Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Being "helpful"

My mother, she means well. But, ever since she retired she's taken up complaining full-time. And when she isn't doing that, she spends her time trying to be helpful, which oftentimes isn't.

I should have known better when she started dropping hints about my "dead" Meyer lemon tree. Apparently, she had asked my husband over the weekend, no, I take that back, she had stated that we/she should pull all the leaves off my lemon tree. You know, the one that was recently under duress after being covered by a foot of snow and then stressed from being brought indoors and was attempting to recover?

Anyway, pulling off leaves is her idea of somehow readying it for the spring. She has a one-size fits all approach to plants and when she sees a less than green and glossy leaf, she pulls it off. Her only experience is with indoor plants, so how hard can it be?

My husband, not very unequivocally (because he doesn't know either), suggested that not all plants are the same and that maybe she should talk to me about it. It wouldn't have mattered all that much because, even if I had told her "please don't" or "no way", she would have gone ahead and done it anyway, since she knows best. Or, at the very least, that's what she thinks.

Now, don't get me wrong, she truly believes she does things with our best interests in mind. She just doesn't agree with what our best interests are. Hence, when I came home the other day (she was watching Emma for a bit), I was surprised to see that my Meyer lemon tree had been exceptionally defoliated or, rather, exfoliated.

Yes, she decided to pull off most of the leaves with Emma's help (and there were a lot). They left a few on so you can see that they weren't exactly healthy and would have fallen off all on their own, but I wanted to let the tree decide when it was going to drop its leaves for fear that yanking them out would further stress the already stressed tree. As you can also see, the branches are still green and there are little buds on it, so there's hope yet.

And, realistically, it probably won't affect the tree all that much. But, why oh why? This isn't the first time she's taken to pruning my plants after telling her no. I'm fairly certain she just thinks I'm terribly misguided.

Do you have someone in your life that tries to be "helpful"?


Anonymous said...

LOL! Both my mother and my 90 year old grandmother think that they are helpful. They just left us after staying for a couple of days.

I cannot find anything anywhere. My grandmother reorganized my kitchen.

My mother reorganized my daughter's closet and my son's closet. Her socks are in his drawer; his t-shirts are in her room. Which is just lame because her shirts ARE ALL PINK because she only wears pinks so what they hell would black and blue shirts be in her drawers.

I can't find receipts for items I was going to return - my grandmother helpfully put them somewhere. She doesn't remember where. I'm sure I'll find them next November.

My mother helpfully bought me new bar soap because she didn't like my homemade soap. And she both phthalate-containing beauty bars. Also bought some other cleaning supplies that I WILL NOT EVER USE and have to hide from my green friends. And ziploc bags because I didn't have any. There's a reason mom!

Okay, could go on. and on.

I love them both dearly.

Robj98168 said...

Yup. I call her "Mutha" or MA.
I feel your pain. My mom does the same things. Drives me nuts! Oh well- Ma won't be aroud for ever!

Laura said...

Since I no longer have a mother to meddle in my home, her sister has taken that place. When she comes to my home for holidays, she rearranges my cupboards (so it makes more sense)and "cleans up". I've had to throw out towels that she cleaned up with, but because they were "too dirty" to put in the hamper she wrapped them up in a plastic bag and didn't tell me about it. There are somethings I am willing to so, but scraping molded and decomposing lamb drippings out of a towel; not on my list!

knittinandnoodlin said...

Oh, I could write the book on having a "helpful" mother.

I was preparing to move after living at home for a year, and before I even had an apartment my mother decided to "pack" our summer clothes for me. I still haven't found some of my sweaters or any of the boys' pants. The boys' toys...scattered throughout the basement.

But my other mom took in my jade plant that was rather sad-looking...did a little reiki on it, drilled a hole in the bottom of the pot, and now that plant is bigger and more beautiful than it ever was!

I suppose balance is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

we bought a lovely lemon tree this summer, but had a hard time helping her rid a bug infestation. our gardener neighbor suggested removing her leaves. we did, every one, and the wee budlings like you have turned into a full, shiny, healthy, bug-free new set of leaves!

may it be so for you.

Anonymous said...

Ahh Crunchy - I feel your pain. I've learned that unless I'm in the mood for a hearty helping of "how in the heck have you managed to live this long and what will you do when I'm gone" on toast, I don't ask for advice from her. It took me 10 years though of living in my own home with my kids....every now and then she pops in with all kinds of suggestions and I become a sponge and let her get it out of her system. Then a few weeks later I call her with some perfect way to do something and insist that she try it - a little taste of her medicine.

Your poor plant - it looks sooo sad. I hope it recovers - check the library for a house plant rescue book.

Those of us should remember to be thankful for our meddling moms - when they are gone we may miss that some day.....a lesson I've learned from my now momless friends.

Anonymous said...

I think you really hit the problem with your comment about this behavior increasing since your mother retired. Sounds like she has no outlet for her need to feel useful and valued. That doesn't make it any easier on you though. Do you have any project you can't get to that you could ask her to take on and then fully accept her contribution?

Joyce said...

My kids are all in their twenties, and I can tell you, the biggest thing you have to learn in middle age is how to bite your tongue and not meddle! After nearly thirty years of reminding, cleaning up after, keeping an eye on, you have to unlearn all that behavior. Some people never do.

Mrs Flam said...

Sorry to hear of your troubles , i do hope both your mother and your plant get to feeling better.

Anonymous said...

First, it sounds like your mother has taken to heart the theory that, the more you complain, the longer god lets you live. From what I've observed in my own family, it must be true.

Second, if I knew where to go to get away from some family, I'd be there in a shot. From the aunt who, years ago, 'helpfully' fed strawberry ice cream to my infant son (why? why? why?), to the mother who decided to talk to my ex-husband to 'fix' things (no! no! no!), they have made life interesting.

Just looking at your lemon tree stresses me out -- I can only imagine how IT feels!

Anonymous said...

My mum is actually great, but my MIL, meh, not so much. She is of the mindset that everyone else around her is a complete moron and needs her to help them. And you can't tell her to shove off because she "suggests" things in a very passive aggressive way that makes you seem like a real ass if you get angry. Sigh.

Come to think of it though, she hasn't worked in years and she has absolutely NO hobbies of her own, doesn't even really read books, so maybe this comes from boredom or something.

Mama Mama Quite Contrary said...

Oh, I can certainly understand this. We have a retired neighbor who is so agressively "helpful" that I find myself running in the opposite direction when I see her. She has told me that my daughter *needs* to go to the Montessori preschool and that she *should* have been potty-trained before she was. The worst was a few weeks ago when she heard we are expecting twins, she came over to our house and said, "I heard your big news. Most people really don't do well raising two babies at once but I'm sure you'll be fine. Of course, I'm here to help if you need anything."

Luckily, she seems to realize that her expertise lies in parenting and not in environmentalism otherwise we'd never have a break from her.

jewishfarmer said...

My step-mother in law cannot be trusted with children. The only good thing is that I'm not sure she really likes them that much anyway ;-), so she doesn't mind not being left alone with them. She gave a six month old drinks from her coffee cup, and a nine month old cashews. When my four year old wasn't sure if he wanted to go somewhere with her by himself (he never had before) she told him all the fun things he'd miss and then said he couldn't go. She was joking, of course, but the poor kid can't compete with that kind of adult humor.

I'm sure mentioning this in the atmosphere will make her come for a visit now ;-).

I do hope your lemon tree recovers.


Seagrass said...

boy, you opened the floodgates on this topic! Try having korean women in your family - not only do they force-feed you whatever they cook (which is all the time!) my aunt has OCD to boot! She cleans EVERYTHING (including our poor dogs) with apple cider vinegar and rubbing alcohol!!! She cleans the floors with a swiffer duster and bought insane amounts of mayonnaise from Sam's club, stashing them under my sink!

And the entire time she does all this craziness she's nagging about how we should always use vinegar and alcohol to clean everything and that drinking juice is the worst thing you can do for your health. She likes to soak everyone's toothbrush in hydrogen peroxide and cleans the bathroom about 5 times a day.

And here's the best for last. We have three large dogs and after EVERY potty, she wipes their butt (with alcohol spritzed on toilet paper, of course..) AND their pee-pees and scrubs their feet with a vinegar soaked rag! Our dogs don't know what to do about this woman, they are scared to come back in the house!!

Alexandra said...

Oh, mother... As much as I love mine, your post reminds me why I leave one hour and three highways between me and mine.

Anonymous said...

Why, yes!

My MIL is very "helpful" like this! in fact, she thought one of my plants needed some serious "tidying up" so she did it. She butchered it (and threw the leaves in the TRASH rather than the compost!! Double the upset!!)! Nearly 4 years later, the plant is still alive, but still hasn't recovered :(

She organizes my shoes and cupboards when she comes over. She once folded my dirty laundry pile and put it away (really, heaven forbid one sorts laundry on the floor and leaves a pile waiting to be washed...). Fortunately, she's stopped rearranging furniture...although I ear she still does my SIL's furniture.

Fundamentally she just can't understand why everyone can't see how perfect the world would be if we'd just let her help. Sigh.

Hope you plant recovers!

Sarah C said...

My MIL is the same way, so I can completely relate to everyone's pain. I think I could handle her "help" though if she would stick to household stuff.

Right now her "help" is taking the form of incessant reminders about her lack of grandchildren and advice about how this situation could be rectified. Comments like "It would be nice to have grandkids while I'm still young enough to enjoy them...", or "Just stop wearing pyjamas. That should help things along." She even bought my SIL lingerie.

This kind of "help" we can definitely do without!

Farmer's Daughter said...

My dad is famous for weedwhacking roses, "by accident." My grandmother tells stories of him as a child weedwhacking her roses. My parents have no plants around the foundation of their house, "for easy mowing." And when we moved into our house and I planted some roses, he weedwhacked them. His response: "They looked like weeds to me." Thanks, Dad!

Now, my dad's a farmer, so he usually knows what he's doing. And I'm sure he knew he was weedwhacking my roses. But I think that due to the excessive weeds in my garden (why else would he weedwhack there?), he just decided they needed to be cut down. By the way, they came back just fine. And I do all my own weeding now! Hey, maybe that was his plan...

Jenna said...


We went of vacation and I asked her to water our garden twice. Nothing bit, nothing elaborate, we'd be home in 6 days and just mist it for a few minutes.

Somehow... somewhere... she heard that coffee and molasses are good for plants.

So she boiled a two gallons of coffee, mixed in two bottles of molasses and a BOX OF SALT (why she thought salt was a good idea was never made clear) and dutifully doled out onto every single plant a boiling cup.

If the boiling coffee didn't kill it, the 2 pound box of salt did. We've had to dig all the dirt out of our raised beds because the salt was so extreme nothing would grow there.

She still says we were mean to not appreciate it.

I still say I was kind not to use HER as fertilizer.

Anonymous said...

My 80 year old mother has these moments too. And the person who took care of my house while we traveled for the holidays helped me out by cleaning up all the dead leaves out of our giant dumbcane, where we leave them because it likes self-mulch, because she was afraid water would spill when she watered it (plant is in a big pot in an even bigger tub so nothing can spill on the floor).
I hope your lemon recovers.

Unknown said...

OMG, can I relate! Not with my mother,God rest her soul, but with my controlling ex-husband. He believes landscaping and wives must be controlled and clipped into tight little boxes. One time, against my specifically stated wishes, he surreptiously "pruned" a graceful flowering shrub within an inch of its life. I cried for an hour and then realized that it was a metaphor for our marriage. We got divorced. Unfortunately one can't divorce one's mother so I don't have any very helpful advice other than I FEEL YOUR PAIN!

Anonymous said...

my mom believes in soaking the dishes... all of the dishes.. ESPECIALLY anything greasy.. in a sink full of hot soapy water overnight. Problem is, by the time i come home from work in the morning that hot soapy water is a slimy, ice cold puddle of slop filled with floating islands of fat. and mom is half way out the door on her way home leaving me to fish out the plug and start all over again when all i really want is to crawl into my bed. on the positive side she's stopped complaining about the lack of tp and started using the cloths (instead of trying to throw them out). G_d love my mother but she makes me nutty!

scifichick said...

This is too funny! Poor tree :) I hope it recovers.
My mother always gives me hard time about my plants. I just have indoor flowers, not anything edible. Every time she comes over they are either not watered enough, watered too much, or I should have pulled some dead leaves off :) But then my mother has extensive gardening experience and I don't, so I try not to mind much.

Jenn said...

Fortunately, I live alone. I have few of these problems.

When I had knee surgery in June 2004 - two girlfriends (both native New Yorkers and Jewish) were about to visit me. M. phoned me and said "S. and I are coming to visit and we're going to move your microwave."

"Move my microwave?"

"Yes, S. says it's on top of the refrigerator where you can't reach it."

"Of course I can reach it - I'm the one who put it there."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes - please just come and bring pizza. No microwave moving."

Sure enough, they both come in - and S., mind you is 6' tall (2 inches taller than me) and also on crutches for blowing out her knee a week before my surgery - and declares "We're moving your microwave."

"What? No, you don't have to do that."

"Can you *possibly* reach that?"

"Of course I can and I don't use it much that's why I like it there."

"But you'll spill on yourself."

"S, you're only 2 inches taller than me - I'm not tiny like M (who is 5'2")"

"OK, prove it"

Then I had to hobble over to the refrigerator and open and close the microwave, even put in a pyrex measuring cup of water and take it out to prove I wouldn't irrevocably burn myself.

But, I did feel much cared for and then we ate pizza and watched movies and iced our knees. :)

Mia said...

so what happens if the tree bursts forth with glorious fresh, healthy greenery?? :)

Crunchy Chicken said...

OMG, you guys are totally cracking me up!

Seagrass - The mayonnaise! My mom does that too. But, also with Kleenex and then chastises us for not miraculously knowing they are there. She puts them in cabinets we never use. But the rubbing alcohol is hilarious - your poor dogs. I can only imagine what must be going through their heads when they see that rag coming towards their mucous membranes.

Mia - Then I will never hear the end of it and I will forever be reminded about how she was "right" about the tree anytime I question her advice on pretty much anything, followed up with a "See? Mother knows best!" admonition.

I can't wait. Maybe I should just kill my plant as a preventative measure.

Greenpa said...

"Do you have someone in your life that tries to be "helpful"?"

No, I kill them immediately, when the tendency surfaces. Great compost.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpa - Don't write off my tree so quickly. Maybe I can graft something onto it and make a FrankenFig, or something.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Greenpaps - After rereading your comment, I'm pretty sure I misread it. As usual.

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing so hard right now. We had a new year's eve gathering with friends, and I asked for some assistance from my mom (with very specific things in mind!!). Somehow, I ended up doing all the really hard work and she rearranged my knick-knacks!
To make it worse, the morning after this, she had to come by and watch the kids for a while so I could take my baby to the doctor, and she continued to "clean," which meant, really, hiding the dirty dishes (from me, that is). I found a stack of dirty plastic storage containers hiding in the bottom of my pantry that were neatly stacked by the sink the night before. I had full intentions of washing them first thing back from the doctor, but had to find them first when I discovered that she had put them...somewhere.
This is normal behavior for mothers, and sadly, I think we will all be the same way when our kids grow up. At least they'll have funny stories about their moms to share with one another!

Oldnovice said...

My second daughter (grown) has moved to her dad's house for a while and her stepmom is making "improvements" to her room which my daughter doesn't appreciate.

I think the stepmom is trying to gain status in the mind of my daughter. She really tries, IMO. My kids see the attempts at helpfulness as intrusiveness. I tried to be helpful twice to my husband's kids and they saw it the same way.

There's absolutely no need to cajole the kids of our mates, IMO. My goal is to allow them to freely hate me just because I'm not their mom.

Jenn said...

My mother is exactly the same! However, if I had asked her not to pull the leaves she would have pouted for, at least, the next 6 months!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

My mother is one of those. That's why I moved out of the house the summer after I graduated HS. After 1 college summer living at home I felt that taking a class during the college's summer session was a good idea.

My MIL usually isn't that way. Except this Christmas. I broke the carafe to my expensive coffee maker and told her the story of how I went from shop to shop trying to buy a replacement. I even said the words,"I am not hinting for a new coffeemaker. Please don't buy me a coffeemaker as a gift. I am ordering a new carafe." What did I get for Christmas? A coffeemaker. A really cheap coffeemaker. *sigh*

Correne said...

I have GREAT mother-in-law stories, exactly like you described.

Here's the best one: when my husband and I were on our honeymoon, she let herself in to our house, washed all our dirty laundry, MENDED THE HOLES IN MY UNDERWEAR, and put it all away for us.

Since then, without my permission or knowledge: re-hung my curtains, arranged to have my windows replaced, had my trees "trimmed" (scalped!), taken my kids for portraits, given my kids various medications (like suppositories), and generally nagged and cajoled us on a variety of subjects.

Note to self: do not grow up to be like my MIL.

Sue said...

Correne - I don't think anyone can top the MIL mending your underwear while you're on your honeymoon. That's just beyond the pale.

I was going to contribute a story or two, but now I have to ponder the audacity of Correne's MIL. It's seems like someone with that kind of chutzpah should use it for good and not evil.

The Nurturing Pirate said...

What a timely post. I actually just got off the phone with my mom. I was commenting on how my dd has such a hard time whenever she has food additives (thank you Holidays). I commented that I thought it might be because she has a low threshold, since she rarely has them. Her advice: subject her to more food additives! Um, thanks Mom. But to be fair, she usually has good advice.

Erika said...

LOL! My father, in trying to be the helpful, redneck, non-cooking, non-laundry-doing guy he is, once came home with a requested avocado - "They were all black and soft, so I dug around to finally find this green (firm) one." I had a wool (100%) sweater drying over the utility sink in the laundry room... when I came home from school, it wasn't there. I walked into the kitchen to see my dad folding laundry... including a very small wool (felt) sweater the exact same color as the one that had been laying across the sink...
As for some slightly more irking ones... this year, my mom asked for a Christmas list from my DH and me. I have one perpetually posted on my blog (mostly books, a few other things (like a glass washboard, glass drinking straw, solar charger for laptop, etc.). She told me she didn't like what was on it, and to send her a new one. So I did. I made a list of things I don't really need, but could certainly use, that she might go for (mostly clothes/shoes). The week before Christmas, she called me to say "I didn't like your other list, so I got something I liked. You're going to hate it." (My DH and I opened a Wii from under her tree).

Then there's my MIL... she helpfully calls us forty-seven times a day to let us know everything from what's on sale at the grocery store, the temperature outside, to the forecast for next week, and to ask if we've defrosted our freezer lately. Yes, what she says is helpful, but the sound of the phone ringing irritates my DH to no end. Like others here, she also has "grandkid fever," and I'm married to her only child. I'm almost scared to leave our future kids with her - especially considering some of the choices we are planning on making regarding raising our kids. I'm sure she will be verbally supportive of whatever we choose to do, but in trying to "help" us with her grandchild(ren), I'm afraid she may just try to sabotage our efforts (I may be blowing this out of proportion, the kind of things I'm thinking of aren't HUGE, just things like artificial sweeteners/colors, chemical "beauty" products, and stuff like that).

I've also had the lovely experience of someone trying to "fix" or edit a paper on my computer (college room mate), and she happened to check her email, download something from someone she didn't know, giving my computer a virus that ended up making me loose EVERYTHING on my hard drive.

Last one... I was trying to be helpful while helping unload a truck by reminding folks that there was a giant hole in the floor of the truck.. and then I stepped in it. OUCH.


Erika said...

By the way... I don't *hate* the Wii... just the concept of video games in general, their mega-usage of energy, and the vortex that is the television. And yes, it is plugged into a power strip that we turn off when not in use, and the batteries for the remote are rechargeable.

Anonymous said...

Do these mothers breed somewhere. If so, let's root it out.

I've got both a mother and grandmother like this.

Mom is an ex-hippy native american who is never wrong. Never! When she is, she'll just re-write history a few months later.

Granny's a Serbian Catholic. Can we say Catholic Guilt?

They both think no one can survive without them.

I love them, but there's about 1000 miles between me and them. Love's a lot easier from a distance.


Didn't she hear about the Romans salting Carthage so nothing could live there? Yikes!

Anonymous said...


Ask GreenPa about the Dread Shed sometime if you want to feel better about your tree!

Here's a great Mom story for you...

After never spending more than two weeks with my mother for 5 years (Absoulte prudence on my part) I had to operate a rescue mission with her across several states.


I get a call late one night that my 80 yr old grandmother (Mom's mom) got picked up by the cops in Iowa for driving about 25mph on the freeway. She lives in Montana, not Iowa. I'm wondering how long she's been driving to have gotten that far. Mom's frantic.

Sure, I say. I'll drive down to Iowa City with GreenPa and pick up Gramma's truck.

Twenty minutes later another call from my mom, reminding me that Gramma's truck is a '84 Ford. An hour later another call. And another...

So we pick up the truck, without a gas cap key BTW, and get it to the farm. Mom calls to make sure it's okay. She calls again to tell me to park it out of sight. She calls again. And again...

Okay I get it. She's strtessed. But it's just a truck.

A week later she arrives with a U-Haul filled with Gramma's stuff and her SUV pulled behind. I follow her in the truck to il, where Gramma's living with her brother now. We have radios to talk to each other. The batteries are completely dead by the time we get there from her constant calls regarding road conditions, cops, traffic, weather...

We unpack Gramma's stuff and arrange it. And rearrange it. And rearrange it. Until Mom's happy. WIth the constant stream of "lift with your legs, not your back" "Don't chip the wood" "Watch out for the dry wall."

On the drive back to MN a week later, after thousands of driving tips, we cross into the carst topography of SE MN. My mother, the geologist, starts lecturing my on carst topography, which she's done a hundred times before and a hundred times since. I couldn't care less! I look at a sinkhole and think...

"That's a great place to hide a body!"

I love her, but she drives me nuts.

Sharlene said...

I think Seagrass wins thus far. I can't even imagine what my dogs would do if I wiped their butts with rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar. Though mending underwear is a close second. Ahh- moms. Mine just constantly cleans. When she comes to my house all she wants to do is pick up after my two year olds. I try to explain to her that it will never end and she is better off waiting until nap time or bedtime but she can't help it. If I am cooking she is right behind me cleaning. Putting away soup ladles before we are done serving dinner. She just can't help it. And she worries like a crazy person about everything. She makes me crazy but I love her. And I don't have to pay her for her maid services.

Anonymous said...

My Mom has done the same exact thing to our indoor plants (most of which are actually pretty healthy), but the worst was when she stripped a plant we called the "grandpa plant" as it was a clipping from a plant sent to my husband's grandpa's funeral ages ago. It went through natural dormant periods, and during one of these times my Mom was visiting and essentially killed it, as it never recovered.

Now that I think about it, that may have been the last plant incident. I think she really must've felt bad about that one.