Growing up, we were “once a month” churchgoers. Roughly one Sunday a month, we either headed for the subway (in NYC) or, when I was a little older, piled into the car (in New Jersey). Like many other Greeks, our religion was inextricably linked to our food and our culture, so being Greek was more about eating and tradition: making baklava* and my mother’s famous “Snax”, fasting during Holy Week – and then eating absurd amounts of everything after church on Saturday night – than about being in church every Sunday.
*If you’re interested in learning more, read the Gulf Times piece, “Tracing true origins of baklava, a flaky pastry.”
As my mother, “Yiayia” got older, she rewrote her religious history and insisted that we’d always gone to church every Sunday of our lives. This rewrite began when she was about 80 and I initially resisted it. But over time, I realized that there was little harm in playing along. It brought Yiayia some comfort to think she’d been a more regular churchgoer than she actually was. In addition, in her later years, much of her social life revolved around those weekly Sundays. Over time, many of her high school friends retired to South Florida, so she got to hang out with people she’d known all her life. It was pretty cool.
The Weekly Church Pilgrimage
Every Sunday, they’d go to lunch after church. During the week, they’d get together too. But this social life revolved around her being at St. Mark Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton every Sunday by 10:00 am.
While St. Mark was the church where I’d raised my own kids, we’d since moved about 30 minutes away, and once my mother gave up driving, someone had to take her and, often, pick her up, since many of her high school friends had also given up driving.
In an effort to be a dutiful daughter, I would take her and pick her up. This was two hours out of my Sunday, unless I accompanied her to church services and then lunch, which then meant seven hours out of my Sunday. The time commitment was a bit much, given that we were still parenting three kids, but the worst part was that she turned the drive to church into an opportunity to exercise her passive-aggressive skills. This was a woman who had turned passive aggressive into an art form, and every Sunday morning, that 30-minute drive was her golden opportunity to let me know the various ways I’d fallen short as a daughter.
To be clear, I knew she loved me and was intensely grateful that she lived with us. She just couldn’t help herself.
Speeding north on I95, I’d hear things like this:
“Is the oil change in my car overdue?”
“Are you getting off on Yamato Road?”
“Is that a new dress?”
“Did you get another new purse?”
“I don’t know how you can stand driving on I95.”
The answers to these questions were as follows, in order:
“Yes” (like I always do!)
“No, Mom, I’ve had this dress for 30 years”
“Yep, it’s a new purse” (through gritted teeth)
My Inner Dialogue
After the 400th time being asked about driving on I95, my response well was dry, but my inner dialogue went something like this:
“I can’t stand driving on I95 – with you in the passenger seat. You’re driving me insane. In fact, one of these Sundays I might just, in spectacular Thelma-and-Louise fashion, miss the Yamato Road exit so that I can drive us right off the overpass into our fiery end. I’m pretty sure my life insurance is paid up and the kids are almost grown, anyway.”
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I approached my husband, who’s way calmer than I am and loves driving. Also, by this point, Yiayia liked him way more than she liked me (pro tip: it’s much better when your parent prefers your spouse to you than the other way around).
“Please!” I begged. “Please start being the one to drive her to church on Sundays.”
“Sure!” he said.
We Made the Switch
Thank GOD. I don’t recall what reason I gave my mother for the chauffer switch, but she was totally fine with it, preferring his company to mine anyway.
“How was it?” I’d ask him anxiously each week when he returned.
“Great!” he’d say.
“What do you talk about?”
“Oh, this and that. It’s always fun!”
FUN. Not the word I would have used to describe our weekly trips.
I think one of the things my husband enjoyed most was the solitude of his return trip home, and his return trip to pick her up. He got that rare hour of alone time every Sunday, and the trip to and from church with Yiayia were apparently pleasant too, because she wasn’t plying him with questions designed to remind him of his multiple failings as a human being.
Why Do We Revert to Our Lesser Selves?
One thing I realized during all the years that Yiayia lived with us is that, as adults, many of us tend to revert back to when we were at our worst -i.e. our teenage years. For whatever reason, being with Yiayia turned me back into my 15-year-old self. But my husband, of course, didn’t suffer from this.
Having him drive her to church each week turned out to be just what all of us needed. He got a break and time with my mom. I got a break from time with my mom. It was a win/win all around.
By the way, I still make her baklava, and her Snax, among many other dishes, and our kids do too. If you’d like any of the recipes, leave a comment on this story or drop us an email (LINK). I’ll send them right over; just don’t ask me to take your mom to church every Sunday.♠