On My Mother’s Sh*t List

We moved my now 91 year-old mother here to Texas from California about a year after my dad passed away. 

My older brother moved to Colorado from California around the same time. 

Consequently, my husband and I have been the overseers of my mother’s general welfare for the last 11 years.  Now that she doesn’t drive anymore (thank you, lord) I take her grocery shopping and to her doctor’s appointments. 

I keep track of all of her bills so she doesn’t get behind in payments for crucial things like her health insurance and property taxes, both of which came periously close to disaster awhile back when she forgot the statements were languishing in her desk drawer.

I pick up her prescriptions for her and either my husband or I fill her little pill boxes every week so she gets the right dosages of medication at the right time.  All she has to do is take them every morning.

In short, I do everything that a dutiful daughter is supposed to do for her aged mother while my brother enjoys a relatively carefree life in Colorado with no responsibilities to speak of apart from his dog and his third wife.

So this morning, the day after shlepping my mother to the grocery store while trying to ignore her unfounded complaints about the nice young couple across the street, she calls me to tell me a cute story my brother told her when he phoned today to see how she was doing in our unusually frigid weather. 

Normally he calls her about every three weeks.  The two of them have never gotten on very well and I know he’s quite happy having some physical distance between them. 

What I’ve discovered is the one who is farthest away becomes saintly in my mother’s eyes, and the one here closest to her becomes the target.

After telling me my brother’s story, she then asked me what I did with her grocery list from yesterday.  I told her I threw it away because she’d been leaving the old lists in her purse, which meant we went through most of one previous shopping trip working off of a list that was no longer relevant. 

Of course, I had to be wrong about that because she didn’t remember it.  She said she wanted to go over the list from yesterday to see if there was anything we forgot.  I said that the time to do that was while you’re still in the store, not a day later. 

And besides, we did go over the list before we left and I had asked her about an item we hadn’t gotten.  She had said she didn’t really want it that much anyway.  So this whole list thing was moot, in my view.

But did it stop there?  Ho, no, my friends.  “List-gate” went on for several more minutes, allowing my mother to get quite angry with me—which was her purpose in the first place.  If you can’t goad your adult children into an argument once in awhile and raise their blood pressure, what’s the point of having kids?

Is it too late for me to move to Colorado?

28 thoughts on “On My Mother’s Sh*t List

  1. Great post. I think it’s true in many cases that the child who lives close by gets the frustration, while the child who lives far away is idealized. I’m an only child, so I was never in that position, but I’ve seen it happen with friends of mine. You are a loving, caring daughter. Does that help?


  2. Boy, can I relate! My husband, and I, are both only children, and were each left with one, elderly, infirm parent apiece. We gave up living in the city, moving my Mom, and ourselves to the hinterlands, so that we could do what you are now doing. It was hard. Very hard. We were blamed for simply everything that wasn’t right in their lives. After only six years we lost them within a year of each other. We aren’t sorry about our choice, because it was the right thing to do, but let no one tell you that it is an easy, gratifying experience. Bless you, and know that aren’t alone in this trying time. Michele


    • Thank you, Michele, for your input! Sometimes I feel like I’m an only child dealing with this, but my hubby is a big help and that’s a huge plus. I had a co-worker who was an only child and her mother was in the hospital with multiple myeloma when her father had a heart attack. She had a parent on one floor of the hospital and one on another. She had no help from her (soon-to-be-ex) husband and had to arrange her father’s funeral on her own. I’m very lucky to have the support I do have, so I really shouldn’t complain, but sometimes it’s just one “poke” too many to ignore.


  3. i am hugging you with giagantic arms from ohio, honey! i’ve been there. as has my niece, who is the daily caregiver for mom. what people tell me when there is distant cannonization going on is that ‘she’s not angry at you, she’s angry at being dependent on someone else for all the things she wants to do for herself’.

    you’re a great daughter. but shipping her to visit your brother for a week? hmmm….


    • Thanks, Daisyfae–hug gratefully accepted! My brother and his wife have asked her to come visit but they know she won’t take them up on it, so they’re pretty safe in making the offer. They came down to see her between Thanksgiving and Christmas for two days this year. That’s the about the limit of his tolerance before her pressing of his “hot buttons” gets to him.


      • Here’s what you do Texas – tell your brother you and your husband want (don’t say need – keep that word in reserve) to get a way for – a few days? a week? whatever – and mom can’t be left unchecked that long so perhaps he’d best come for a few days. Then add a layer of ‘you know how she’d like to see you more often; it would make her happy’.

        Once he’s made the arrangements (because you WILL convince him), go ahead and cancel. Tell him “thanks, we’re not going after all, but it’s nice to know I can call when we need you.”


        (Been there, done that)


  4. Nice strategy, Moe, but he knows that my daughter and her husband live close by and would step in if needed. Besides, he knows we never go anywhere. LOL! His wife has told me that whenever we needed him she would put him on a plane and send him off to us. But that would only be in some kind of emergency situation. It’s the day to day stuff in the trenches, so to speak, that gets to ya.


    • Oh, I do know what you mean – it wears you down. After my mother died, and I was over at my Dad’s every other day for two years, where I had to listen to endless reports of my brother’s activities, as relayed to Dad in the weekly phone call. It was “Joe this and Joe that and hey! you didn’t buy me the right shampoo!”

      He died in Sept at 98 – I wasn’t fond of him, ever, nor – do I beleive – he of me, but we’d developed a strangely symbiotic relationship after those two years. I’m trying to psychoanalyze why I miss it.


      • How funny, Moe, about the shampoo. My mother is fussy about what store her non-fat milk comes from. Go figure… And she’ll ask me to have my husband do something for her “no hurry, whenever he can get around to it” and then the next day want to know why he wasn’t over there doing it. Sometimes ya can’t win for losing, eh?


      • Indeed Texas, you ‘can’t win for losing’. But she knows she couldn’t function without you being there for her. She mayn’t say it, but she knows it.


  5. Aww. It’s kind of like having a kid, isn’t it? My daughter’s always mad at me for something, and Weekend Daddy gets all the credit. Lovely post 🙂


    • Thanks, Shannon! Yes, it is kind of a role reversal, isn’t it? And I know what you mean about the Weekend Daddy—gives the kids expensive gifts while you’re the one who always has to say “no.” Been there…

      Thanks for stopping by—y’all come back!


  6. My mom lived with me, after dad died, for nine years. Now, she is in an apartment (should be in a nursing home) and I go do all those things you are talking about. My husband reminds me it really is better this way as I have days away from her. For some reason, the groceries is the most frustrating. She is OC and everything has to be just so. Yet, she leaves the apartment without the grocery list, even though she says she has it before we walk out the door. At the store, I am sent to the back of the store about five times because she “forgot” the milk, or whatever is at the other end. Lately, she has been giving me a part of the list to get and when I find her again, she has the exact same items in her cart that I do. In the meantime, my half sister, who lives across country, knows everything and my brother, who is deceased, was a saint. Is it wrong to be mad at him because he died and left me with this? Probably, but I gotta vent to someone.


    • Oh, wow, Sheryl. I actually printed out your comment and read it to my husband first thing this morning. Your grocery shopping experiences are so much like mine. Lately I’ve been taking my mother to our Walmart supercenter so she can grocery shop while I wander around the rest of the store, maintaining what’s left of my sanity, and checking back with her periodically to see if she needs help. It seems to work pretty well, except for when she tells me “Take your hand off the cart.” And when I abscond with her shopping list…

      No, you’re not wrong to be angry with your brother for dying and leaving you with the responsibility. Sometimes, in my mind, I ask my Dad why he had to go too.

      Thanks for commenting! Anytime you want to vent, I’m here for you. Really.


      • ‘Take your hands off the cart!”? OMG.

        I wish those who would cut senior programs (day care etc) would read this thread. At least when I was dealing with my Dad, I had just retired; don’t know what I would have done otherwise.


      • Yeah, Moe, isn’t that a hoot? I finally told her that it would be nice if she said “please” for once. I know she wouldn’t talk to anyone else that way. I don’t know which is worse, that or the time she stuck her tongue out at me when she was having her blood pressure taken at the doctor’s! 🙂


  7. Well, dang! At least you had a short grace period with the shoes! Guess you’ll have to buy her a notebook and tape in all her old lists. She can read them to Saint Son and tell him how you screwed up.

    I love, love the ATC! That may be my all-time favorite!


  8. My all-time favorite ATC, too!

    This’ll sound awful, but therapists get to say stuff like this so civilians won’t feel weird about themselves; we stake out weird and everybody else can feel normal (it was an incredibly successful strategy, but I digress):

    I’m an only child. When my mother died suddenly of an undiagnosed cancer, my husband and I agreed that, in terms of being easy to please, the right parent had died first. If I had had to care for my widowed mother for years, I wouldn’t have survived. My dad was the easy-going one. Caring for him didn’t kill me; it only made me sick.

    My mantra: Choose your battles, choose your battles, choose your battles. Have zero battles, if possible. You can be right or you can be sane and reasonably healthy.

    Love you, honey. Be good to my favorite ATC artist.


    • Thank you, Nance, for some wonderful advice about choosing my battles. I really try to let a lot slide because I know that much of it is just put out there to get me to rise to the bait–the “hot buttons” that I mentioned. There are just certain topics she knows will get to me if she keeps it up long enough. The young couple across the street from her is one example. They are very sweet to her and have done lots of nice things for her, but all too often she wants to criticize the hell out of them to me and I won’t stand for it. If I have to leave or hang up the phone on her mid-conversation, I’ll do it. Serenity now!


      • Go for it Texas – I eventually found myself calmly and in an even voice saying to my Dad things like “Dad – I won’t allow you to speak to me that way.” Or something. And I would finish whatever I was doing and say g’bye and leave. He heard me – was always much nicer for a few weeks afterward.

        There was a great moment in an old TV sit com – “Mad About You”. Young newly married couple; her parents coming for dinner. She’s a wreck. After they leave husband finds her flat out on the bed with a glass of scotch in her hand. And she says “why do they always know how to push my buttons?”. And he calmly said “that’s easy honey. They installed them.”


      • I have done just that, Moe–many times–both in person and on the phone. And you’re right, when I see or speak with her again it’s like nothing ever happened. I think I’ve become a surrogate for my father because I’m pretty sure this is how they interacted. My Dad would withdraw into a paperback novel as his way of gaining some distance.

        I loved “Mad About You”! I thought it was a realistic (yet funny) portrayal of relationships. And I loved Murray, their dog.


  9. I watched as my father went through that exact same situation with my grandmother. He moved in with her to take care of her, was there for her any minute of the day or night, and had to endure hearing about how wonderful his brother was, who had moved to another state. My father endured late night calls from the hospital, took her on every errand she had, and took no end of guff. Of course, his brother could do no wrong. (His brother, whose funeral was attended by both his wife and mistress, by the way.) My first thought was to say god bless your mother of 91, but I really should say that about you.


    • Thank you, bmj2k, for your kind words. I’ll accept the blessing for the both of us! It is great that my mother has made it to the age of 91 with her health (and all of her marbles) intact. That’s part of the reason why I get irritated with her for making petty complaints and criticisms when I think of my ex-father-in-law who died of colon cancer at age 82. He was such a loving and caring man to our family and I know he would have been happy to have had ten more years with us.

      I have to keep in mind that if situations were reversed and my brother was here and I was the one who lived far away, he would be the one perpetually on her sh*t list and I would be the darling. 🙂


  10. Oh d0es does this ring true. My wife’s mother lived with us for ten years — we fed and entertained and cared for her — but when one of her other children would call or write, they would be the one in her heart — while my wife was the one that all the ire seemed to be directed at.


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