According to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, the death of a spouse and divorce rank one and two respectively as the most stressful events in life. During the eighteen months before my Grandma moved in with me, my Grandpa died and I got divorced. Throw in factors such as a new job, a new house and my oldest daughter moving back home, and you have a recipe for off-the-charts chaos.
These life-changing events didn’t all happen at once, so the craziness crept in little by little. Between the time I started my new job in April and Grandma moved in that December, I was clearing out junk in her old, empty house on weekends and trying to rebuild some semblance of home life for my two youngest daughters during the week. Things had stabilized somewhat when she finally moved in, but none of us were really prepared for living under one roof.
The problems started with Chloe and Michaela watching TV in the basement where Grandma had set up house. The home theater was down there, and because the TV was massive we hadn’t even tried to move it upstairs. The girls inevitably used her bathroom, which led to Grandma accusing them of using her things. They used a towel. They got into her Desitin. They never closed the door and her cat kept getting lost. And so forth. The girls, of course, denied everything. Grandma’s habit of making things up to get the results she wanted had probably already kicked in, but I apologized for the girls repeatedly and promised to get the TV out of the basement.
No sooner had we paid a moving company to hoist the enormous TV upstairs than Chelsea needed to move back home for awhile after a breakup of her own. She took over the home-theater-turned-bedroom and shared the bathroom in the basement with Grandma. There we were — five females dealing separately with our own issues of loss and change — but united as a family. Extended families used to be the norm, so I didn’t see why we couldn’t make the modern-day version work. But we weren’t the Waltons, and the old lady living in our basement was anything but sweet. The kids all met her crankiness head on, which forced me to mediate every time the tattling began.
“I need my hair drier back,” Grandma told me one Saturday afternoon. “I let Chelsea borrow it and she hasn’t given it back yet.”
Chelsea was indignant when I asked her about the loan. “I just borrowed it this morning!” she shouted. “I haven’t even used it yet. Why does she need it anyway? She always wears her stupid wig!”
She had a point; to this day I’ve never seen Grandma actually use her hair drier. But that didn’t matter. It was hers, and she wanted it back. Grandma hadn’t had children underfoot since I was young, way back in the early ’70s. I was used to the girls borrowing my things and not giving them back, but Grandma would have no part of it.
Oddly, Grandma’s borrowing philosophy didn’t apply to her. Because when she borrowed something from us, it was hers for keeps. That spring it got warm early, and Grandma complained that she could barely breathe the air was so still. I had just given Michaela a fan for her birthday, so I brought it down to cool things off temporarily. When Michaela discovered her fan was gone that night, she marched downstairs and took it back. Before she even made it up the stairs, Grandma was calling me.
“Say, you know that fan you gave me. Well Michaela just took it,” Grandma said, not even giving me a chance to say hello.
“It’s her fan, Grandma. I just borrowed it to cool things off today. If you want your own, we’ll have to go buy one.” I explained.
“Well that Mickey’s a jackass! It’s hot down here and I’m probably going to pass out!” she said angrily. Obviously ownership didn’t count when the situation was clearly a matter of life and death.
I hung up on her and headed for my own room to get my fan. Michaela heard me slamming around and came into my room to see what was wrong. I explained that Grandma was probably dying at that very minute due to the lack of air being circulated in the basement. “Jesus!” Michaela said. “She can have the damn fan. Even though it was my birthday present!” I pointed out that I was taking my own downstairs but Michaela let out a harumph before grabbing her fan and heading back downstairs. To this day that fan is the property of Margaret Hawley.
I replaced Michaela’s birthday present, and the drama died down. Chelsea got a place of her own within months, and everybody else stopped borrowing things from Grandma. She didn’t stop borrowing from us, of course. Just the other day I found one of my bowls stuck in the drawer of her old, beat up file cabinet. When I asked why she had it she denied taking it. “You must have left it down here,” she said. Seven years ago I would have argued back. Now I know that having a complete set of bowls is a nice-to-have, but unlike death, divorce, new jobs and homes, and fans, it’s nothing to get stressed out about.