'round and around and around and around

The fickle finger of fate has been flicking my anxiety disorder all week. It's part Christmas preparations, part home repair projects, part financial concerns, part sick/injured kid, part business development. But the thing that I think is putting it over the edge from just life-stress-that-I-can-handle to stress-that-makes-my-brain-go-whirly is my mother. Or more specifically, the gift she sent.

All I want is to be left alone. But like a kid in the back seat of a car whose sibling has declared a particular line uncrossable, she cannot resist the temptation to put a finger over the line. Just. One. Finger. And just as kids can't stand that kind of willful defiance of a boundary line ("MOM! He's looking at me!), I can't stand that she's continuing to contact me. It interrupts my calm and it pisses me off. 

While I had been decreasing contact with her for years - first without realizing I was doing it, then later more purposefully, No Contact "officially" began last spring, when I wrote this to her and my father in an email message: 

"I am writing to ask you to stop contacting my family, including myself, [my husband, and my children]. Please do not attempt to contact us in any way, whether by phone, in person, via postal mail, or by email or other internet services."

I knew that she probably would not stop, but I felt the need to lay down a specific boundary, so that if she continued to contact us, I would know that it was in direct opposition to what I had requested. While I wish that she would just LEAVE ME ALONE, every time she sends something, it's a reminder that she has never respected my boundaries and still does not respect them. It's a confirmation: nope, you did not imagine this, she really doesn't give a damn what you want. 

Since I sent that email, she has shown up on my doorstep once, sent multiple postcards to my children, sent birthday cards to my children and to me, sent email multiple times to my husband, stalked my personal blog, sent a holiday card, left birthday presents for my children at the door, invited us (via last-minute email to my husband) to Thanksgiving dinner, and sent a bag of gifts for my children with relatives, who sneaked the bag into my car

So far, birthday cards and postcards get recycled. Gifts for kids are spirited away before they can see them and the items are donated. One son has some awareness of this, and seems both curious about the gifts and indignant that my mother disrespects my wishes. I hate that he knows about it, but it's hard to keep a pre-teen in the dark when stuff just shows up at your house. I can't intercept everything.

Anyway, I'm used to this, even though I dislike it. As each birthday or holiday approaches, I wonder what form her contact will take. I sigh inwardly and prepare to whisk gifts into the attic and into donation bags. 

I wasn't ready for the gift that came last week, though. 

This time, it came by mail, in a small box. I have been receiving parcels recently in preparation for Christmas, so I assumed it was one of the items I ordered, and picked it up, and recognized the return address as the source of one of my mother's go-to gifts. It's edible, and it's something my entire family really loves. It's also perishable, so I couldn't stuff it in the attic and think about it later. I had to either preserve it or throw it away, right then. 

I put it in the fridge, still in the cardboard box. I needed to figure out what to do. 

This is the first time I've received something from her that I actually want to keep. The thing is, I also don't want to keep it. I don't want to accept a gift from her, on principle. I don't want to eat food that I know came from her. I don't want to be reminded of her while I try to enjoy it. I also don't want my son to know that I kept this item (he asked my husband what the box was, and my husband answered honestly instead of dodging the question) even though I get rid of toys and clothing sent to him. I feel like my sanity requires that I get rid of it. My sense of ethics demands that I not throw it in the garbage. My sense of consistency demands that I treat it like any other item sent by her. Get rid of it. 

My husband is lobbying for taking it to the in-laws, to share with them, so that it's out of my house but he and my son can still enjoy it. This makes me uncomfortable. It can't be easily donated because I would have to find a person who can take it off my hands and put it straight in their refrigerator. I don't want to give it to friends or a neighbor. I want it out of my social circles. (Is that crazy?) I'm frustrated that I can't give it to Good Will. 

I partly want to go downstairs right now, grab it, and take it out to the trash can. But I know what it costs, and that it was made by hand by hard-working people, and I know that it could be enjoyed by somebody, and I can't stand to waste food like that. 

And so I go in circles. I can't decide what to do, and so it haunts me every day, woven in and out of the background chatter of my other daily concerns. It's pretty bad for ye olde anxiety disorder. 

I can imagine that someday I won't care, and will be able to either eat it without a second thought or pitch it / re-home it right away.  That day has not yet come. 

What would you do? 


  1. Hi Claire,
    I feel you on this. It's hard to reconcile our personal character (not wanting to be wasteful) with the rock-and-hard-place scenario they put us in. It's also hard not to want to have something that you know you will enjoy just because of the place it came from. Here's what strikes me from your post.

    "I feel like my sanity requires that I get rid of it. My sense of ethics demands that I not throw it in the garbage. My sense of consistency demands that I treat it like any other item sent by her."
    I think that a person can be sane while being unethical and inconsistent. I do not think that a person can be ethical and consistent without being sane.

    You don't say what the treat is specifically, so I'll just call it cookies. And I think that those cookies were bought and paid for with blood.

    What would I do?
    I'd donate it to a food bank or, if you don't have one of those handy, take it to your local toys for tots/clothing closet/homeless shelter/domestic violence shelter/children's shelter and donate it to the volunteers at one of those worthy causes. Instruct them to refrigerate it or eat it immediately.
    Turn it into something good at this generous and happy-spirited time of year. I just bet she'd hate knowing that you turned her boundary violating jab into a happy thing for a non-involved party!

    IMO, of course, and I'm very sorry that you're having to deal with so much. I'm thinking about you!


  2. Can you mark it return to sender and bring it to an outlet for whichever shipper was used to mail it to begin with? That way you won't have to pay return shipping. I realize your item is perishable, but maybe the shipper will expedite the return. Regardless, that is not your problem.

    That's what I'd do. Then I'd order the same item for myself, if it were still something I wanted for myself & family.

    Alternatively, you could mail it to your mother or you could find a soup kitchen or elderly home to bring it to

  3. Throw it away. Throw it away. That's the only thing I can think of. It's a trick. It's her bomb. That's exactly why she sent it to you, because it was "good." You know how they say when the devil comes back, he'll be wearing a nice suit and tie? That's exactly it. Sometimes the worst things come in the prettiest packages. That's exactly what she's doing. It's not ethically wrong to throw it away because we are thinking of yourself here. It should be fair to you. Do what you want. If you don't want to bother yourself with it, throw it away. If the smaller bombs were worthy of being thrown away, then so is this one, especially. It is just a bigger bomb. She is playing to your guilt and your sense of undeservingness. No one is going to smack you over a lost cake. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made. This is a sacrificial cake.

  4. Dump it. Now. "Someday" isn't a given-today is all we're guaranteed, so to speak. I have starved here in the 'Land of Plenty' and every year about this time I remember the hunger....Christmas of '81 I weighed 95 lbs. on my 5'6" frame. I joke at times and say I was hungry before it was fashionable. Where was my narcmother THEN?
    For years post-NC at Chrstmas she would send some sort of food box that promptly went in the trash. Believe me, I GET "throwing food out" and the accompanying guilt and live with the effects from starvation to this day. What was sent was not 'food:' It was a huge hook-no more, no less. And was followed by a snail mail letter demanding I write a thank you note to her for her gift. Her "note" arrived in 1984-a four line one terminating the relationship. I said it, I meant it and the more time and distance you put between you and her manipulativeness the more clearly you will see these "gestures" for what they are and not agonize over decisions. Further, I had no intention of "re-gifting" this transparent manipulation. Food is meant to nourish-not "narc-(am)bush."
    I donate time, effort and $$ to my local food pantry year around. You feel guilty about throwing it out? Write a check for the approximate amount to a local food pantry or a place in your community that feeds the hungry. In fact, ANY amount would help.
    FWIW, dump it and go on with your life. If you want-or your family wants-what ever's in that box, buy it yourselves. No "food" is worth the price to your sanity, peace of mind and above all continuing recovery from her BS.

  5. Personally? I wouldn't have a problem eating it. But I totally get the conundrum and the "crazy" (I don't think they are crazy) thoughts you are having about this food item.

    I like Lisa's comment - "It's a sacrificial cake." For sure! Sacrifice the cake, not your sanity!

    I think you're right, Claire. Someday, you'll be able to eat that cake without hesitation, because you'll no longer FEEL the strings your wicked NM has attached to it. But for now, it's clear that this stinkin' food accomplished at least PART of what your NM wanted it to accomplish (make Claire feel bad? Check). But don't give her the satisfaction of knowing that it bothers you (contrary to what vicariousrising suggested, I would suggest never returning any gifts - keep them, reuse them, or get rid of them, but sending them back to the sender sends them the message that they are getting to you...it's a response of sorts.)

    So her ruse didn't accomplish everything she wanted - you haven't come running back to her because of her stupid parishable gift. I would mark that as a victory, throw the thing away, and as others have said, buy one for yourself with your own money if it's something you and your family really want. Eventually, you won't need to do that and you'll be able to eat the whole thing with only the most minor of thoughts about its sender.

    I'm sorry you have to deal with this. I know all too well the feelings you have described:

    ""I am writing to ask you to stop contacting my family, including myself, [my husband, and my children]. Please do not attempt to contact us in any way, whether by phone, in person, via postal mail, or by email or other internet services."

    I knew that she probably would not stop, but I felt the need to lay down a specific boundary, so that if she continued to contact us, I would know that it was in direct opposition to what I had requested."

    Sheesh. Been there, done that. You'd think your NM and my NMIL were the same person.

    Wait...are they?

  6. Ah, I know what you mean. I always found it ironic that these attempted contacts always came on days like holidays and birthdays and not random days. Therefore, I could not see it as an honest attempt to try and reforge a relationship or forge a different relationship.

  7. Winterskiprincess, that is a really good point. Holiday/birthday contact seems more like ye olde obligatory gifting than a personal, meaningful attempt to connect with somebody.

    Jonsi, I almost wish they were the same person! That would mean that one of my brothers stood up to my mother. If only!

  8. I, too, started subconsciously distancing myself from my mom. She lived about 5 minutes from where my wife and I moved, yet I only spoke to them about once every two weeks or so. She hated that. How she put it: "You've made it very clear how little you want to do with us." She was right, but not how she meant. She calls me hateful and angry. Again, totally right, but not how she meant.

    As far as the gift, I'd re-gift, possibly to someone you'd like to show appreciation to, but wouldn't necessarily spend that much on. Your child's teacher, the paper delivery guy, the mailman, a neighbor? -S