She Who Pays the Piper

I catastrophize, which is a thing some people (okay, mothers) do when they get to thinking what could happen and one possibility leads to another and before long everybody’s died a horrible and unnecessary death because instead of acting on obvious signs of impending doom (and they’re everywhere, and like I say, obvious, so I’ve no excuse) I ignored them in favour of doing nothing and hoping for the best.

I also grew up without a father and with a mother who would rip into us at the drop of a hat over any inconvenience to her brought on by the stuff of kid life. This included sitting at the breakfast table (yes, I grew up in a house with a breakfast nook – what of it – I can’t have psychological damage because I grew up in a house with a breakfast nook?) enjoying our orange juice (no, it wasn’t freshly squeezed, it was Old South frozen concentrate, often with a hint of rancid to it because orange juice once made up really doesn’t keep more than a day in the fridge) when a chunk of ice fell from the pitched roof of the original part of the house onto the flat roof of the breakfast nook.

By the way, the breakfast nook was freezing, much like our bedrooms. I have a memory of seeing my breath in the morning and my older sister wearing her pajamas under her clothes so she wouldn’t have to be naked in the frosty air.

My mother was first out in the morning. She was a high school librarian, which she became because she really doesn’t like young people and wanted to get out of the classroom but not out of the profession, which pays well and has good benefits, the two things my mother was advised by her father, who lived a long and philandering life on welfare, to look for in a job.

That morning, she was running uncharacteristically late, and so was at the side door just when the chunk of ice came crashing through the roof of the breakfast nook, showering our orange juice with plaster bits and wood splinters and hopefully not asbestos.

“Jesus H. Christ! Goddamn you kids! What the hell were you doing?! Don’t just sit there! Can I not go to work without some kind of crisis happening just when I’m at the door and ready to leave?! Could you be any more useless?”

And on and on like that while we protested our innocence, “Holy geez, mom, a chunk of ice almost killed us!”

“Ohferchrissakes! What are you still sitting there for then? Go get ready for school. Goddammit, this is going to cost a fortune to fix. Edna (my grandmother, her mother, whom she addressed by her first name) get Gordie over here to look at this. I’ve got to get to school or I’ll be late.”

Gordie was our next door neighbor who was often called in to make assessments of damage, although never allowed to do any fixing himself, as my mother believed in paying professionals to do what professionals are paid to do and Gordie was a drafting instructor, not a roof repair professional.

But you get the picture. It didn’t take me long to figure out as an adult why I would panic whenever anything went wrong of a structural nature. What I don’t understand is why I catastrophize, although it could be because my mother didn’t, I don’t know. I say this because I distinctly remember my mother saying to me once when I expressed some doubt about getting a job I had applied for, “I don’t understand why you don’t have any confidence – I have all the confidence in the world!”

I didn’t get the job, of course (I’ve never got a job I applied for, actually – they’ve all come to me through intermediaries of one kind of another) but I did start to wonder about balance, and whether my mother having ALL the confidence meant that, on balance, I had none. Or, at least, certainly not enough to trick a potential employer into giving me gainful employment.

And the one time I asked her about dying and whether she ever worried about me getting a horrible disease or getting hit by a car and dying before her she said, “What the hell are you talking about?! Your father was cut down in the prime of his life! Ohferchrissakes, use your head – can you not see I’m having a martini?! And did you dust those baseboards yet?!”

So, no, then.

Anyway, after a lifetime of catastrophizing on behalf of my own children, who are all young adults now, I’ve started, yes, using my head. Or, as my sister-in-law puts it, “learning to turn off the tv in your head”.

Because that’s just it, isn’t it. Many of us not only spend too much time soaking up bad news during the course of an average media filled day, but we add to that bad news with a mental running commentary involving all sorts of random bad news possibilities in our heads.

And when our young adults are going through actual difficulties, we seek reassurance from other mothers that whatever they’re going through is normal and that there’s nothing particularly to be done about it.

Ah, but, of course, that is exactly the wrong thing to do, as it turns out. Other mothers don’t calm your fears, they ramp them up. They come up with scenarios you hadn’t even thought to catastrophize yet. They will dump all over you, in other words, because, of course, you invited them to do it.

You, they will clearly say, without actually saying it, are a bad mother. You, they will clearly say, without actually saying it, are asking for it. You, they will clearly say, without actually saying it, deserve whatever you’ve got coming to you – all of it bad, because you are a bad, bad, bad mother.

Then they will advise you to get professional help, which is exactly what one should do. Never mind seeking advise from friends and/or family. Let a professional handle whatever your problems may be – a chunk of ice through the roof of your breakfast nook, a young adult child going through a difficult (for you) phase.

We pay each other money, provide each other with benefits, so that we can provide help to each other on an as needed basis.


So what’s going on that we’re supposedly richer than we think, or, at least, richer than we were back in the day, and yet, we can’t afford unions, we can’t afford taxes – in essence, we can’t afford each other.

Really, there’s something perversely wrong with how we’re choosing to live, isn’t there. We all have the same problems, but for some reason we’ve decided to blame each other for them instead of pay each other to solve them for us.


  1. Why were you trying to destroy the breakfast nook?

  2. Because we were nothing but a bunch of useless louts?