What she says to me is, "I don't need anything, I'm half dead."
I cringe. "Ma, I want to get you a gift. I'm going to get you a gift. So it would help me if you told me something you need."
"I don't need anything."
"OK, you don't have to need it, you could just want it."
"I don't want anything."
"Come on, Ma. You must want something."
"I want you to not bother getting me a gift!" she says, raising her voice.
"But I want to bother," I say, matching her decibel for decibel.
(Actually, the bother is fighting about buying a gift. Fighting about buying a gift takes more time and trouble than buying a gift. In fact, if I had back all the hours I'd spent fighting with my mother about buying her a gift, I would live 189 years.)
"I DON'T WANT A GIFT!" she shouts, angry.
And now I'm angry. "MA, I HAVE TO GET YOU A GIFT! I'LL FEEL GUILTY IF I DON'T GET YOU A GIFT!"
"THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM, COOKIE. NOT MINE."
So you see how it goes. You could say that I should just go out and buy her something nice, and that's what I do very year. I go to a nice jewelry store and get her a necklace or a bracelet. You have to spend money on your mother or you burn in hell. For the Flying Scottolines, hell, guilt, and shame are all big at Christmas.
I buy her the jewelry and send it down to Miami, and she calls me every Christmas morning, after she opens her gift. And she feels guilty. She says, "Honey, why did you do this? I told you not to do this! It cost too much!"
So I console her. "Ma, it didn't cost that much. It's lovely, isn't it? Do you like it? Will you wear it?"
"I love it, but still, I told you not to," she answers.
I know she won't wear it. She never does. She never uses or wears anything I give her. The necklace will stay in her jewelry box, a guilty reminder of the money her daughter spent on her.
See? Guilt. That's the trick at Christmas. The real Christmas gift I give my mother is guilt.
It's one size fits all.
And the price is right.
But I swear to myself, this Christmas will be different. So last week, I ask Brother Frank what she needs, and he tells me her hearing aids don't work. I call her instantly. "Ma, you need hearing aids. How about get you a new pair for Christmas?"
"No. I don't need hearing aids."
"Yes, you do. They're broken."
"No, they're broken. Frank told me. Don't lie."
(This is another gift I give Mother Mary for Christmas. Verbal abuse. Don't try this at home.)
"I didn't lie! Only one is broken!"
Aha! "OK, sorry."
"So I don't need new hearing aids! I only need one hearing aid! It's not a lie!"
"OK, OK! So I'll buy one hearing aid. Which one is broken, right or left?"
"They won't sell you one hearing aid," she says, raising her voice.
"Yes, they will," I say, matching her decibel for decibel.
"NO, THEY WONT!"
"YES, THEY WILL!"
"MA, IT'S THE WORST ECONOMY EVER. THEY'LL SELL THEIR MOTHER IF THEY COULD!"
(Why this thought pops into my mind is anyone's guess. Feel free to speculate.)
"THEY WON'T SELL JUST ONE!"
"THEN I'll BUY TWO AND THROW ONE AWAY!"
So you know where this is going. I bought her one hearing aid for Christmas, which left us both feeling guilty.
You can never buy a gift for your mother.
And oddly, that's as it should be.
All best to you and yours, this holiday.
Look for Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella's new book, "Best Friends, Occasional Enemies: The Lighter Side of Life as a Mother and Daughter." Visit Lisa at www.scottoline.com.