Mom’s practical advice

I’ve read many lovely odes to mothers online this week, and I particularly liked Alexandra Rosas’s discussion of what her mother taught her about living. The wonderful feeling of being nurtured and loved that permeates most Mother’s Day posts makes me happy.

But there’s another important function of Mom: keeping you safe and healthy.. My mom didn’t teach me about how to braise a turkey or follow my bliss. My mother’s advice was, at its best, logical—focused on ensuring we were never caught by circumstances in a position where we couldn’t take care of ourselves. My mom’s words of wisdom might not look great on a coffee mug and they might not help me make a delicious fried chicken, but they’ve kept me from making big mistakes in life. Here are my mom’s top ten lessons to me:

1. Never carry a balance on your credit card. If you can’t pay it off this month, don’t buy it. Seriously. The interest you pay means you could save your money and buy two of whatever it is. So wait until you could write a check and then use your card for the miles/points/bonus.

2. Write thank you notes. For gifts, for interviews, for any kindness. On paper.

3. Always maintain at least two accounts in your own name. No matter how much you love someone, you don’t want to be by yourself with no credit and no access to cash if something ever happens. My mom was divorced in the era where a woman couldn’t retain her credit after divorce, and after she and my dad separated she found herself with no bank account, no credit cards, and no credit history. So she got a department store card and started building her credit history by buying only what she could afford and paying off the balance every month. See advice #1.

4. Don’t put recreational chemicals in your body, if only because they compromise the best thing you have to offer the world: your brain. She taught this one by tailoring the message, rather than by lecturing: she said that she personally didn’t use substances because she hated feeling out of control. Loss of control?! My kryptonite! I’m never trying any of them.

5. Oral sex is still sex, and if he’s not willing to give before he gets, he doesn’t deserve any.

6. Never wait for the last minute. There is nothing good about rushing around as the world crashes down around your project. Take the deadline and calculate backwards. Start the day you know about a deadline and make early progress. Submit early. That way, if life throws obstacles in your way, you won’t freak out. Because you’ll be handling tasks like a boss.

7. If you do nothing else before you leave the house, put on lipstick. A little color makes everything better.

8. Okay, mascara, too. Because the two, together, takes 20 seconds.

9. Keep your eyes up and your ears open because it’s when you look like an easy target that you will be one.

10. Life’s not fair. Don’t hope that you’ll get what’s due you because that’s not how this life works. Good guys sometimes finish first and they sometimes finish last. Worry more about how you get there than what number you are at the end.

I may not follow 7 or 8 regularly (because, seriously, 20 seconds seems like a lot), but the rest shaped the fabric of who I am.

What smart, practical advice did your mom give you growing up?

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Quandry

I’m trying to decide whether to have a full existential meltdown, or just analyze away something that’s digging away at the corners of  my mind. Let’s see where I wind up after telling you this:

A new mom, amazing person with lots of early childhood experience told me this week, “I don’t get it. This is a lot of work, but it’s just not that hard. Why do people say this is so hard?”  Cut to a few hours later, and a professional, kick-ass mom who is quite open about not finding her reason for being in parenting,  said, “There are just some women who are meant to do this. I’m not one of them.”

So I’ve been thinking, incessantly: am I cut of non-parenting cloth because I do find it hard, or are we having a difference not of opinion but of semantics? No, it’s not hard. It’s exhausting, not hard. It’s  draining, not hard. Parenting full time is more work than I’ve ever done, but it’s not, she’s right, actually hard. It is hard to do it all day every day, but the work, itself, is not hard. Hard to make it through behaving properly, but not hard to do. Fine.

A five-year veteran who doesn’t think she was  cut out for parenting has always made me feel like I’m doing okay. Now I’m rocked by a mom who has tons of pre-baby experience with children and has spent two months with her own babies and doesn’t see why people warned her it would be hard.

Maybe my phase with a newborn was different because our first four months were colored by intense breastfeeding pain. But every new family has issues that make things tough, though, so I can’t write off my lack of pleasure  as resulting from early pain.

Maybe because I start thinking, about an hour before nap and all the time after nap, every day since my child was six months old, “when are you going to sleep?!?!!!”, maybe I’m not cut out for this  work. I’ve known for a long time that my child probably deserves a more patient caregiver, but that I can’t fathom having someone else raise my child. Why have a kid, I’ve always reasoned, if someone else will spend  more time with my child than I will? But that new mom, who doesn’t think life with a newborn is hard, makes me think maybe I should have someone else do this for me. Because I don’t always like this job. In fact, I rarely like this job. Love the kid, loathe the work. The not-hard work.

I can’t get over that it’s not just the language.

Of course, I didn’t feel put out by motherhood until six or seven months. I didn’t feel completely out of my element until past a year. So maybe if I wait this out, that new mom will come over to the side of those of us who think we were probably made to do something else.

I doubt it though. She’s probably just going to be one of those who do it all well, easily, and with a smile.

Lucky babies.

Perspective

A sweet family member saw some pictures of Peanut on facebook the other day and said something to the effect of “I don’t understand how someone so cute can be such a terror…”  And I need to clarify, for my own sake (and for his grandma, who reads this blog and did a damned fine job raising Spouse)

Peanut is wonderful. Sweet, gentle, spirited, intense. But compounding that is the fact that he’s three. Before that he was two. Right there, ‘nough said, right? Two can be like having all the poles on your batteries reversed as they are attached to your watering eyeballs. And three can be like peeling off your skin and diving into grapefruit juice. And I just can’t take it. Doesn’t mean he’s actually a terror that Spouse and I talk, daily, mutually, about a 4:30 bedtime for Peanut. He’s not the problem. WE are the problem. We grownups who can’t seem to find the patience and willpower and energy to make it through 15 hours of this every day.  Without a break. Without formal training. Without the benefit of a spare in case we actually sell him to the gypsies. (Anyone know if they’re buying, btw? And where to find them? I know the economy is tough and I don’t know the going rate, but…)

He’s not a terror. We are terrified and terror-stricken and terrorized. But it’s not the boy’s fault. I wish I knew whose fault it is, because I’m all about the blame and the downside and the cloud within the silver lining. But until I find some perspective, my friend is right. It’s a good thing he’s cute.