A Weekend in the Country of Westchester with My Parents and Knives

Visiting my parents is always entertaining, if you want to spin it up positively. If they could go 30 seconds without screaming at each other, I’d gladly hand them a reward. They are both just overgrown kids who throw frequent temper tantrums. No wonder I have issues.

My favorite part of the visit is always the standard ask your opinion and then yell at you for giving it conversation. Take, for example, the remodeled upstairs bathroom, where the tiling has been done extremely poorly and my parents are trying to figure out what to do about it. It would be great if when they ask me for my opinion they actually wanted it, or even if they knew what sort of opinion they’d like in return so I could just play their silly little game. However, there’s never a right answer.

The upstairs remodeled bathroom, although it’s just a bathroom, is much more than a bathroom. It was the place I found solace throughout my childhood. Yes, the wallpaper was fraying and the pipes under the floor had a leak sending drops of water onto the dining room table below. But for years, I locked myself in that bathroom, not my bedroom, after getting into arguments with my parents over who knows what. It was the only room I had access to with a lock that worked. I sat for hours in the bathtub and stared out the window over our large grassy backyard. It was soft and gentle, not the most high fashion or anywhere near it, but it was, strange enough, my room.

Throughout my 20s, coming home to my house has been an unsettling experience. For many who moved throughout their childhood, any one home likely has significantly less meaning. But from birth until age 17 I lived in the same room. When I left home for college my parent’s remodeled the kitchen and added an entire family room (and spent a small fortune on the changes.) It looks nice, but it didn’t feel like home anymore. I was ok with that, as the upstairs, my stomping grounds, remained the same.

Now, the upstairs bathroom is filled with sterile white tile with somber grey specks. Instead of soft, comforting wallpaper it now has stark dark teal paint, and instead of a welcoming, wide mirror, it has a heavy, clunky medicine cabinet with a chopped up mirror that protrudes out into the space. The toilet, once a comfortable throne suited for a princess, is now much too high, sloped oddly, and suited for some other royalty, likely a king. It may seem silly to have such an emotional response to a bathroom remodel, but in my life I’ve been more connected to space than I have been to other people. I took some time in the bathroom – which once was my bathroom, and mourned its passing.

Thus, it was hard to separate my opinion of the new bathroom from my parent’s asking me for my review. I told them that I agreed the tile work was poor, and I didn’t like the design at all. It felt like a bathroom that belonged in a jail or mental hospital, not a home, with the exception of the very jarring dark blue walls.

That critique really didn’t go over well with my father, who said that I’m being silly, that it was just fine. Then my mother started to go on about how she wanted to hire a decorator, and instead of my father laughing at her desire to hire a decorator, he started to scream at her, angrily. “Stop it,” he said, getting increasingly more upset (though if you asked him later he would exclaim that he wasn’t yelling at all.) My mother, of course, with her high-pitched voice continued on about how she wanted to hire a decorator to help determine what to do in the bathroom, but dad said no, which only increased his irritation. He sat grating his cheese for our dinner tacos so vigorously I thought he might accidentally grate his own fingers, punctuated by a rageful “look what you made me do!”

In order to attempt to calm the situation, I told them that the bathroom is fine, that it doesn’t actually matter that I don’t like it because I don’t live there anymore. My mother said “but you don’t like it,” egging me on to continue for more torture. At 30, I’ve finally learned that just because my mom was encouraging me to continue talking, I really shouldn’t. I said, “I’m not saying any more.” My father, clearly upset with me, said “good.” Then we sat in silence until the next topic to bicker about magically appeared. That, of course, didn’t take long.

Ironically, for a man who can’t live more than a few seconds of his waking life not picking a verbal fight over something that doesn’t matter, the issue at hand right now is his inability to handle firing a contractor that has done shoddy work. My parents are remodeling three of the four bathrooms right now in the house, which isn’t a cheap project. They interviewed a handful of contractors and chose the person who gave them the cheapest bid for the fastest delivery. It’s pretty clear that’s the wrong way to go about hiring a contractor, but they had grand ideas of pulling apart the master bedroom and wanted to keep costs down.

The contractor was apparently recommended by the son of the man who has been cleaning our house for years, a man who also has been verbally abusive to my mother despite his long tenure as our weekly cleaning person. It seems as if the general contractor did a decent job, but his subcontractor who did the tile work made a bit of a mess. The tiles are crooked, the grout is splatted about like a Jackson Pollack painting, and many of the tiles are even chipped at the corners.

My father decided to pay the subcontractor in full instead of fighting for him to redo all the tile work, or to for the general contractor who subcontracted the project to take responsibility for it being done well. Why? According to my father, he doesn’t like conflict.

Let me pause so we can all appreciate the absurdity of that statement.

It doesn’t make any sense to me that my father loves debating and being right more than anything, yet he gets all soft when it comes to making sure he is getting his money’s worth out of services he’s paid for.

It also gets me fired up that they are getting taken advantage of by this contractor who hired a subcontractor to tile the bathroom and delivered something that looked a bit like an amateur arts & craft project.

Speaking of arts, at the moment, I’m in the car with them heading up to visit an arts festival in Westchester County, and to visit my aunt. Driving anywhere with my parents is a bit of an adventure. I.e., an adventure in not committing suicide from the backseat. I’m glad the GPS doesn’t have feelings because she seems to get involved in arguments without knowing.

My father’s temper is really terrible. My mother and I aren’t exactly the easiest people to get along with. My mother is extremely self-absorbed. I also am. I guess I get it from both of them.

It just isn’t acceptable for an adult to respond in the way he does. Sometimes, he is right that she is being selfish, and not thinking about him, but that doesn’t merit exploding in a temper tantrum in the middle of a public place. Or in private.

For example, on the way to the art fair, a store called “artistic tile” was on the side of the street. My mom muttered “Artistic Tile,” making a comment obviously related to the tile issues. I heard her, and knew it would set him off, but hoped he wouldn’t notice. He sort of heard her. She continued, “we’ll go in there and look at the tile,” in the way she half jokes. This did set him off. Out of no where, he explodes, “just shut up! Shut up. Stupid!”

Minutes later, unable to follow the GPS directions, he argues with her about not helping him understand its next turn while he’s driving. The roads are confusing, and some roads are closed, so he’s getting increasingly frustrated. We turn off on to a road and another car almost hits us. My mom says “watch out” and he flips at her. How dare she assume that he wouldn’t see this car. He exclaims — “shut up! shut your fucking mouth up!” Yes, my parents clearly love each other.

That was just the fun start of the afternoon. Things got worse. The art fair was rather small, and I was enjoying seeing the artists. We even ran into my aunt’s ex husband, who makes these beautiful kaleidoscopes out of wood. Due to my massive anxiety over seeing people I know, I didn’t want to go up to him, but my mom doesn’t care at all what other people think. (Well, she does in a weird way, as how you look matters, but has no idea how others perceive her otherwise.) So we went up to him, and I got to see his really incredible woodwork, and she started to tell him our life story, not noticing or caring about whether he really cares. She has no ability to think about what other people want, or how they feel.

Putting my mother and father together in one space insures violent chemical explosions constantly.

We didn’t spend long at the art fair, but we spent long enough for my father to have a loud temper tantrum in the middle of it. Speaking of fair, to be fair to him my mother and I were spending a bit too much time at one booth where were purchasing jewelry. My mom spends a lot of time at a booth because she likes to talk and talk and talk to the person at the booth, telling them her life story and all sorts of random things. I prefer to not talk at all. I’d rather not be seen. In fact, my mom talks so much that the sellers remember her from fair to fair. At this particular booth, the man selling the jewelry said she’s “memorable.” I introduced myself as memorable’s daughter.

The fair was tiny, and my father who walks slow had made it up and down the one row of exhibitors in under an hour. His goal was to find a painting to replace the one currently sitting above the fireplace. He loves to buy fair-quality art and make his home look like a museum. But we had already seen him after he walked up and down the show, and he said that he hadn’t seen any work that he liked. I assumed he was sitting on a bench like he typically does once he is “done” with any given activity.

So my mother and I were finally making our purchase and my father calls her asking where she is. She told him that we’re paying, which actually was true. It took a while to pay because the receipt had to be written by hand. I didn’t think to go look for my father, as he was probably just sitting somewhere enjoying the day, waiting for us to finish. But he wasn’t. He was getting increasingly frustrated that he didn’t know where we were. He had supposedly walked up and down the one row of booths and hadn’t seen us, so he was sitting and waiting, getting himself all worked up.

When he finally saw us, he completely flipped. He starts screaming at her, saying to return the purchase, that he’s going to cancel the charge. He walks up to the man in the booth and tells him to his face that he might as well consider the charge cancelled. I’m humiliated and upset. I tell the man not to worry because my dad will forget he said that a few seconds later, but partially consider putting the purchase on my card just in case.

In the middle of everything, here we have my father, extremely angry, not quite screaming, but loudly telling her that he is going to cancel the charge as soon as we get home, that the jewelry is a good as gone. He doesn’t let it go. He is so frustrated that we didn’t come to look for him, which is a reasonable thing to be frustrated about, but his reaction is not at all mature.

I advised my mother to not say anything about the jewelry in the car. Specifically, I told her not to point out that she was wearing the new earrings. I wouldn’t put it past him to rip them out of her ears and throw them on the ground. I begged her – please – please, do not mention the earrings.

The car ride to my aunt’s house from the art festival was a heated one, where I lost my own cool. My father kept going on about how he’s going to cancel the charge. That upsets me mostly because it hurts the artist and frankly doesn’t make any sense. He wouldn’t let it go. I lost it.

I don’t lose my cool that often, but I do, it isn’t pretty. I’m not exactly sure what I said, but I went off telling him that he’s evil, that he’s a bad person, that his heart is made of coal. I felt bad saying it, but it didn’t really matter what I said, nothing would get through to him. And he’s right, we were being rude, my mother is rude and doesn’t care about other people, and I am too at times, though I’m trying really hard to change that. But his childish reaction is unacceptable. You don’t go screaming at other adults in public places. You don’t call a woman you’re married to a jerk, or tell her to shut the fuck up, unless she’s saying something really offensive. Watch out for that car you are about to hit does not merit to be told to shut the fuck up.

This all built up to me just exploding. It’s not just today. It’s everything. It’s my whole life. And I can’t handle it. I’ve lied my whole life trying to make sense of how to both be a good person and how to impress my parents. I am not proud of myself that I just told my father I hate him (it wasn’t the first tiem, but it was the first time in a while) and I did explain why – as he said that he’s not evil, and put the blame back on my mother, and exclaimed that “evil people do evil things.” I followed that up, not missing a beat, with “you do evil things. My entire life you’ve abused my mother. You’ve always been a very bad, mean person.”

It isn’t like saying that matters at all. You’d think he would be upset at me. Or have some sort of reaction. That right now, 30 minutes later, there’d be some sort of difference in how we’re all talking to each other. But no, my parents are now talking to each other like normal. My dad is pretending nothing happen. I’m pretty sure my mother has just gone numb to it all, not even since him, but since growing up in a house with her own crazy, narcissistic mother. The crazy gets passed down, generation to generation.

It didn’t help matters that we were late to visit my aunt too, who was upset at us, and I felt very bad about that – we made plans to come over much earlier and even though my mother made us late to begin with I made us more late because I was doing work all morning. Work that has gotten a bit out of hand because I made the scope of the project somewhat unreasonable for the time available, and it needs to be finished this weekend (which, honestly, I don’t even think is really possible.)

… now dinner is over. Despite dinner being mildly eventful (my mother spilled a glass of wine on her sister after her sister warned her almost a dozen times that she was going to spill her wine), it was not at all reflective of the earlier events of the day. This is how my family works. There are many moments where one would wonder why on earth my parent’s are still married – or should I say, how on earth they are married – like now, as they are fighting with the GPS and each other over not clearly explaining what the GPS was saying.

I feel bad now, about telling my father I hate him. He has provided for me, paid for a very good life.  But, as we covered at dinner, I was miserable as a child, which he blames on my eccentricities while I blame on my parent’s eccentricities. My aunt called my mom out on praising me too much as a child, making me feel more special than I actually am, or that anyone is, and I’m pretty sure that had something to do with it. If your mother believes you are more talented than everyone else your age then you’re going to start believing that too, and feeling terrible when you cannot meet these expectations.

… Now I’m home, in bed, getting work done, and feeling bad about what I said to my father. On so many levels he’s a great dad – he has provided for my family and hasn’t asked much in return. I just wish either of my parents would know what it means to have empathy for other people. Because I grew up in a house sans empathy I find it extremely hard to care about anyone, only to want to hurt in order to feel anything. The truth is, people who do not care about others, do not know how to care about themselves. So your life becomes this game of chasing after all the wrong things. When you find the right things, you don’t know what to do, you throw them back into the grab bag in order to find the next. It’s easier to keep looking when you are looking for transient explosions of feelings good and bad before returning to your otherwise numb state.


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One thought on “A Weekend in the Country of Westchester with My Parents and Knives”

  1. Sorry to hear about this mess. But I am glad you made it out of this somewhat dysfunctional situation and appear to be a rational person with a promising career and nice boyfriend.

    Now, if you feel bad about what you said to your father, then you could consider apologizing to him with the words at the end of your post. It should at least make you feel better, and could even set an example for him to follow, one day. Other than setting positive examples, it’s hard to fix your parents. Nonetheless, you may eventually still have to step in to take care of them, if their physical or mental capabilities deteriorate enough. Hopefully they’ll at least save some money to help pay for the appropriate care.

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