When I get anxious about the look of my living room, I send my mother pictures. “What do you think about this?” is the caption for the sofa tugged under the windows and the pictures on the wall juggled around. I’d rather ask my sons, who are still living at home and could conceivably have an opinion. But they couldn’t care less, though I tell them they should. My mother, on the other hand, with nothing at stake, manages to care a lot, as she does about any number of things that are not, narrowly speaking, her business. She’s game, and makes much of life her business. It’s a personality trait, either wonderful or annoying, depending on whether or not she’s been asked for her opinion.
I also send my mother pictures about which she need do nothing but approve. Look at me! some of these photos say. Others say, Look what I’ve done! Either way, the answer I want—that anybody wants—is, Wonderful! And my mother comes through, perhaps because my need is crystal clear. In Spanish, rather than glass that’s clear, it’s water, and the expression is Más claro que el agua.
About the living room she comes through, too, taking seriously the matter of the furniture arrangement. Last time, I’d turned a set of storage shelves on end. Did it work, I wanted to know, and sent a picture. I’d expected either a yea or nay on the change, but she went further. “Think horizontal, no higher than the arm of the easy chair.”
I went and bought a cabinet, long and low, no higher than the arm of the chair, and after a day or two of lonely doubt, I began to warm to the change. I sent a picture to my mother. Do you like it? I asked, and she wrote back that she did. She liked it a lot. That was liberating, allowing me to either continue to like it, supported by another opinion, or, ignoring my mother, resist the easy fix of satisfaction in favor of elusive perfection.
For the time being, though, I don’t even ask myself which direction I’ll take. I don’t worry about the living room. I don’t even think about it, just live there, with my problem, solved or not, at least no longer eating away at me. Even a new cabinet, even a new sofa, is cheaper than a shrink. I’m sure my mother agrees on that. If she didn’t, that would suit me too, because sometimes you want an opinion just to buck it, and whose is better for that than a mother’s? I didn’t have to ask my mom if that’s so: my kids make it clear to me, crystal clear, like the purest water.
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