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?