From the South of France to Mt. Kilimanjaro, I've been on some truly fabulous trips. But nothing beats the ones I've been on with my mother - guilt trips. With the summer travel season approaching, I've been pondering where we'll be headed and how I'll make use of my old, worn-out baggage. Judging from our conversations recently, this is going to be the biggest guilt trip of all.
I'd better brace myself; it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Our junkets usually start with a travel questionnaire, courtesy of mom. This Q&A is designed to cover old territory, chronicling past trips. After all these years, you'd think she'd know the answers to these questions.
Question No. 1: When are you coming home?
The short answer: My mom lives in Detroit. Need I say more?
The long answer: My mom knows good and farewell I don't do Detroit. As cities go, I find it mean and self-conscious. They have a hip-hop mayor, for god's sake. Is this what civilization has come to? In reality, I left home at 11 to live with my grandma. It was an ingenious idea on my mom's part because she wanted to see me happy. Her husband, sick with TB and basically an all-purpose prick, didn't help, so she gave me a way out, to the land of cheerleading, track meets and homecoming queens.
No trip-planning session would be complete without going over rules of behavior ... hers. This leads us to ... Question No. 2: Why do you have to use such profane language?
Okay, I really didn't mean to let the f-word fly that day I was talking to my mom about my boss, but it seemed so appropriate. That said, what's a few "damns" and "hells" between two women who love each other. Besides, just saying "no" doesn't work in this family; sometimes it takes a "hell no," to let folks know I'm serious.
Moreover, I come from an evangelical family. Their messianic zeal to convert people to their way of thinking doesn't just stop with religion: It infuses everything they do. So I'm not surprised by Question No. 3: When are you going to give your life to the Lord?
How does she know I haven't? I really didn't think I had to run and tell Mom I had been talking to the Lord. I thought I wasn't supposed to speak to strangers. The subtext to this is I certainly don't look and act like someone who's living for God and I when it's time to spend eternity with my family, I won't be allowed past the pearly gates. I prefer to take the view that I'm a work in progress. Have you ever tried being perfect? Not only is it hard as hell, it's a real drag. Hmmm, am I being judged? Well, duh, of course?
Not to be stopped at the accusation of being judgmental, mom plows further down the road of condemnation: Why don't you learn to forgive and forget?
Well, why doesn't she learn to forgive and remember!? Remember that I have boundaries and not mess with my head. Remember that I don't like to be pushed to do things or go places I don't want to go. Remember not to save up a sink full of dirty dishes to wash when I inevitably arrive at her house because, as she says in a syrupy sweet yet manipulative voice, "You were always such a good dishwasher."
Are you feeling as hot as I am now? I let myself get all worked up over these trips, when all I need is a map, as any direction-challenged man will tell you (nearly all of them). A mental roadmap will keep us from going down that road, you know the one, where things get murky and scary, that dangerous territory from whence we might never emerge.
We also need to help each other read the signs and adhere to the flashing lights that say "Yield" and "Stop." There's no reason to "go there" if we stay cognizant of the warning signals that could send us careering off a bridge.
No surprise, we're both type A personalities: I got mine honestly, from being a first-born. The consummate attention-starved middle child, my mom got hers from demanding to be heard and from running a household with a sick husband, being 100 percent there for her needy kids (not me, of course) and a career to keep on track so we could eat, dress, learn and go about our lives like we were already the successes we'd eventually become. We'll need to take turns driving on this trip; we both can't be in the drivers' seat. And when the trip gets too tiring, well, that's what rest stops are for.