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Coping with family micromanagement

Published November 22. 2014 09:00AM

My wife, Marie, a native of New Columbus, was talking on the phone to her 47-year-old son (my stepson) and asking him when he was going to have supper and what was on the menu.

She underscored her concern over the number of hours he was working and whether he was getting enough sleep. "Make sure you go to bed early tonight," she instructed.

Until recently, each school day our granddaughter and grandson, both 16, got off the school bus right in front of our home. Marie had to be at the front door to eyeball their leaving the bus and walking the 10 yards to our door.

"You never know …," she would say, a not-so-veiled reference to potential body-snatchers who might leap from the bushes in broad daylight, in front of a dozen or so other students and a bus driver, and make off with our grandchildren in gunny sacks.

Our 19-year-old grandson, who has been driving for three years, must call Marie after his visits to us to let her know that he has arrived safely at his nearby home and is inside the house with all doors and windows locked.

When the children and grandchildren visit in winter, Marie is incredulous when they aren't wearing coats.

"You'll freeze," she frets, as eyes roll practically out of their sockets. She has auxiliary coats and sweaters on standby, which they politely but firmly reject.

"We'll look like nerds, Grammy," they protest.

When her two sons are on the road, whether for business or pleasure, she is a nervous wreck until they reach their destinations. The process begins again when they are en route home.

One of her sons lives on the street next to ours, and Marie will frequently look out of our kitchen window to check on how many cars are in her son's driveway. If one of the family cars is not there at a time Marie believes it should be, speculation and fantastic scenarios run wild.

The micromanagement doesn't stop with the children and grandchildren; she is on the phone with her brothers daily, offering advice on everything from their jobs to their bowel movements.

By Marie's standards, I am an uncaring, disinterested lout.

I can't ever recall asking my three sons what they had for supper, unless, of course, they were eating at a five-star restaurant in some exotic locale, such as Dubai. Since they know their own bodies far better than I ever could, they don't need my input on an appropriate bedtime hour. I don't fret for a second about where they go, because I figure at ages 50, 48 and 47 they will go and come as they please regardless of any suggestions or comments I may make. I rely on them to tell me information they figure I should know or want me to know. If they don't, I conclude it is none of my business.

The best-selling book from John Gray in 1992, "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus," explored how men and women differ in some substantial and fundamental ways when it comes to relationships.

Is Marie the stereotypical "crazy mom"? Hardly. Her children and grandchildren adore her. They are constantly concerned with her health and well-being, and they repay her concern about them in so many positive and loving ways. They don't, however, want her to worry about them.

"It's as if we are still little kids living at home," says one of them, who politely asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. "We know that's the way she is, and it's all in the name of love, but, sometimes, well, it wears a little thin."

Marie loves the TV sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," possibly because she sees some of herself in Marie Barone, the overprotective mom of sons Raymond and Robert. Marie and husband Frank live across the street from Raymond and think nothing of popping in unannounced or of meddling in any number of ways.

"Oh, my God, that's Marie, her brother, Larry, says when Marie Barone replicates something that Marie had done recently. The observation is followed by hysterical laughter, including Marie's.

Marie is a super neat freak, an accommodation I have been working on during the past 23 years we have been married, but, alas, I still fall short of perfection and expectations and regress on occasion to my former slovenly ways.

Just two of many examples:

• Family members are expected to remove their shoes at the door to our home. I have this one down pat, but where I sometimes fail is in the slippers department. I have two pairs of slippers, one for indoor use and one for outdoors, in the garage. If I am taking groceries from the car to the house, I put on the outdoor slippers until I get inside the house, then trade them for the indoor pair, and so it goes until all of the bags of groceries are inside. If I forget to take off the outdoor pair inside the house, eagle-eyed Marie immediately reminds me.

• I love pretzels. In my pre-Marie life, I consumed pretzels as most people do took them from the container and ate. Now, I am expected to have a bowl under my mouth at throat level to catch any crumbs that might fall.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book dedicated to Marie's idiosyncrasies, but I have been hesitant because, at one per page, I am up to 738 pages.

Learning and practicing Marie's rules and regulations have been challenging. I do rebel from time to time, yet I have learned for the sake of matrimonial harmony it is best to pick my rebellious shots.

But I have to confess and please do not tell this to Marie when she is out of the house, and I am home alone, I sometimes eat pretzels without a bowl.

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