9 Lessons My Mother Taught Me

Despite what Hallmark would lead you to believe, Mother’s Day is not all sunshine and roses for some of us. Even when my mom was alive, I had a hell of a time finding a card for her. None of them were written with the assumption that the receiver might be a paraplegic.

I know I’m far from the only one who feels conflicted about this “holiday.” I have friends and family who have complicated maternal relationships that require cards with less sappiness and more savviness. (Maybe Emily McDowell, of the brilliant Empathy cards, can make an alternative line for Mother’s Day.)

The irony now, of course, is that I’d give anything to be grumbling in the aisles of the pharmacy searching for an appropriate Mother’s Day card. My mom died eight years ago this June and I am still stunned, at times, by my grief.

My first Mother’s Day without her I was a brand new mother, my daughter only a couple weeks old. I refused to celebrate and told my husband to alert the family not to give me any cards or acknowledgments. I wanted to mourn my first motherless Mother’s Day, but the next year I was ready to take part. I felt I had earned it.

But mother envy, and sadness, continues to run close to the surface.

I am careful about what I read, avoiding the cloying mother-daughter tributes that inundate the internet, which is why I loved, How I’m Making Mother’s Day My Bitch on Modern Loss.

Another article that caught my eye was by Alexandra Rosas, one of my favorite writers, who is only on her second Mother’s Day without her mom. Her a post titled, 9 Lessons I Learned From My Mother, inspired this one.

9 lessons I Learned From My Mother

1. Being handicapped is not a handicap.

My mother had a severe form of multiple sclerosis that turned her into a paraplegic in under five years. In high school I learned to drive without her. By college, she could no longer embrace me. But that never mattered. My mother held me with her love when she could no longer hold me with her arms.

2. You can be a nurturing and affectionate mother even if yours wasn’t.

mom and me

With all due respect to my grandmother (see #3), who became a widow and a single mother at a young age, my mom did not receive much affection growing up. Despite this, my mother hugged, kissed, and snuggled me and my brother throughout our childhoods. I believe this was, in part, instinctive, but also a determined choice. She wanted her love to leave an impression. It did.

3. Don’t talk smack about your mom (at least, not to your kids).

My mother never bad talked her mom. While other family members vented, she remained tight-lipped, loyal. Later, as I became older, she divulged some less than flattering details about my grandma, but she always balanced it with empathy and compassion.

My grandma and mom, circa 1953

My grandma and mom, circa 1953

4. Junk food in moderation is not a big deal.

I was a child of the 80s and 90s, which means I was raised on generous amounts of Lucky Charms, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Pop Tarts. For breakfast. I also drank my weight in fruit-flavored Snapple ice tea (which, at the time, was practically a health food). But my indulgences were balanced by healthy choices, and I remind myself of this when I cringe at my children’s snack preferences.

5. Reading is ALWAYS okay, and you can never buy too many books.

My parents let me read anywhere and everywhere. I read at the dinner table, in movie theaters, and even one time when forced to attend a Monkees concert. My mom would turn me loose in bookstores without a limit, which is basically like winning the lottery for a book nerd.

6. Don’t mistake a pharmacy for a hair salon.

My mom once saved me from using a home spiral perm kit (though, sadly, not from an actual perm) and the horrors of Sun-In spray. For those of you who don’t know what Sun-In is (which means you’re either a Millennial or damn fortunate) it was supposed to lighten your hair, but actually turned it platinum and then orange. Sometimes your hair fell out. I held that bottle in my hands, but my mom talked me down like a veteran hostage negotiator.

My mom's blowing the bubble. Check out her gorgeous hair.

My mom’s blowing the bubble. Check out her gorgeous hair.

7. Real friends stick around when shit happens. (So do real husbands.)

We learned this the hard way as a family after my mom’s diagnosis and again when she lost her ability to walk. People dropped like flies. Faded away. Disappeared. They also said horrible stuff, like this:

So-called-friend: “Are you taking videos of yourself walking?”

My mom: “Why?”

S-C-F: “So you can watch them when you’re in a wheelchair.”

Real friends and loved ones stick around through thick and thin, through sickness and in health. They don’t flinch (outwardly) at the sight of a catheter bag, they can handle dark humor and dark times. Those are the ones you hold close to your heart.

8. Have sex before you get married (sorry dad).

I think my mom actually meant, have sex with your fiancé before you get married, but I chose my own interpretation. My mom did not often talk about sex, and looking back, I believe this comment was a sly gift, her giving me permission, in her cautious and careful manner, to do things my way.

9. You make a better wall than a window.

This is not exactly a lesson, but a saying. My mom had lots of them and this was my favorite, often delivered in a droll voice when someone stood between her and the television (which was the her primary entertainment, window to the world, and companion when everyone else was too busy). Now, every time my kids shout at me to move out of their way, I linger for a moment, smiling, remembering.

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21 thoughts on “9 Lessons My Mother Taught Me

  1. Misty eyed, because there is so much of her in you. I read it here. What a loss, it’s monumental, isn’t it? Losing my mother was without a doubt, like being left with a phantom limb. Feeling it, looking, seeing nothing there. (thank you, friend)

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  2. Oh, Dana, this post so touches me on so many levels! With my mother gone now 6 years I am also struck by my grief too. I don’t think we ever get over losing our mothers. And my heart hurts for you and that first motherless Mother’s Day with your own first born just a few weeks old. My mom died a month before Mother’s Day and my 40th birthday. I didn’t who I was for a long time – this person without my mom in the world. I had to re-invent myself, as I am sure you did too.

    But what lessons you learned! Some I laughed out loud at – how wonderful she gifted you with these lessons! Keep them close, pass them on – and your own too – to your children.

    Happy Mother’s Day!

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    • Thank you so much for this, Donna, I know you understand all too well. I am in awe and inspired by all you have accomplished in six years. Your mother would be so filled with pride.

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  3. As a father who lost his dad, I get the duality of the holiday. it’s as much a celebration as it is a stark reminder. There’s balance in there somewhere, and someday, we’ll convince ourselves we’ve found it!

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    • Thank you so much Eli. It is a balancing act of sorts, you just don’t always know which way it’s going to lean. Wishing you a peaceful Father’s Day where you and your dad can be honored.

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  4. It was my mom’s first Mother’s Day without her mom, my grandmother, and I felt extra sensitive to it. I also felt totally full and happy to be a mother. It had that duality quality that Father’s Day often has for me.

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    • Thank you Tamara, I imagine Father’s Day is similarly hard on you. I’m sorry about your grandmother, and your mom enduring her first Mother’s Day without her mom. That is the hardest one, I think.

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  5. Dana:
    I am honored and thrilled that the reading in NYC last Friday has led me to you and your beautiful writing. This piece is stunning! Let’s stay in touch. Who knows? Maybe our moms brought us together.
    Best,
    Kathy

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    • I’m so happy to have connected with you too Kathy! And our moms definitely did have a part in this 🙂 I would love to stay in touch.

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    • Thank you Rudri, I know you understand. Days like these, especially with all the build up in stores and online can be so tough. At least with Mother’s Day I am now a veteran mom and can enjoy it for that in addition to feeling the shadow of sadness, but I imagine Father’s Day is all the more challenging for daughters missing their dads.

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  6. Sounds like your Mom was a smart woman. I can see how Mother’s Day could be a bittersweet day for many people. I hope yours was happy with your wonderful family.

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    • Thank you Laurie, yes, for some of us it is a bittersweet day, but I’m happy to say my day was busy (in a good way), and so all I felt was happiness and fullness in my motherhood. I think the days leading up to it were more tender for me, at least this year.

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