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Heating Up With Mother

August 21, 2015


It’s been unusually hot here in Portland, a city better known for rain. My mother complains about the heat every day. Of course she also complains about the rain, along with most everything else. She lives in an air-conditioned retirement facility. Unfortunately, my mother, who at ninety is a sharp cookie when it comes to most things, can’t manage the dynamics of AC. And she never could.


Years ago we were visiting my folks in Grass Valley, California, and the temperature was consistently over 105 degrees. My mother confiscated the only fan in the house, lugged it to her bedroom and refused to turn on the air-conditioning. When she fell asleep after dinner, I crept over to the thermostat and turned on the AC. A few hours later she dashed out of her bedroom yelling, “There’s a breeze outside.”


She snapped off the AC. The thermometer on the deck read 98 degrees, which quickly became the temperature inside when she opened all the windows. We drove home to Oregon the next day.


So yesterday my mother was once again complaining that the heat was making her dizzy and draining her energy.


“But you have AC and never leave your apartment,” I countered.


“Yes, but I know it’s hot outside.”


I refrained from again mentioning that she doesn’t go outside. I asked, “Are you still turning off the AC?”


“I got up last night to use the bathroom and turned it off.”




“I find air-conditioning stuffy.”


“Is that why you turned it off?”


“That blast of cold air will give me pneumonia.”


“Is that why you turned it off?”


“I guess I turn it off out of habit. When I got our of bed this morning the apartment was so hot I felt dizzy again.”


There are probably salamanders that can alter their behavior more quickly than my mother. She proudly claims that the Depression made her frugal, even though she was only four years old when the Depression began. Truthfully, Mom is a penny-pincher who can squeeze the buffalo off of a nickel. (I’m sure she’s squirreled away nickels still featuring buffalos.)


“Don’t turn off the air conditioning,” I ordered. “Just set it for seventy-five degrees, or whatever you find comfortable, and leave it alone. You aren’t billed separately for electricity so it doesn’t cost you anything to let it run. Unlike you, my electricity bill goes through the roof when I run mine.”


“The noise bothers me.”


“Does the noise sap your energy or make you dizzy?”


She just snorted.


I love my mother, but I’ve turned a deaf ear to her complaints about the heat. If she chooses to be hot—so be it. I’d prefer for her to be comfortable, but her incessant harping about the weather has worn me down more than the high temperatures. I no longer care. For failing to listen respectfully and patiently to my mother, I’m probably going to hell, which can’t possibly be as hot as her apartment.









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There are lock boxes to cover and protect thermostats from fickle fingers and prying hands.
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 21, 2015
I don't know how I would survive without AC (well, I'm sure *I* would survive, but I'm not sure my husband would - ha!).
By: The Bug on August 21, 2015
98 at night? That doesn't sound like heaven to me!
By: The Broad on August 21, 2015
We didn't have air conditioning when I was a kid, so I spent many a miserable night trying to sleep in hot muggy Baltimore. Now, the older I get, the more I realize I have become an unadulterated AC baby. I don't think I could survive here in Georgia without it. OK, so maybe I COULD survive, but thank God we have it.
By: Susan Swiderski on August 21, 2015
my thermostat stays on 81 thru the dreaded texas summer (the house is a big open gazebo) and 60 during winter. your mom is a trip.
By: TexWisGirl on August 21, 2015
oh my- I hate AC- it's noisy and actually can make me sick. Not sure why, but when we travel and "the man" turns it on I usually get some sort of sinus infection- fortunately for both of us we don't need AC where we live because we live at 3500'and it cools off enough at night. Plus we have ceiling fans- and they keep the air circulating nicely. You are a patient son and your mom is very lucky! Cheers!
By: Kathe W. on August 21, 2015
My great grandmother is the same age as your mom (I'll keep typing before anybody has a chance to think about that one), and she does the same thing. She lived during the Depression, but it's been many, many years since she's been destitute. I once heard her say she was glad she hadn't bought a certain vegetable the week before because she could find it 7 cents a pound cheaper this week. Generational? Maybe.
By: Katy Anders on August 21, 2015
my mother was nothing but a list of complaints. one of the last times I went to visit her before she died (she had moved to Woodinville WA to live with the son who promptly put her in a family home where she got excellent care by the way) , she was rather pleasant, not a single complaint dripped from her lips. I was beginning to worry she was about to drop dead but then halfway through the day she remembered herself and it was nothing but complaints the rest the day.
By: Ellen Abbott on August 21, 2015
If I ever become like Ellen's mom, my family has my written permission to have me put to sleep!!
By: fishducky on August 21, 2015
My mother complains about her back pain every time I talk to her, which is daily, yet refuses to see a doctor about it. This has gone on for more than 30 years. Now I just ignore her.
By: LL Cool Joe on August 21, 2015
I know your mother very well even though I've never met her.
By: cranky on August 21, 2015
Think I'd check into one of those lock boxes Daniel mentioned and set it around 80. With fans, she should be comfortable. Heat is not an old person's friend and can bring on stroke but with poor circulation older folks are often colder than we are and don't feel the heat. You are in a tough spot Stephen.
By: Akansas Patti on August 21, 2015
I never want to be one of those stubborn people set in their ways unless I do not complain to other about it. She is lucky she has not passed out in this hot weather.
By: Tabor on August 21, 2015
I will gladly do without almost every other modern convenience if it means I can keep my air conditioning. Your mom and I are poles apart on this one. LONG LIVE A/C! :)
By: Scott Park on August 21, 2015
That reminds me so much of my mom, dabbing away her sweat with a paper towel in summer, and wearing two sets of flannel pajamas and a robe in winter, while declaring her thermostat was set just right at 84 and 60, respectively.
By: Val on August 21, 2015
Sometimes we can't get what the other guy's irrational and that doesn't make sense to us rational people.
By: red on August 21, 2015
Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry and Elaine visit his parents in Florida...
By: Pixel Peeper on August 21, 2015
Oh gosh with me being menopausal and all, I would DIE without my a/c. I live in south Florida and we are burning up down here. The stories about your mom alway crack me up. Your ending to this piece is so clever!
By: marcia @ Menopausal Mother on August 21, 2015
Your mom is the opposite of my wife. If the lovely Mrs. Shife had her way the AC would be set at 60 all summer long. Best of luck with the AC battle and hopefully you will get a break from the heat since we are heading towards the end of summer.
By: Mr. Shife on August 21, 2015
I appreciate my AC, and I love Dean, the AC/heating repair man. I remember as a child we had one window unit to try to cool our entire house. It was rather uncomfortable, but better than nothing. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 21, 2015
Ha, ha, I can just picture you and your Mom. Look at all the patience you have had to learn over the years................ :)
By: John on August 22, 2015
My mom, born in '31, raised frugality to an art form. Now that I'm older I find myself getting frugal too. But I know what your mom means - I'm in the A/C and still uncomfortable. Cold air's hitting my front; my back is sweating against the seat. I hate summer...
By: Lexa Cain on August 22, 2015
My mother- in- law's face would be beet red and dripping sweat and she would say, "I'm not hot." Her single wide mobile home had no windows open. She had no fan on. When she opened the door, we would be hit with a blast of hot air, so we refused to go in. She would turn it on just for us. I imagine she turned it off when we left!
By: Linda on August 22, 2015
It is truly okay that you ignore the complaints of a person who can do something to change the situation and won't. My suggestion would be to get a dummy switch and have the real thermostat control moved elsewhere so your mother can still fiddle with the dummy switch and not actually change it.
By: messymimi on August 22, 2015
Don't feel bad. We argue about the temperature here too, both inside and out.
By: Catalyst on August 23, 2015
Yes, mister, you're dancin' with the devil:)
By: Rick Watson on August 23, 2015
One of my late work out buddies kept his home at 65 degrees all year long. He was the oldest guy at the gym--80. But he could afford the bills and didn't care. He used a comforter and claimed to sleep better! ;)
By: Michael Manning on August 23, 2015
This is too funny. Before my mom got dementia, she would always have a window open. My hubby and I would tell her to close the window since we have the air on (she lived in the upstairs part of our home) but she claimed the window didn't affect the a/c. She would then ask us to lower the ac since she was too hot. I told her that the open window will affect the coolness of the place but she would argue the point. This is when she was perfectly well. She grew up with windows open. She designed the home addition and knew how to build homes but this? Nope common sense right out the window. Would drive me batty
By: Birgit on August 24, 2015
Excellent post! I feel as if I've known your mother for decades.
By: Bryan Jones on August 27, 2015
I'm afraid to ask my mother "how are you" when I call her because the rants then begin! I know what you mean!
By: Bouncin Barb on September 7, 2015

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