Need To Overcome This

There are probably many reasons why I should curb my obsessive-compulsive tendencies. This is likely one of them.

Ever since we convinced my mother to sell her house in Los Altos back in Summer 2012, she has stayed with me when she’s in town.  We reasoned with her that she’s been spending more time in Manila over the last three years. This is because it had become increasingly difficult for my father to travel. In late 2011, he fell several times at the Los Altos house, one of which necessitated sutures for a 4.5 inch gash in the back of his head. Yeah, he’s stubborn and insists on clinging to whatever last vestige of independence he could muster. But this had meant some trips and falls when he would decide to suddenly get up from his armchair and shuffle hurriedly to either the bathroom or the kitchen, sans walker, sans nurse, sans aid from anyone.  He forgets that his balance has been deteriorating. (Ugh! I still remember the bloody mess in the bathroom when my hubby and I raced through HWY 280 at 7:00 on a Sunday morning after my mother’s frantic call  It was supposed to be a lazy day…)

It was also high time that my mother not be alone for prolonged periods of time in a house. She had left the stove on and gone to bed a few times in Los Altos. On one of these occasions, the caretaker who lived in the house when she went away, was awakened by the smell of burning food.  He rushed out of his bedroom to find the soup she had left simmering had dried up and whatever was left in the pot was beginning to burn.  The next day, when she was informed of the mishap, she smiled sheepishly and dismissed the event as an anomaly.  The rest of us siblings were all too shaken, let alone mortified. The house was saved similarly by my father’s nurse, who we had asked to go around and check the house before she retired to bed every night.

The transition has not been easy for my mother. When she’s in the United States, she is fiercely independent.  She cooks meals, does her own laundry, cleans her bathroom, takes her medication like clockwork.  She even packs her own travel bags.  Of course, it’s completely different when she’s in Manila. There, she has a secretary and a personal  assistant.  It is a starkly different life there, such that she does not even hold her own phone or send her own text messages!

And so, it has been about three trips now since late in 2012 when she would stay at our place.  We had moved some of her things to our house. We had to convince her to let go of quite a lot of accumulated stuff when she sold her house. We did not have a lot of storage in our own home, we reasoned.  But she still managed quite a few plastic storage containers full of odds and ends.  We take some of them out when we know she’s coming.

Kitchen, photo credit Likeitiz

Kitchen, photo credit Likeitiz

When my mother is in town, my kitchen is turned upside down.  My fridge is full to the point that I have to rearrange the contents daily just so the door can close properly. I had been planning to shut down the upright freezer in our garage. I had thought of selling or giving it away.  It had been empty for about a year already. But, when my mother is in town, that too is stuffed to the gills!

What is it about sales on poultry and pork shoulder that has her buying enough to feed an army?  Or the 20 heads of romaine from Costco?  Two whole chickens to make Hainanese Chicken for dinner for the three of us? (Two chickens make for a richer broth, she reasons.)

Ever since my hubby and I became empty-nesters and we only occasionally have to feed young people who have hollow legs like my daughter, her friends or my nephew Matt who lived with us in the past. I have refrained from stocking up on large amounts of food in the house. In the recent years, I have even gone the opposite direction. I buy what I need for the next day or so. I go to our neighborhood supermarket 2-3 times a week. I visit the farmer’s markets on the weekend.  It has made for fresher food, less clutter of forgotten mysteries lurking in the back of the freezer.  We also don’t consume as much as we used to anyway.

If there was ever a place in the house I seem to have heaped all my predisposition to obsessive-compulsive behavior, it’s the kitchen.  It has become the source of head-shaking-upward-rolling-of-eyeballs resignation from my hubby and daughter.  It has to be clean. And orderly. And everything in its place (A place for everything and everything in its place.).

Initially, I’d go through the angst of seeing just about all my counter space filled with days of foraging in different markets–Asian supermarkets, Costco, Safeway, a favorite butcher in San Francisco, and stuff brought in from Manila.  There would be avocado seeds drying by the window sill for a planned future propagation.  Or a case of pears or mangoes that looked succulent, fragrant, and a great deal too(!), loosely arranged in one corner to ripen. There would be stalks of lemon grass, leaks, and herbs propped on my various pitchers and vases. Some plantain would be wrapped in brown paper bags and tucked under my onion baskets to over-ripen.  My paella pan has become a catchall for fresh heads of cabbage, Chinese eggplant, long beans, zucchini, celery stalks, and bell peppers of all colors.

She has complained that I don’t have big enough pots or pans. (I have one medium-sized stock pot. My largest pan is only a wok, which, by the way, she had purchased for me a long time ago).  She tells me after working in the kitchen daily for a month now that my knives are beginning to dull.  My soy sauce container is too small.  I should have purchased a gallon container. (But that would have taken me years to consume!)

I would say nothing.  I would wait until she goes to bed close to midnight every night. Then I would move all the clutter and proceed to scrub all the counter tops with soap and hot water. I’d wipe down the cabinet doors for drips.  I’d scrub the stove and wash the grills. Check my exhaust filters if they need a good scrubbing in the dishwasher. Reorganize the fridge and freezer. Throw out any leftovers longer than a week.  And move any utensils that were stored in the wrong drawers.

Sigh! The kitchen is ready for battle again the next day.

My daughter once commented that she is reassured I’m not teetering towards some dangerous path because my office desk always looks like a typhoon has just blown through it.  But my kitchen? Well, I have curbed much of my prickliness over the constant disarray. My mother seems happiest when she’s creating something in there.  She tells me the smaller size suits her.  But she insists on making enough food to feed a multitude most of the time.  At 82, she’s still full of gusto and passion for her craft.  (Did I mention that my mother, along with her sister, founded a food company almost 50 years ago that now employs 7000 people?)

How can I possibly get in her way or dampen this enthusiasm? If anything, I should enjoy her creative productivity while it lasts.

This entry was posted in Aging, Empathy, Family, mother-daughter relationship, Parents, relationships, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Need To Overcome This

  1. says:

    We could be twins. I run my now empty nest in a similar fashion. I get a nevous twitch when something is out of place. You are doing the right thing and I am proud as hell of you. My mom turned 80 yesterday and is still fiercely independent and lives alone on 19 acres inn the country. I think about these days ahead a LOT . I also think we would kill each other is we lived together. Conversely I also am envious of Asian cultures that nurture multiple generations in one loving home.
    Hopefully you find a compromise. HUGS! I think I will call my mom right now and say “hey” !


  2. Bless your mother’s heart. Now that you mentioned that she founded a food company, made sense that she feels she needs to do something in the kitchen.

    “Then I would move all the clutter and proceed to scrub all the counter tops with soap and hot water. I’d wipe down the cabinet doors for drips. I’d scrub the stove and wash the grills. Check my exhaust filters if they need a good scrubbing in the dishwasher. Reorganize the fridge and freezer.” Sounds like obsessive-compulsive to me. 🙂


  3. auntyuta says:

    Your mother, what an amazing woman she is! And you, as her daughter, well, you sound just lovely. I think, your mother is very fortunate to have a daughter like you! I am, as you probably know, pretty close to your mother’s age. However I seem to have very different priorities.

    You say: “When my mother is in town, my kitchen is turned upside down. My fridge is full to the point that I have to rearrange the contents daily just so the door can close properly.”

    Well, this sort of thing happened to Peter and me over the last Christmas period when we had three extra adults staying with us who were all very keen to relieve us from having to do extra kitchen work and shopping. But then this lasted for only one week and then they were all gone again, leaving the fridge full of “stuff” that had not been eaten yet!

    I hope when perhaps in the future I cannot walk properly anymore without the aid of a walking stick or walker that I won’t stubbornly refuse these gadgets that could help me to walk! Why not welcome these gadgets if they can help you to stay more mobile?


    • likeitiz says:

      I do hope you will avail of these newer gadgets. My father gets impatient with them, unfortunately. Like I said, he’s a stubborn man.

      As for your fridge, sigh! I hate throwing things out, you know. I tend to make food enough for a meal and only a few leftovers. They get “recycled” into our salads or soups. But with the huge batches my mother makes, we can’t keep up with the leftovers. I either freeze those that can be frozen or we end up throwing them out or giving them away.


      • auntyuta says:

        If you have the option of giving away some of the food, this is absolutely wonderful!
        I did grow up during a period of great food shortages in the 1940s. My grandmother made use of every morsel of food. I think, I am the same! But of course that means you cannot ever let food go bad if you can help it. My grandmother used to say throwing out good food is a ‘sin’!

        My family is great. I very much appreciated all their efforts in helping with the catering. On Christmas Eve we had fifteen people (all of them family members) in our home. Some of them did bring food and drinks along. It was mainly cold cuts of food and dips and salads that was on offer. Only three people stayed with us for the following days. Without my becoming aware of it they got the idea of doing some washing with my washing machine. I am sure my son for instance meant well, doing his sheets and towels before he left for the airport to return to Melbourne. Little did he know that one towel in the laundry was not to be touched. It was a towel I used as a rag only. In hindsight I am very sorry now that I raised on him for putting it into the washing without asking me first.

        My daughter and her partner had travelled very lightly on the train from Sydney. They soon felt the need to wash some of their personal things. In the end all this washing caused some dire problems for we do not have a dryer and the weather turned very bad on the 26th of December: It did rain continuously! The following day the sun did shine again and all was well.


  4. omnia says:

    You’re mother sounds like a blast!


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