Problem Solved

How do you solve a problem like your mother?

By Lee Ann “Sunny” Brown

Once again I am ignoring my mother’s text messages and phone calls. Oh, I read the texts and listen to her voicemails. I just don’t respond. Not right away, anyway. I wait. I’m waiting until I have all the right answers before I call her back. Because, you see, my mom is calling to tell me that she has all the answers and is a genius. She is taunting me.

Since my mom lives in Florida I thought it would be fun for us to do the word puzzles in the Sunday New York Times Magazine together. I take a picture of the puzzle and text it to her and then whenever we have each finished working it and have it all figured out we call each other and compare our answers. However, it quickly became a competition. My mom started texting me within minutes of me sending it that she had figured out the 3-point word, the one that uses all seven letters. I would text back that I had, literally, just found my pencil to start working on it. I would end up spending all my time searching for the 3-point word and she had already moved on to the next level. Excitedly, I would text her the next day, (or the next) that I had found it, too, only for her to reply that she was almost finished with the whole thing. 

I should have known better. I should have known that she has all the answers. She has always been a problem solver, which is why I have always called her for advice on all matters whether large or small. My mom has always had great deductive reasoning skills. She would make a great detective. She has been able to solve any crime, or mystery and figure out the answers to all of the little mysterious unexplained questions in life with little to no evidence that suggested, for instance, that I was the one who hid all those peas in the garbage can. Somehow she was always able to figure out who left the milk out, who forgot to close the door and let the cat out, who forgot to turn out the lights, who broke the vase, who broke the other vase, who spilled the Kool-Aid and stained the carpet, who played “Ding-Dong Ditch” on the neighbors, who left the stove on all night, and the list goes on and on. I, unfortunately, never seemed to get away with anything. And I did everything I could think of to cover my tracks of bad behavior and genuine accidents. I guess by treating both of those incidents the same I always presented myself as guilty whenever the inevitable questions would come. And, my mom was genius at this. It felt like the inquisition. She asked all the right questions. And, even though there were three of us kids, somehow, she was always able to identify the guilty party–mostly yours truly–to the correct crime. Her super powers of deduction were always my nemesis. And they remain so to this day, which is why I ignore her messages. Because, as I said, she is taunting me.

That it was what all her messages are about—she’s letting me know what level of the puzzle she is on—whether she is “expert” or has reached “genius.” Lately she has begun sending messages like “you better hurry if you want to catch up with me” and, “catch me if you can.” They have taken on a gloating, teasing tone. I can hear it even in her texts. Whenever my phone alerts me that I have received a message and I see that it is from my mom, I immediately begin to feel anxious. I know that she is letting me know how close she is to finishing the puzzle and checking to see how far behind her I am. I have to wait until I am in a state of calm before I read them and then I spend the rest of the day trying to think of different excuses I can tell her for why I haven’t been able to spend much time working on it, or why I have only reached the level “good” even though I’ve had all week to work on it. I have even started making anyone that comes over to my house, my daughter or my nieces, friends or neighbors who drop in—everyone must help work the puzzle so I can let my mom know that “I” am finally a “genius.” I start to feel like I did when I was trying to wriggle out of admitting guilt that I was, in fact, the one that put a dent in the car bumper. I’m trying to plan out my answers but, as always, she is one step ahead of the game.

In fact, it is taking me so long to finish the puzzles that I think my mom is starting to feel like she is just working them by herself instead of something we do together and I am afraid that she is going to lose interest if I don’t come up with a way to stay caught up with her.

So, for Mother’s Day I have decided to up my game and I have come up with a plan. From now on I am going to have all the answers worked out before I send her the puzzle. And then, whenever she sends me a smugly superior text message about how she is a genius, I will just text her back, “Same! I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!”

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