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.