Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Grandmothers and the Martyr Complex...

Over the years I've come to take extreme pride in my dysfunctional family. When I was a kid, I was probably embarassed by it but now I embrace and accept it. I am who I am in part because of it and that suits me fine.

Though nothing that happens in this family should surprise me, every now and then I am just taken back in amazement at what some people will do for a little attention. Take my grandmother for instance. Now if you're thinking "Oh my God tell me she is not going to tell the entire world about her grandmother" rest assured, yes I am and grams does not read my blog, she doesn't even own a computer. This means I can say whatever I want and she'll never know.

Everybody lies! Of course she'll know. She's grams, she knows everything. Somehow this is going to get back to her. But long ago I said to myself that if I'm to write about my life, at least some parts of it, then I have to be honest. And I love to be honest about my dysfunctionality because most people can't be honest about it in their own lives. So, if they can't laugh at theirs, at least they can laugh at mine. I've got my own personal sitcom here known as my life and it would be a downright shame not to write about it, don't you think?

So back to my grandmother. Ninety-three years old, 5 feet tall, jet black curly hair, feisty, lovable, stubborn, born and raised in a well-to-do family in New York, from Italian & Sicilian descent, married into a Jewish family, used to throw silverware (she denies it), and wore a lampshade on her head after having a bit too much Mogen-David wine (according to my grandfather, though she denies it), and she's been known to hold a grudge. Oh yes, Italians hold the best grudges. Best word to describe her? There isn't one. One word wouldn't suffice (though once dad did refer to her as dragon lady, affectionately of course). Grams is an interesting person, she can bring out the best and worst in you. You can love her and think she's a pain in the ass all at the same time. She's a wonderful giving woman with a huge heart and there is nothing that she wouldn't do for her family. And this wonderful woman we all love to pieces has a martyr complex as wide as the day is long but she'll deny it to the end. And this makes it all the more fun to write this next part.

In times of crisis, I'm generally the type of person people go to for help. It makes me a good problem-solver which is one of my strengths. I'm the one who gives advice, analyzes problems and researches solutions. When there's a problem, both at work and home, people come to me. So it comes as no surprise that a few people in my family, like my parents, my grandmother, her sister and my own sister have asked me to take care of things for them in the event of an emergency. I have no idea what makes me so adept at this sort of thing, I guess I was born this way. Had my parents seen this "gift" in me early on I'm sure they would have had me preparing for the LSAT and entrance to Harvard Law School at the age of three. Anyway, given my talents at administration, organization, and problem-solving, and my rather fair and just nature make me perfect for the job.

When grams asked me to take care of her power-of-attorney, medical proxy and her will, I was fine with that. I mean, she wanted to make sure that her daughters didn't have to worry about it when the time comes for her to go to that great Italian restaurant with red-checkered tablecloths and chianti, in the sky. We discussed what she wanted me to do, I listened carefully, filed it for future reference, said "ok" and that was that, or so I thought. With grams, nothing is that simple. It seems that every other month she wants to remind me that she has put in her savings the amount of money necessary for her burial as well as every other thing I already know. There really isn't much to know which is why I have it all memorized.  I don't like to rehash it, I mean I don't want to think about the day she goes, but I'm not an idiot and I don't need to be reminded every sixty days. That said, grams is grams and she always has to have the last word and she's never one to let something just go, no she has to develop something out of completely nothing. Which leads me to this past weekend's events. Mom and grams were having a conversation and out of the blue, grams says to mom:

"Naomi, I want you to have my power of attorney, just in case I drop dead while Jessica is on her vacation." 


Now what grams said may not seem a big deal but then again You. Don't. Know. My. Family.

As morbid as it sounds, the first thing mom did was laugh (inwardly I'm quite sure) and the first thing I did when I heard this was laugh hysterically because...this...this was so typical of grams. Nobody else could come close.  Here she is in perfect health with absolutely no medical problems. I guess at her age, she could go anytime, most likely of natural causes, but seriously here she is planning for her final exit during my roadtrip vacation, planned for May. This vacation all alone is a big deal to me, and I haven't had a real vacation in 20 years. This is so like her to pick that time to go

Now, there's only one of three reasons she said those words to my mother. One, she's upset with me because I haven't talked to her in a month (mind you it's not personal I just haven't felt like talking lately), two, she's losing her mind (just not possible, I mean she can still run circles around the rest of us), or three, she's actually getting the last word she so utterly craves every moment of every conversation by actually planning her permanent visit to the big Italian restaurant in the sky to coincide with my vacation.  I'm going for door number three because nobody likes to have the last word more than grams does. Nobody.

Now, none of us wants to think their grandmother as the Great Manipulator but seriously I know this woman, she would actually do this. She would actually plan to just go while I'm on vacation. Actually it's really epic, I mean for her this would be the ultimate final exit. Not even Gloria Swanson's performance in "Sunset Boulevard" would compare. Grams performance would be so worthy of a special Academy Award for "Best Performance of a Martyr" and maybe, just maybe, if I prepare ahead and write the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences right now they can have the award ready in time for the big event. Of course, just as Christina Crawford did in Mommie Dearest, I'd be getting the last word because I would be accepting the award on her behalf. After all, she'll be dead right?. Wearing an incredibly awesome strapless Vera Wang gown, I'd rise from my seat between my pals Helen Mirren and Ben Kingsley to give my acceptance speech on behalf of my grandmother of course. I'd take out the acceptance speech which was of course tucked neatly in the upper part of my gown along with a digital camera I'd be using to take pics of my buds in the audience while onstage (a la Lisa Edelstein at the PCA),  and then my speech would go something like:

"And I'd like to thank the Academy on behalf of women everywhere whose stubborn old grandmothers with martyr complexes embedded in their DNA going back generations, decided to get in THE last word by choosing to drop dead while their beloved granddaughters were on the first major vacation they've had alone in TWENTY years. Thank you so much."

Naturally, I'd receive a standing ovation. I mean come on, there's no way my grams is the only grandmother like this!

Oh grams will deny the martyr complex but really the damn thing is hereditary. She gets it from her mother Josephine and her grandmother Giovannina,  both of whom were stubborn, hard-headed, Sicilian women who always thought they were in the right, and I do mean always. Now while it is handed down from one generation to the next, thank God it skipped my mother and her sister and my sister and me. Now my dad, may he rest in peace (until mom or grams gets there anyway), would probably disagree that it wasn't passed down but you see, given that he's no longer with us to share his humble opinion, you can just take my word for it. It didn't get passed down. Of course mom isn't 93 years old yet so there's still time. But it'll never get passed on to me. I don't need it. I can skillfully manipulate but by using common sense and logic, not guilt. I have to admit though, if the Academy decided to give a Statue for the "Greatest Performance of Manipulation Using Common Sense and Logic" I'd be worthy of it. By that I mean I'm just good at convincing people to compromise based on just plain old common sense and appeal to logic, fairness and justice.

Yes, I'm that good. And if my grandmother can win an Academy Award, why can't I?

Now I'm asking myself how I am going to approach this subject with grams because this is just too good to let go. I'm picturing the conversation we've yet to have. It would go something like this:

Me: "Now grams what in hell is going on with you planning to croak while I'm on vacation?" and trying not to laugh of course because that would sooo piss her off.

Grams: "Hey watch your language. And you know we need to have a plan in place just in case something happens"

Me: "You're going to just keel over while I'm on vacation? Seriously, who does that?" 

Grams (with eyes rolling): "Oh stop it, that's just nonsense. I'm not saying it will happen, but if it does, we'll be prepared. I don't want there to be any problems."

Me: "What problems? We'll just wait till I get back to bury you. They have freezers in the morgue."

Grams: "That's ridiculous."

Me: "No it's not. Ok look you're not going to that big pasta palace in the sky while I'm on vacation and if you do, well I'm not going to cancel my vacation. Geez grams, you couldn't pick any other time to go? I mean there are other great times of the year to up and die and make people feel guilty like oh say my birthday, or even your daughters' birthdays, or better yet--hey how about Christmas? Now there's an idea, nothing like shouting 'here comes the big one Elizabeth' while holding your hand to your chest and and then falling down the stairs as you're getting ready to sit down at the table and have Christmas dinner with your family."  

Now of course after grams picked her jaw up off the floor, I couldn't even predict how the conversation would go after that and maybe I don't want to because in her younger days she was a pretty good aim with silverware. But I'm sure I would make dad proud to make her speechless for once and I am sure that it wouldn't be all me doing it either. I imagine I would somehow be channeling dad at that moment so I could blame it on him right?  Something tells me though even if I did make her speechless it wouldn't last long and she would eventually get the last word. I know that woman. Even after she's long in her grave someday she'll still have the last word, even after I accept the Academy Award on her behalf, she'll still come back with something, somehow.

In the meantime I can't wait to call her on the phone and ask her why she plans to drop dead during my vacation. I seriously can't let this go, it's just so damn funny.  I don't even know how I'm going to keep a straight face. I know I'm just awful aren't I?


  1. OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ROTFLMFAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I've got tears still running down my face!! I haven't laughed this much in years!!!! The part where you wrote,"the first thing mom did was laugh (inwardly I'm quite sure)"...well, to be honest, it struck me as being so funny when she said it that I couldn't keep it in. I just replied, "OMG,are you serious??"

    Thank you for bringing all this out to the light of day. My mother and grandmother were like that with me all my life, but I would never have been able to put it into words quite like you have. I think this has been really good therapy.

  3. Anonymous1/21/2011

    This is an episode of the Golden Girls for sure. Sounds to me like Grams doesn't want you going on vacation. So where ya going? ~ST

  4. We are related...I just know it! LOL My family puts the "fun" in dysfunctional. And it would be rude for her to up and die during your hard earned vacay!