December 16, 2012

Caution: parental shrugging

Hart was already snickering. We had arrived at Mom's and within a half hour I had already said, "Please don't shrug," for the fifth time. Ever the therapeutic parent, I had started to elaborate by saying, "Please don't shrug when I speak to you. If you don't know the answer, say 'I don't know,' if you don't care, say 'I don't have a preference.'"

Why does this annoy me so? My mother has always been non-forthcoming and inscrutable but in the past few years her go-to gesture is The Shrug. She raises her eyebrows and shoulders, lifts both hands until they are parallel with the ceiling and stares, as my brother is fond of saying, into the middle distance. As far as I can tell, this gesture has a myriad of meanings: I don't know, I don't care, I don't want to talk about it, this doesn't interest me, let's change the subject, I can't be bothered to talk to you, I am done with you, I have no idea what is going on. But it reads as the ultimate in disrespect like the teenage eye roll, or a smart-ass "talk to the hand." I hate it.

I had purchased two airline tickets at the most expensive and most annoying time of year to travel--Thanksgiving. I did this to spend both the holiday and my mom's birthday with her in California. Since she doesn't travel anymore, our twice-yearly get-togethers have been halved and the onus is on me to go there. So I sat for a few hours on the 405 in freeway traffic, going less than 10 miles an hour the entire way. 

Thanksgiving weekend is the first anniversary of my brother's death and my first visit to mom's house since my step-father died. So in theory, at least, we have some things to talk about.

But it was not to be. Are you hungry? Shrug. What time are we expected for Thanksgiving dinner? Shrug. How is the new cell phone working for you? Shrug.

I know I cannot change this behavior, much less extinguish it, but I can't help feeling that I deserve better. No matter how thick-skinned I am, it is a rebuff.

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