my mother from her assisted living facility for a 45-minute joy ride through the lush countryside of northwest New Jersey. The destination was Genesis Farms where I pick up my produce every other week. It's a nice outing for Mom and we get to spend some quality time together.
Her first random idea: Eggs are the enemy. When we got to the farm, I expressed disappointment that there were no eggs. Apparently the locally grown variety had sold out because of the recent national salmonella scare. Then, as if lecturing in a classroom, Mom turned and announced loudly to everyone in the farmhouse that "eggs are no good for you and you shouldn't be eating them." This, from a woman who vainly tried to get me to eat egg salad sandwiches for most of my childhood. Was she secretly trying to kill me? As a backup plan, I thought we could stop at Ralph's Egg Farm on the way to lunch. Mom would not hear of it. Not eating eggs had intensified to an impassioned cause. So I promised her I would not get any. This made her happy.
For lunch, we partook of a hallowed Jersey tradition and stopped off at a local diner. Like most restaurants of this ilk, the menu had a few hundred selections and Mom responded by taking a quick look, clapping shut the menu, then announcing that she would have whatever I was eating. Unfortunately, what I preferred to eat was a salad and I knew that wasn't what she wanted. I chose three favorites of hers from the menu and asked her which she liked best. She chose the hot turkey sandwich. Then I ordered a Caesar salad.
Second random idea: Food must match. The waitress left and Mom glared at me as if I had tricked her into ordering lutefisk with arsenic. She informed me in no uncertain terms that she would not eat her meal. I would have to eat it, because she had wanted the same thing I was ordering. I did not follow this logic, but the realization set in that despite my desire to have a salad today, it would have been better to have ordered the hot turkey sandwich.
There was a long silence between this realization and when the waitress finally brought the food. Mom stared at me, her arms crossed. It reminded me of my own stubborn posture when I was little and she had insisted that I could not leave the table until I finished eating everything on my plate.
The waitress came, my mother quietly watched her set down the food and she stared at it angrily because it did not match mine. “Just try it…” I suggested. “It looks good.” Fortunately, Mom was hungry, so she grudgingly picked up a fork, discovered her lunch was tasty and soon scarfed down the entire meal before I finished my salad.
“I’m glad you liked it,” I said, hoping for detente.
“I wanted the same thing that you had had,” she replied bitterly. This had never been a requirement before, so it had caught me off guard.
“You’re lucky you didn’t order it,” I said. “It wasn’t very good.” Which was true. It was a boring pile of lettuce crowned with overly dry chicken chunks and little else. It did not inspire hunger, so I had it wrapped to take home.
Perhaps this latest twist in Mom's behavior is karmic payback for my being an impossibly picky eater when she was raising me. I feel certain I was not a delight to have around at meal time. Now it's her turn. When you think about it, sooner or later, life has a mysterious tendency to balance things out.