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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Mother’s Day: A New Perspective

I’ve written often about being torn between the Hallmark ideal of Mother’s Day and the “same day, same frustrations” reality of Mother’s Day. At length and too many times. So have friends.

But this year is different.

I have a healthy, adorable, smart, funny grandma who lives an hour away. I visited her today while the kids were in school. Being with her infused me with wise, cross-generational “aren’t we lucky, even though the first years with small children are challenging, they’re a blip in the grand stretch of your life” perspective. Being grateful to have her makes a pretty nice Mother’s Day.

I have a healthy, sassy, energetic, interesting mom who lives an hour away. I saw her last week and will see her again for Mother’s Day. That’s a pretty freaking big deal after having lived the first two years of my son’s life in an isolated pocket of Hell (Los Angeles). Being grateful to have her, too, makes an increasingly sweet Mother’s Day.

And I somehow stumbled onto the best idea ever for a Mother’s Day gift. Beginning a few years ago, I forced my husband to engage in this ritual with my kids:

Buy or find the prettiest, smoothest rocks you can get your hands on. If possible, send partner and kids to beach by themselves to collect rocks.
Take dictation from children in Sharpie on the rocks after asking them, “What do you love about Mommy?”
Keep writing their answers on rocks until they have no more interest.
Have children decorate a plain box (wood, cardboard, glass, whatever). As big or little as you want.
Put rocks in box and hand them over on Mother’s Day.

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Throughout the year and whenever I want, I can reach in and read a reason, in my sons’ own words, why I’m the best mom they’ve ever had.

And I can’t wait to see what they write this year. Really. That “thanks for cake” rock is begging for a “thanks for 1,092 healthy meals a year” companion. We’ll see.

Mother’s Day. It’s not about sleeping in (as if), or breakfast in bed (ew, the cleanup), or peace and quiet (insert uncomfortable laughter at the realization that it’s never going to happen).

It’s about asking your kids (and partner if you have one) to make the present you want. And need.

And since they can’t build a Krasinski/Rudd/Fiennes/Gosling four-sided hologram, have them build you a box of love notes.

Mother’s Day Hangover

Have I told you that I hate Mother’s Day? Yes, yes I have. In last year, and the year before that, and probably the year before that, but I can’t find it.

Meh.

Several of my favorite people despise Mother’s Day, too. Absence of Alternatives has an annual rant against the holiday, and at least one friend calls annually to bemoan the day’s failure to meet expectations and the shame of what she actually expects (some time to herself).

I’m lucky enough to live near my mother and grandma. And I’m honored to be able to appreciate them on Mother’s Day. I like seeing them, cooking them their favorite foods, and finding them the perfect gift. I genuinely love being able to have Mother’s Day with my mom and grandma. So I’m not a complete jerk. In fact, I never hated the holiday we just choked down until I had a child.

And then reality hit.

Here’s the thing: the social myth is that your family will roll out the red carpet and honor you with gratitude and relaxation. Cue reels of breakfast in bed and luxurious lolling about in high-thread count sheets with precocious and adorable children who appreciate you. There are at least five things wrong with that sentence, including the fact that it only focuses on the minutes from 6:45-6:50 a.m.

What happens with the other 780 minutes of the day? A mythological and delightful dance of people throwing rose petals before you as they continually tell you to sit down so they can perform tasks both large and small for you?

Please. It’s the same day as every other day, but with an emailed discount coupon for pizza.

Pamper mom? Please. What’s my family going to do? Make a meal or two (or three), clean the house, manage their own fecal needs, let me read, and give me enough space for a run and a shower? No, Internet. They’re not. None of that.

Show mom you care? Maybe when they’re older. I don’t dare hope that they try to make the day feel special by offering sweet greetings or making precious presents and cards rather than bickering and screaming and ignoring me unless they want something. Bah. Humbug.

I’ve tried asking for what I need and I’ve tried moderating expectations. But this Mother’s Day was, as it has been for seven years, depressingly underwhelming. What I want is a break from the delightful, wonderful people who made me a mom. Because they are ALWAYS up in my space. Being cute and needy and snuggly and terrible and amazing and mean. Wanting a break for Mother’s Day sounds just terrible. Cruel and ungrateful. But what is also terrible is a day that looks absolutely indistinguishable from others, except that total strangers wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. Though that was actually quite nice.

So, out with it: I’m ungrateful. I don’t know how lucky I am. I don’t deserve the healthy, happy children and attenuating loveliness. I certainly don’t deserve a few minutes to breathe and think. What right have I? But, wait, the commercials say I do.

Mother’s Day makes me bipolar.

Thanks for all the meaningless signs at the supermarket and the freaking newsstand, Holiday Fabricated to Make Me Notice What Is Missing. I’ve let you leave me feeling disappointed, unworthy, unappreciated, and exhausted.

Can’t imagine why I don’t want to see you again next year when you raise your annoying, smarmy, fake smile-y face again.

Maybe if I spend the next 364 days appreciating my mom and grandma, I can sleep through Mother’s Day next year.

Now rejoin your life, already in progress

Ah, yes. The Mother’s Day pretending.

Advertisements claim it’s a magical day of appreciation and breakfast in bed. They are, of course, selling something.

Spouse pretends it’s going to be a happy day of family and bonding. And so it is. Sort of.

Peanut pretends it’s a day like any other. And so he yells at people for imaginary transgressions, threatens his brother with bodily harm for watching big kid play, sits next to me for long stories, jumps screaming from the furniture, uses enough tape on a variety of projects to seal the Grand Canyon, and smiles and whines and snuggles and orders and dances and sneers and kisses.

Butter pretends it’s a day like any other. And so he squeals with delight, toddles after his brother, cries when walloped by said brother, plays harmonica, parades through the house with prized possessions, unloads the drawers and cabinets he can reach, whimpers to be held, pulls my hair, kisses my nose, puts cold hands on my belly, bites my face, kicks my hands, and twirls my hair while sucking his thumb.

And I find that Mother’s Day is a microcosm of our lives as we’re living them. There are still dishes and laundry, there are laughs and frustrations, there are tickles and tantrums, there is extreme claustrophobia and hopes for the future, fears and silliness and satisfaction and dread and anger and fun.

It is, I guess, what you make of it. Within limitations. So I have a choice: focus on the limitations or make something of it.

“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results.” ~Jack Dixon