Friday was a hard day. I’m at the crossroads of my life as a single mama and the parenting techniques of my mother and father. The sibling relationships they fostered in their kids came to an end that has me asking once again, “Why did they bother to have kids?” Concurrently, I’ve come to realize something has crept into my own home I worked hard to keep out: Entitlement.
Most of Friday saw me in a stupor. It was the end of a workweek for 9-to-5ers, and lawyers. It was also the end of the line in my two-year battle to apply some semblance of accountability in the administration of my late mother’s trust, having failed at the same in the administration of her care. I sat. I stared. I cried a little, but mostly I turned my mental gears furiously, knowing I was stuck – but also (finally, I’m only 49!) knowing I probably possessed the tools to get unstuck, now. When I remembered that, I stopped despairing, those gears gained traction and I started remembering.
I grew up in 1970s Medina, Washington, USA; middle child of a pilot turned reluctant (but successful) insurance salesman and a mother whose Pollyanna attitude I watched with admiration, because it bordered on heroic. We covered up Mom’s childhood abuse (and something about Dad I never found out) with a way-upper-middle-class life fueled by alcohol and credit cards. My favorite family outings were forays out to dinner in Seattle. We’d go to high-end restaurants with high ceilings (like The Captain’s Table, if memory serves; I can almost hear Dad say the name, but I can definitely picture the sailors’ flags hanging from that ceiling). I remember getting ready, Mom always taking her time to choose her jewelry, sometimes helping me with mine. After the requisite formal dress, I could just sit there and eat good food and just … think. I remember those times wistfully as lonely, but with affection for the person I was becoming. I look back and see the person who is holding me up now: Me.
Those childhood dinners have been an object lesson for my kids (now 11 and 14) for a while now. My sister was nine years my senior. She might as well have lived on another planet – and been a more advanced life form, for her part in our relationship. She always ordered a foo-foo drink like a strawberry daiquiri, so let’s call her Daiquiri. At some point, as I grew, I started to notice our shopping trips, holidays, vacations and dinners out were always paid for by credit card, and watching Dad peruse the bill felt … tense. So I started to order Caesar salad and clam chowder, just about every time we went out for dinner. Call me Soup’n’Salad. My little brother, now … he ordered the top-dollar Alaska King crab legs, so let’s definitely call him Alaska King. Almost every time he ordered he’d intone, “Is that okay?” in that, “I know you’re going to say yes because you always say yes to me but I’m still going to ask to ‘show I care.'” Entitled. My mom didn’t want to see it, so she just … didn’t.
Mom may not have seen it, but I sure did. In all things, I asked permission first, like I thought I should. Frequently, I was denied, especially as a teenager (Mom and Dad were pretty overprotective). Alaska King, on the other hand, operated squarely in Act First, Apologize Later territory, as he does to this day. As for Daiquiri, I’m just not sure (other planet and all), but she always struck me as quintessentially unemotional. It’s served her well in practical life decisions that have her set up very comfortably. I’ve got to give her kudos for that. I wish I could go back a couple of decades and apply some good unemotional thinking to my future planning. I don’t think she learned that from my parents, who were expert-level emotional money managers.
Dad was a top salesman in his insurance company. Dad was also in the first white-collar generation to experience ageism. Bullied and belittled, he ended up prematurely retired and profoundly unhappy about it. He sat a lot; Mom and Dad comfort-spent a lot; and the comfortable lifestyle he worked for decades to secure dwindled down to little more than a half-million dollar home and property on a pond in Ridgefield, Washington; and Mom’s estate jewelry, collected over decades in 70s and 80s Seattle, then 90s Miami. In 2009, he died, without a will (though lately, I’ve come to wonder about that), and Alaska King set his sights on home ownership: Mom’s home ownership.
Of course, it fell to middle-child me to name the elephant in the room, trying to critically analyze whether my mom’s failing health would necessitate using her home to pay for future care. Alaska King didn’t allow any discussion of this possibility, and anyone who tried to push it was Out of the Discussion, be they Mom’s (now late) sister, her brother, or me. Well. He removed Mom’s siblings from the discussion; I removed myself after repeated physical threats. Why did Mom choose this person as her caregiver? See my last blog post; it’s a trauma thing.
Friday I realized that in the last year of her life, when dementia was having a heyday with my mother, she sat in a room while her well-to-do Daiquiri daughter and her nearly-half-million-dollar-homeowner-to-be Alaska King son figured out how to keep the estate jewelry out of the hands of Soup’n’Salad – who had already been named the beneficiary of the jewelry, by the way, in 2014. My husband had died suddenly in 2012. His lifelong employer, the USPS, botched his life insurance paperwork, leaving me without the life insurance or a financial safety net (https://www.facebook.com/USPS-Widows-134024703443502). Meanwhile, every time I saw her in person that last year (unless she was in the hospital, where her care landed her repeatedly; I had reported Alaska King to Adult Protective Services, and was no longer welcome in the home) she tried to show me her jewelry. And I said, “Mom, I don’t want to shop your house,” took her to her favorite chair, and gave her a backrub. Alaska King had no such compunction, having already secured the gold ropes that remind me of the velvet crowd guides used by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus we attended more than once as kids.
Amusingly, it also took me until Friday to actually realize Daiquiri’s part in this. She just doesn’t come to mind a lot, being a higher life form and all. But seriously, I cannot for the life of me imagine having a husband, two properties, and ample care for all my needs; yet furiously jockeying to make sure my widowed single sister doesn’t get her hands on something she might need to sell to feed her family. Long ago, Mom had gifted “The Opals” to Daiquiri (what “nominal” jewelry collection includes a whole segment commonly known by the family as “The Opals?”). My daughter never told me something she told me this day, too: When she was very young, maybe six, she overheard Daiquiri whisper to her kids not to play with mine. What was Daiquiri worried they were they going to catch? Authenticity? Integrity? Very dangerous, those. Stay back, kids.
There is an upside to our little sibling disparities: It was a prelude to a fuller widowhood. I learned to be grateful for what I have – sometimes kicking and screaming a bit, but overall, grateful. It was a crazy amount of work to inherit the garage sale that should have transpired on Mom’s property, transporting the bulk of Mom’s home contents from a storage unit in Ridgefield to our home in Camas. But there were treasures I know Mom loved in there, and with a little shift in attitude, I could embrace them as my treasures.
One more Friday realization (it was a big day): I realized what passes for elder care law is big business. Mom told me over and over, through the years, how stressed she was to have to repeatedly go visit her lawyer, be grilled, think straight. She felt … forced; she told me so, repeatedly. And she lamented what came to an $8000 legal bill at her last account to me. That effort wasn’t driven by her. This was a reputed premier elder-care lawyer in southwest Washington, too – the one I’m told teaches all the other elder-care lawyers “how it’s done.” This woman oversaw the influencing of my mom to distribute her assets as my brother saw fit.
Friday, I realized my attempt to find a lawyer to stand up to Alaska King is at an end. This blog post is my substitute, and my comfort as I confront the entitlement in my own home now. Mom didn’t want to face the entitlement in her children; that was her undoing. I won’t ignore it; I know where it goes, how it ends.
Contesting Mom’s trust was never about the stuff. It was about standing up to Alaska King. Daiquiri doesn’t get much mention around here, but Alaska King? He’s known, not least as a role model for what not to do. He’s got a few names around here.
I think the name that sticks from here on out will be Alaska King.
Author’s note: Solid grief counseling was instrumental to me in this time. I’m not sure I could have even attempted to stand up for myself in this situation without it. Grief Recovery Method counseling with Colleen Storey worked wonderfully for me: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/colleen-storey-vancouver-wa/765063. We met Colleen at Peace Health’s Stepping Stones family loss counseling program after the loss of my kids’ Da. Stepping Stones runs counseling and camps for families coping with loss. So many big-hearted volunteers worked with us; Colleen impressed me by being able to take the horned side of the beast of widowhood, as well as the tearful side. My mother was my person. After her loss, Colleen’s GRM counseling was there for me. I can honestly say the work she led me to do held me up then, and holds me up still. Learn more about Grief Recovery Method here: https://www.griefrecoverymethod.com.