Wednesday, August 09, 2006

M is for the million things she gave me.

Someone wrote in after the last blog and asked what it is my parents had said to me to install the good values I have. Seeing this stopped me for two seconds. The first second was spent thinking something along the lines of “I have good values?” In relation to the Gambino crime family, perhaps. And the next second was spent trying to recall moments where my parents spoke to me about how they wanted me to behave.

Here’s what I know my parents believed was important. Or rather, my mother -- between my father dying when I was nine and mothers taking a larger interest in the day-to-day affairs of children, I am far more a product of my mother’s belief system than my father’s belief system. Here is what my mother believed:

She believed in thank-you notes. She believed in thank-you notes to such an extent that I didn’t get to play with or wear the presents until the thank you note went out. If you are about to tell me what a mean mother I had, let me warn you that Daughter abides by the same rule.

She believed in the difference between “Can” and “May”; using them interchangeably led to conversations like:

“Can I have that last slice of pizza?”

“If you are asking me whether you are physically capable of grabbing it, I believe you are. If you are asking me whether you may have it, not until you eat some carrots…”

She believed that a child mouthing (or as she put it, “Lipping”) off to her parent might make for a wonderful Neil Simon comedy, it led to anarchy and car bombs in real life, and had to be squashed with surgical precision.

As far as world view goes, she is far more of a doer than a talker. She has volunteered my entire life, and she has usually volunteered at things which are essential and singularly unglamorous. Say there is a fund-raising ball being mounted. One person gets to taste all the catering companies, to pick just the right salmon en croute. Another person gets to call famous people and seduce them into coming. My mother would volunteer to do the bookkeeping. And the year she does that, the checks get accounted for, deposited, and the money gets out to those who need it, faster than ever before.

But are you asking me what sage advice I remember getting from my sainted mother? Oh, that’s easy. I was in the tenth grade, and I must have been staring at someone’s Vogue magazine at school during lunch, because I came home from school and informed my mother I had decided my career plan for adulthood was to marry for money. I don’t remember why I thought this sounded like such a good idea. Maybe I decided having a weekend place in Taos would never require me to use Geometry.

My mother, prepping dinner, never turned a hair, and answered me like a shot.

“Okay, but that would make you a whore.”

“Oh, right. Never mind.”

I must tell you, my mother hates this story. Hates it. She says, with some justification, “I gave you advice and counsel for eighteen years, and this is the one you remember?”

So, readers, let me be perfectly clear. My mother gave me tons of good advice throughout my childhood. I just can’t remember any of it. I remember this little interaction because even though it came from out of the clear blue, she answered it evenly and without ruffle. She didn’t say not to do it or that it was morally wrong, she just asked me to decide whether I was comfortable wearing that title. Many women have decided skiing in Gstaad takes the sting right out of the connotation. To her credit, my mother also had the grace not to point out that women who marry for money usually don’t resemble me.

So, readers, I have one for you. What is the most notable advice a parent, or parent figure, ever gave you? It can be notably good, notably bad or, in the case of my mother’s advice, just the perfect response to the unexpected question.

Tag, you’re it.

21 Comments:

Blogger Deeann said...

My mom has always told me that I am responsible for my own happiness--which is true. I try not to give anyone the power to make me feel bad. I've always liked that.
Also---another favorite was --you can always find a little good in a bad situation.
:)

9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nobody can make a doormat out of you. You must lie down first." This was actually my mom's grandfather's saying, but he was dead by the time I came around. Mom was mostly famous for "Very mean makes very ugly." I grew to understand that it didn't just mean in the physical sense.

10:32 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

My folks have always told my sister and I to be fair in all we do. Another is that no good deed goes unrewarded.

I try to pass on these basic lessons to my son not only by words and most importantly, also by example.

2:39 AM  
Blogger melwadel said...

I posted about this once: The Six Weirdest Things My Parents Tried to Teach Me

1. Don’t wear your snow boots in the house. You’ll get a headache.

2. Don’t go out with a wet head. You’ll catch cold. (I’ll stop on the day I read in the New York Times obits, “She died from going out with a wet head.”)

3. Don’t step over your brother. He’ll stop growing.

4. If you do step over your brother, you must immediately step back over in the other direction to ensure his continued growth. (My brother is only about 5’5”. They may have been right on this one.)

5. No one in our family drives in the left lane.

6. Don’t pinch your brother. You’ll give him cancer.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Darby said...

When I was 19, I spent a summer managing one of my dad's costume jewelry stores. (A la Claires). I was nervous to be going in as such a young manager, and being the owner's son to boot. My dad gave me some advice that really helped me:

"Always be definite in front of your employees. Even if you have to stay late, and spend hours secretlymaking up for a mistake you made, don't waver."

Seems silly, but it has really helped me.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best Dad advice: "Always have a pen with you."

Best Mom advice: "Never wear black underwear under light-colored clothing."

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Marisa said...

My best parental advice came from my dad. He always told me never to force anything, because if you do, chances are you'll end up breaking it. He was talking mostly about mechanical things, but it applies to the broader world very nicely as well.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

My father always told me that if I ever needed to hire someone to make sure they were smarter than I was because they would keep me on my toes and make me look good in the bargain. He also told me that as a boss, if an employee makes a mistake it's really my mistake, but if something goes well all of the credit goes to my staff. I have stuck to this for 25 years of Arts Management and these two pieces of advice have worked really, really well. As far as mom goes, she told me to always leave a party with the same person I came with. My life would have been much less complicated if I'd stuck to that more often.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember my dad advising me to always read the entire newspaper, so that I would have something to talk about with company.

My mom's favorite advice is to look for the silver lining when bad things happen.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

My sister and I were just talking about this.

Our parents, who are now 79 and 80, are extremely loving and tolerant people. They hold themselves to very very high standards and are both perfectionists. But they never forced this on us, nor do they demand it of the people around them.

I would be a credit to my parents if I were even half as loving and tolerant as they are.

8:47 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

I'm not sure if he ever actually said it, but I learned from my dad that if you can read, you can do pretty much anything. (He built a computer in 1977 from a kit, for instance.)

10:31 PM  
Anonymous grateful gramma said...

My dad died when I was 13 and my mom had issues with alcohol so I didn't have much advise to fall back on when raising my two sons as a single mom. When I asked a junior high teacher whom I admired what his parent had done to help him, and his five brothers, turn out to be such fine young men he shared his dad's advice with me;
1. always know who your kids are with
2. always know where they are within a mile
3. always know exactly how much money is in their pocket.
4. keep them so busy with sports or music that the weekend practices and performances keep them too tired to get into trouble on the weekends
5. pray for them daily

I took his advice and I have two very successful sons who graduated from college and are productive citizens. I overheard my younger son just the other day telling his wife those same secrets to success and how he planned to use them with his one year old son as he got older. I am forever grateful to you, Mr. Zippi, wherever you are today!

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Christine said...

Actually it wasn't so much verbal advice but actions-my (Catholic)Mom had the courage in 1963 to divorce my very abusive dad and showed me that I come from a line of very strong women. I learned by her actions to stand up for myself. She died 16 years ago and I still miss her every day.

6:27 AM  
Blogger the only daughter said...

Dad: Don't look down when you walk.
(I tripped often-whether looking or not) My dad (IMO) was a bit unstable-at, 4 or 5-(when this advise was given) I felt the need to quite literally, watch my step.

Mom: Go, now, and put on that girdle-don't ever leave the house without it on!

8:56 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

From my Grandma:
If you wore a girdle, you'd have a much smoother shape. (i was 24 at the time)

From my Mom:
Always wear clean underwear, especially if you get in an accident.
(why? if i get in an accident, my underwear won't be clear any longer. but, i guess if i had a girdle on, it would be so smooth no one could tell i'd crapped my pants. maybe there was some wisdom in all this, after all.)

7:27 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

My mother told me to know a little about a lot of things. She also demonstrates strength through adversity and disability with a never-quit attitude.

My father told me to buy the best clothes I can afford because if I feel good about how I look, I'll act more confident. He also told me nobody could take education away from me.

My husband's mother told him he would get sick if he slept with his socks on.

6:51 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

The best advice both my parents gave me and continue to give me today (and I'm almost 45!) is about choosing words carefully, thinking about what you're going to say...because: "Words are like birds -- once they're out, they fly away and you can't get them back."

10:39 PM  
Blogger Sandy said...

My dad always told me that politicians who can't keep a commitment to their wife cannot keep a commitment to an entire country. Their needs/wants will always come first. Then he showed me that if he told me not to do something because it was wrong/bad he wasn't going to do it either. That is what I admire him for most. No one is perfect, but he never critisized me for something that he himself did too.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

My father had the same advice about education being something that no one can take away from you.

This is definitely a lesson I am passing along to my daughter - along with my mother's corollary that education never hurts, even if you don't see any direct use for the subject. Mom said she'd rather have a cab driver who'd read Shakespeare than one who hadn't - she thought that we all benefit from a liberal education, even if you never need to solve a quadratic equation or recite Hamlet's soliloquy once those courses are over.

My mother also told me not to do anything that I didn't want to get back to her, because somehow she would learn about it.

Quinn helped me bring this lesson home to my own daughter. When DD was in a shopping district a few blocks from her school (in the middle of the school day), Quinn happened to be in line at Starbucks behind DD. Although it turns out DD was on a class-sanctioned trip, Quinn's presence made my parenting job so much easier - DD now has direct evidence that I WILL learn about anything she does.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

This was regarding relationships.
Mom:
If you hold sand tightly in your hands it will escape.
If you hold it loosely it will remain.
Thats why I am a Scorpio successfully dating a Gemini! Although Dad gave me advice otherwise about my knowledge of astrology but he's a Sag. really why would he think any differently?

8:55 AM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Okay, yeah...this is a little old...like 5 years, but I just got turned on to your blog (thank Jen Lancaster).

When I was a teenager, I had a POS for a car...that I had to pay my dad back for fronting the money ($500). Consequently, the car had things go wrong with it from time-to-time. When they did, my dad would go buy the part to fix it, pull out the required tools, get his lawn chair out, put it in the shade and say, "Okay, Marianne, the first thing you do is..." He told me that if I ever wanted a man, I could have one; but that he never wanted me to NEED one.

10:01 AM  

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