Since I got to Anchorage a couple of weeks ago my hostess and I have been paying it both forward and backward.
Linda drove us to Hope for a reunion of female Anchorage Daily News reporters, so I owed her for gas. She drove on our frugal trip to Homer, too, and put the shared hotel room on her credit card. Meanwhile, I bought Linda lunch on my first day here and ordered her some discounted gift cards so she could re-do the yard for 8% off.
The math was kind of funny. “The hotel room was $156, and the gas was $18 apiece, so I owe you…”
“Don’t forget the gift cards. They were about $64, I think.”
“But didn’t you pick up the lunch tab on our second day in Homer?”
We’ve gotten into some verbal pushy-shovies over other expenditures, too. Mind you, it’s not Mavis-and-Phyllis-at-Schrafft’s: “You had the extra cup of ranch dressing, which was 30 cents more…” And it probably does all even out over time.
But there’s always been that give-and-take: No, you paid last time. This one’s on me. Or there’s fretting over the other person mowing the lawn, folding laundry or bringing home ice cream to share.
Linda actually wanted to pay me for mowing the lawn. Never mind that I’m staying with her for two months and house-sitting for only one week. (Last year she tried to pay me for that, too.)
Then again, I want to pay her:
- For higher heating costs (I lived here for 17 years but my blood done got thin down there in the banana belt of Seattle)
- For her driving out of her way to take me to the supermarket or my niece’s house
- For utility-bill increases due to a couple of months’ worth showers (long, hot showers – see “thin blood,” above)
Naturally, she won’t take a dime.
The curse of the mom
So I keep trying to find ways to give some of this back.
Let’s go to Harley’s for Sunday brunch – my treat.
Want some of these pretzel M&Ms? They were a great coupon deal – just a dollar a bag.
Yeah, I vacuumed the downstairs. You wanna make something of it?
And Linda just keeps returning fire:
If you buy that 8-pound bag of oranges, I’ll split it with you.
Are you cold? Turn the heat up!
Use whatever you want from the cupboard. Don’t worry about it.
I understand how she feels, since I always want to do things for my friends. But part of my psyche resists letting them extend the same courtesy. I’m afraid of owing anybody anything and, more to the point, I’m afraid of seeming needy.
I call it “The Curse of the Mom.” Taught always to put other people first, you find it tough to acknowledge your own needs, let alone accept help for them. Whenever someone offers me a favor I instantly think, “How can I pay this back?” Or, worse, “I don’t need anyone’s help. I’m OK.”
Which can feel pretty darned deflating to the person offering the kindness. It comes across as, “What you’re offering is not good enough.”
In John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” the bordello madam Fauna coaches one of her girls as she prepares to go on a real (not paid) date. One point Fauna makes is that when someone wants to do something for you, you should allow it:
“Don’t get proud and say you don’t need it or want it. That’s a slap in the puss. Thing people like most in the world is to give you something and have you like it and need it.”
I know that. I’ve preached that. Apparently it doesn’t apply to me, though. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what people do for me. It’s that I’d rather give than receive. I always want to feel a little bit ahead in some imaginary Kindness Ledger.
So I try to do things when Linda’s not here to catch me at it: take out the recyclables, sweep the kitchen, pick up twigs from the front lawn. I sort of have to, because one of these days I’ll be upstairs and not hear the dryer stop – and when I come down, Linda will have paired up my socks.
Readers: Do you/did you have this problem? Any thoughts on overcoming it?