“Damned Improvers of the World!”

“That man! Improve, improve, improve!  Damned improvers of the world!”

When anything pushed Mother’s intolerance button, the Committee for the Academy Awards missed an opportunity to uncover raw talent.  I don’t know how she fared in scriptwriting when she studied English, but her performance, synchronizing words, facial expressions, hand movements and footwork, could surely have been borrowed by Dame Edith Evans.

Influenced by English parentage, Mother’s two expletives were “damn” and…well, the word that refers to a more solid sampling of bodily eliminations.  We fled like deer in a wildfire when we heard either word trumpeted from a usually collected mother.  The escape ended within earshot.  The juicy morsel that robbed her of normal eloquence would have our rapt attention.  I would cross my fingers in hopes that it was caused by an older sibling who had been caught in some unspeakable act of “sneak and deceive”.

This particular day, the outburst was over the discovery that Dad had fixed the car so well that Mom could not get it started.  She had complained to him, during one of his periods at home, that the car would not start consistently.  Dad not only fixed the problem, he added some ingenious gadget that would make life easier for Mom.  When she suddenly needed the car, the gadget would not respond.

Probably our father tried to have her test the new starting procedure.  I imagine her saying, “Well, if it starts, that’s all that matters.”  After he’d left for another stint away, when the car was found unworkable, Dad’s invention would have been swept past praise and appreciation and given last rites for ‘improvement’ purgatory.

For many years, Mother’s dislike for improvements baffled me.  She loved learning.  She attracted youth faster than new clothing with her genuine interest in all that was going on in their lives.  She read voraciously and embraced cultural events with exuberance.  New technology fascinated her to the point where learning how to operate a new remote was as exciting as a test run on a new ATV.

I asked her about it years later.  “Mom, you have told me that you would like to be considered ‘resilient’ .  Yet you are dismayed over certain changes that are made – especially now that Dad is also retired and home all the time.  You get upset when he tries to improve anything around the house.”

“It’s not the newness or change that I find upsetting.  It’s the inconvenience of needless changes to something that was purposely set up. Especially when I’m not even asked.  When something is handy and functioning, it does not need improvement.”

“Convenience and constancy contribute to the quality of my life.  I do not want to waste my time looking for things.  I want to spend time doing what I enjoy in life,” she explained.  “I may have some strange set-ups, but they are like that for a reason.”

She said, “One of the biggest challenges with aging is health forcing us to give up control.  It is very subtle at first.  I do not want to wake up and realize I’ve handed my life over to other people or things when I have enough faculties to be as self-sufficient as possible.  Living my life in my own wonky way keeps me active and alive.”

“Okay, Mom, give me some examples of ‘improvements’ that bug you in old age.”

She rhymed examples without hesitation:

  • “We have the T.V. set at a particular angle.  It may look strange, but I don’t want the kitchen light reflecting off the screen.
  • Don’t put the phone back on the phone table.  Leave it on the couch beside me.  I miss important calls otherwise.
  • The grocery store rearranges the produce and I can’t find anything.  I have enough energy for a 20 minute shopping trip, but not one that takes 40 minutes.
  • I find the perfect holder for objects that I need close by.  I do not need a bigger, brighter or nicer looking one.  I’ve adapted this one to my needs.  We work nicely together.
  • Leave my kitchen alone.  I may not spend much time there, but when there, I want to find things.

    Negative Motives Lurking Behind Ones That Shine. Photo by Amy MacLeod

  • Put everything back where you have found it.  Even if it makes no sense to you.”

She said,  “What I feel is a taste of how countries, cultures, communities and people feel when others come along with their set of standards and begin dictating how to live in the name of ‘improvement’.  Improvers of the world are actually controllers.”

She paused to let the concept sink in.  “Improvers hide negative motives behind what appears to be good ones,” she said.  “And they’ll do it without even asking.”

From the heart and hearth of home…

42 thoughts on ““Damned Improvers of the World!”

  1. This was really good. I like your little essays about life and family. Also I cited one of the comments you left me in “Spiritual Capitalism” and put it in my recent post, again about more “Spiritual Capitalism:Who is our customer?” Thanks, have a great day.

    • Dear informationforager – I left a comment on your site and neglected to respond here with a big thanks for quoting me. I am delighted to have contributed in some small way!

  2. I’m with the mom on a few things.

    I meant to turn the phone ‘off’–leave it that way. I’ll turn it on when I want it on.

    I KNOW where things are, even if it makes nooooo sense to you–put it back where you found it, please.

    Why DO they screw with the stock in grocery stores–and why put the lima beans on the top shelf? Did anyone consult ME about that decision?! umm….shouldn’t they have?

    Oh–and just for the record, I’ve discovered the ‘what’s in it for me’ is HUGER than I thought….and it’s disappointing me today.
    Especially since I discovered I was guilty of a few counts of that myself.

    OH! And can you PLEASE not tilt the monitor for the computer in my office. I wear bifocals. IT WORKS FOR ME..and it’s supposedly ‘my’ office?

    I think I like your mother a whole LOT. LOL

    • Mel, we just have to remember to not be one of the “fixers of the world”! Mom cured me of thinking I had to be the dutiful daughter and walk into their home with all sorts of wonderful ideas. I thought that was what daughters were supposed to do. UGH! She also taught me something that I share with the Seniors when I managed a Residence. They cheered when I told them my mothers words: “Darling, I want to see you often, but not for long.” Seniors are so afraid to tell their adult kids that in case they never come back! But it is too tiring to have company for longer than their tolerance level.

    • Hi Richard! As a Brit, do you use the S word? That used to be such a no-no that even my contemporaries stay away from it. Perhaps that’s a hangover and we’re being more British than the Brits! 😀

  3. I love her! And I sympathize completely. Absolutely, your mom should have her things the way she wants them – she didn’t ask for the improvements. My Dad has always done the same thing to my mom and it infuriates her. These “improvers” have too much time on their hands and not enough of their own interests.

    • Your comment makes me chuckle. While I too could empathize with Mom, I saw how Dad thought he was being such a good provider by being that helpful. The key certainly was communication with my parents. They lived apart for so many working years that retirement was not easy for them.

  4. My daughter’s friend said the S word yesterday, I almost fell off my chair.
    Your mom was very wise, Amy, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    • The language used in the media must make the rest of us look like saints. When someone is profane, I hear the swear word so well that I often miss the message.

  5. Hi Amy .. our home is our home isn’t it! Yet when I was off to visit my mother – she’d turn to friends and say .. oh oh .. I’d better go tidy up Hilary’s coming! I could do the same here now! … still I realise the importance of leaving things as they are for the elderly – habits die hard and sight and hearing slow down .. sameness is easier for them .. less brain power required.

    Wonderful how our brain reacts and can answer as we need – Mum still does it even from her bed – she “has castles of bungalows around the world” … I ask her where she wants to visit … and (immediately) out will come ‘here’ .. covering up the fact that she’s not at all sure. It’s fascinating – I ‘test’ her sometimes to see the answer I’ll get – I’m laughing as I do it .. and never push for an answer as I’m never sure about it .. but I’ll get a reply of sorts – that I then adapt so I don’t put her into a difficult situation … it’s interesting to say the least. The brain is a wonderful organ.

    Cheers – Hilary

    • Yes, Hilary, the brain is an incredible organ. I learned how important it is to ‘walk with’ those whose minds were beginning to hit and miss. As with the Taming of the Shrew. If the moon is another color to them, let it be. I grin that your mother says “here” – too bad so many miss the significance of here. She may be far, far ahead of us, Hilary. 😀

  6. I enjoyed this immensely, Amy. I especially appreciate the sage words of your mom’s at the end, about controlling other countries’ ways. Truly, we should not intrude on anyone’s methods except in extreme circumstances.

    • We used to encourage Mom to write. If she had been part of the computer age (I tried to entice her in her mid 80s with the promise of endless crosswords) who knows what she would have done. When I discover blogs like yours, Ruth, I am sorry this world was not part of hers.

    • No wonder you are precious to me! Poch – you are living proof that it matters not our age, race, creed or colour – we all just want the same decency that life has to offer. We are all of the same ilk when stripped of all the outer influences.

  7. I think your Mom and I would have gotten along very well. Thank you for this glimpse into some of her thoughts, Amy. I found myself agreeing with every one of them.

    • So, Charles, in reference to your last two posts, when you are King of the World, please declare that fixers and improvers have to register intent with the person they plan to “help”. 😀

      P.S. Charles…I KNOW my mother and you would have been great buddies. In fact, we may have lost the two of you for days at a time!

  8. My Dad used to say similar to your Mother and that is not to fix what isn’t broken. But there were always those times when he became fascinated with something new and bought it. We would ask him if the other was broken. He’d pause and then break out in the biggest grin. I loved that. He was well pleased we’d learned the lesson well and thought twice before changing something. I think he was more concerned that we put a little thought into changes that we made. Great post Amy. Respect for another’s space is so important.

    • When we heard our Dad working in his workshop, we used to hold our breath. Many of his creations weighed heavily on “practical” and way too light on “esthetic”. We were quite relieved when he took up rock polishing.

  9. This makes a lot of sense in so many ways. My husband’s the cook and what comes to mind is his reaction when I clean and organize his spices or the pantry. Let’s just say that the words he chooses are not as genteel as your mother’s. :0)

    • Hope you see this, you sweet woman – I now have the award embedded on the side of my blog and any time anyone clicks on it, they will go to your site. Many thanks!!

  10. Having just spent another week with my mom after her 2nd cataract surgery – I can certainly relate to the timing of this post … I had to bite my tongue several times (where in the past I might have blurted a few things) … but at the age of 90 yrs and 9+ months … I am amazed at the body’s changes with age – and her adaptability as well. I hope I am as resilient when I reach 60 – 65 yrs 🙂 … much less older! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Becca, I have been amazed at the determination and tenacity of some seniors. Some little bodies seem to be kept together with a thread and they continue… At times, I am in awe of the effort and the energy that must be used to manage even the simplest ablution! My doctor tells me that we need only look at our mothers to have a good idea of how we will be in those decades. So hang on to your hat! 🙂

  11. This was very insightful for me. In reading the comments when you noted seniors wanted their adult kids to visit but just not too long, thanks for that. We visit my aged father-in-law and I always think we leave too soon. It’s good to know he’s probably ok with us going.

    • Hi Julie – thanks for visiting. I did that for years! Sad that I didn’t broach the subject with them. It would have been a win-win conversation! When in doubt, hope you are not afraid to ask how long a good visit would be.

  12. This was a great story Amy, I absolutely liked it, read it twice! I have to agree with the mom “When something is handy and functioning, it does not need improvement”. I for example find very annoying with the internet sites that I use, how often they change the layouts and the way of use. I just manage to get used to certain type of e-mail layout and then they come up with a new one. Is not that I won’t figure out the supposedly better and improved version, but no one asked me if I wanted it changed. 3 weeks ago they’ve changed the way yahoo account function and I have to say I hate the new version and I wish I could’ve stayed away from the upgrade, update button. Anyway … loved the story! Thanks for sharing!

    • Way to go, Blaga – it sounds like you empathize completely with my mom! Seems life gets boring so that’s why people look to change something. Guess we could teach them that only boring people get bored! 😀

  13. What an interesting take on improvers being controllers, Amy. I love the way you share your parents with us. It brings back fond memories of my father too, who would relentlessly attempt to fix our cars, mostly to save money – which sometimes costed more, and always in terms of time 🙂

    • Hi Tokeloshe… that’s glass art. I call it my “Angel” and it hangs in my living room window. It dances in the light. Its reflection in the window, at night, is all wonky. The contrast fit the theme.

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