10 Life Lessons My Mama Taught Me

This year, not unlike last, I was out of town on Mother’s Day. At a global rate of $1.99 per minute, I phoned my mama from Istanbul, Turkey to show her the love that had been promised to her back in 1914. You see, thanks to a mother-loving American woman named Anna Jarvis and, according to The University of Virginia, a self-described mama’s boy, President Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day is a bona fide national holiday that we Americans celebrate on the second Sunday of May. But let’s be real here, with things like clashing calendars or procrastination in shipping her gift, Mother’s Day could just as easily be celebrated on the third Sunday as it could on a Tuesday. It could even be recognized in an extremely tardy blog post on June 25th. Simply put, the month of May (or June in my case) belongs to the moms. And I’m cool with that; after all, every other day of the year is (insert creepy voice) consumed by the children.

My mama and I rarely talk on the phone; we’re more into the “how have you been?” or “leaving the country again!” texts. Sometimes we FaceTime, which is really awesome now that I’m living on the opposite side of the country and Mexican food lunch dates just aren’t possible anymore. However, it was her holiday so I wanted to hear her voice, and she seemed grateful to hear mine, too. We chatted about my Istanbul sightseeing and how much room service I’d devoured, and her upcoming travel to the Philippines. I warned her of the typhoons and cyclones threatening her next destination and urged her to stay safe and dry – who was the mother here?

After our 20-minute and $40 USD phone call, I scrolled through my Facebook to see how everyone else in my world was honoring their mother. Nearly every single friend took time away from their usually political, travel, partying, or culinary posts to wish their mother a happy day and proudly proclaim that their mom is “the best;” “the kindest;” “the most amazing;” “the most beautiful.” And while that was very thoughtful of them to declare, if it were me and I had to pick just one attributing adjective to describe my mom, it wouldn’t be any of those ordinary words. She isn’t basic, so I’d never assign her a baseline descriptor. She’s complex and charming. She’s fun and funny. So instead, I’d tell you how inspiring she is.

Our relationship is unique. Looking back, I think she was my best and first friend. As a child, I mostly just remember my mom as a beautiful, young person who played and laughed. She had long hair and wore bold lipstick. Her teeth were perfect. Even at such a young age, I could see how persuasive her smile was – I’ve been faithfully brushed my teeth for as long as I can remember. She would put the cereal low so that I could make it myself while she got ready for her day or caught up on her beauty rest. She most definitely molded me into the anti-morning person that I am today. I think my desire to pay people compliments began with her, because whenever I told her how pretty she looked or how great her earrings were, I got to stay up later or she’d play a game with me. We watched soap operas and played hockey in the street. On rainy days, she played Barbies with me and taught me how to write my name in cursive. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that my mom was one of the cool moms.

Time ticks on…the very act of aging alters perceptions…reality rolls right over you. As an adult, we have this ability to look back and see things as they were, not as they seemed. It’s been recommended that I remove my parents from their pedestal. I’ve been informed that they’re just people, not super heroes. With a nose crinkle, I ponder the cool cloud I had her floating in all these years:

In the third grade, three grades beyond the rainy day cursive lesson, I discovered that I’d been doodling a cursive G instead of a J. I was, of course, teased for this error because I had been, of course, bragging about my cursive skills up until that point. I wondered if she hadn’t corrected me because she thought it was cute or because she wasn’t really paying attention. My mother has always been very interested in her own life. She wasn’t one of those moms who drove you all around town or took you to the mall everyday or prepared envied lunches or even baked a birthday cake of your liking – there was a span of a few years where she gave me chocolate with chocolate frosting because that’s what she liked. But, she was one of those moms who painted your nails and put curlers in your hair. She was trusted and well liked. I could tell her my secrets and was never embarrassed to have her around. In high school, my girlfriends and I would put on skits and my mom would video tape them for us. We were never shy of what she’d think because she’s never been a judgmental person. I also appreciated that I could shop in her closet whenever I pleased because she has never ever worn mom jeans.

Sure, I probably could have used more of a mom than a friend during those formative years. I mean, I don’t know how to sew or French braid my hair. And the only real meal I can cook with confidence are her tacos. But based on how damn delicious those are, I wouldn’t trade that one recipe for seventeen.

My mother – the friend, mama, college-graduate even with two children, talented TV producer, and the girl who still sometimes snorts when she laughs – isn’t a conventional parent. But somewhere along her wayward path of parenting, she managed to offer me snippets of unique support and advice that left me inspired enough to actually do what she said.

Of all the things she did and didn’t teach me, here’s what I have come to value most:

NEVER REFUSE SPONSORSHIP:

This wasn’t bestowed upon me until I was old enough to enter a bar, so kudos to that moral compass. She explained that if someone, particularly a friend amongst a group, wants to buy you a drink – let them. Note that creepy men are exempt from this party lesson. Roofies are bad – all moms know that. Right now, as I’m typing, I just paused to consider my financial commitment to one of most beloved hobbies, that being partying, and I can honestly say that I have invested very little in myself. I can also promise that I have smiled and said “thank you!” for every single beverage that my wallet didn’t pay for. No one likes an ungrateful bitch.

DRINK AND MOVE:

Keeping with the party theme here, this rule is really very simple. Why sit at one bar all night long when you could pick a few in the area and visit them all? Note that this is only recommended when you utilize something like Uber, a taxi, or your own two feet if you’re lucky enough to have a cozy bar scene in your neighborhood. And when the bar-merry-go-round has concluded, finish up where you began and see how different everyone looks there. They’re likely to be bellied-up to the bar telling the same story with a slur while you’ve just sashayed into the place with windblown hair and might even make a cameo on the bar top.

ALWAYS HAVE FRESH FLOWERS BY THE FRONT DOOR:

During my mom’s second marriage, she started filling our house with fresh flowers. Perhaps it was to appear more domesticated? Maybe she suddenly discovered that their mere presence made our house more of a home? Either way, it really impacted me. I enjoyed walking through her front door to be greeted by a colorful and fragrant bouquet. My college living arrangements always sort of had a scent of Taco Bell or beer, and I never really felt at home. As an adult, I take a lot of pride in setting flowers by my own front door. It seems silly, but I take a moment to look at them whenever I leave the house. They make where I live my life seem real and beautiful – and who wouldn’t appreciate that?

GO TO COLLEGE:

This was actually mandated. She didn’t care what I majored in so long as I went to and graduated from a university. When I moved into my dorm at Arizona State she mailed me a letter cheerleading me on, but also recommended this: “don’t let your education get into the way of your experience!” I saved that letter somewhere in some box, and even though I haven’t looked at it in years, I can see it perfectly. She wrote in all capital letters with a dull pencil on an ASU letterhead and personalized it with a lipstick kiss at the bottom. Throughout college, she helped me with math homework and laughed as I told her spring break stories. I think it was a healthy balance. And when I was all done, she toasted me with champagne.

IT’S JUST A BREAK-UP. YOU’LL BE OK:

This is pretty self-explanatory. But just in case it’s over your head, this is where resilience comes into play. Break-ups suck, but they’re a process. Just go through the motions. Be angry. Be sad. Be wild. Be open to new things and new people. And then, one day, you’ll be happy again without even having to focus on it. That’s the “ok” part. But I can always take solace in the fact that if my mama ever sees that one ex-boyfriend, she’ll “run him over” with her car. See, you’ll be laughing in no time at all.

YOU ROCK ‘EM, YOU WEAR ‘EM:

This is referring to the generally uncomfortable shoes we women wear. Strutting your stuff isn’t easy when the balls of your feet are numb or your toes are pinched, but if you make that fashion commitment early in the night, you had better keep them on all night. There is nothing tackier than a shoeless chick zig-zagging her way through a casino at 4 am because her little feetsies just couldn’t take it anymore. Let’s be honest, we all know that you had them off inside the club too. You want to know how I know this? I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been walking through a nightclub and literally tripped over a high-heeled shoe. No foot. No body. Just one shoe. Disgusting!
Didn’t your mama teach you better than that? Here, borrow mine.

THAT’S KARMA FOR YA:

I can’t even count how many times this phrase was declared in my house growing up. Whether it be some bully brat spreading a rumor about me one day and then getting benched from the team for poor grades the next, or my mom leaving a generous tip to our lunch server only to be rewarded with an even more generous tip during her next shift, or my failure to hold the front door for her and then immediately tripping over the dog, she always sang, “that’s karma for ya!” Big or small, what we do and how we treat each other matters. Karma’s only a bitch when you are.

BOYS ARE DUMB. GIRLS ARE PSYCHO:

This is fact. If you were to really magnify the problems, almost any problem, that arise between a man and a woman, you will see that a single indifference can run amuck because he’s an idiot and she’ll take it to crazy town. I wish this weren’t true, but I’ve also learned that it’s better to date a dumbass than a lunatic. Guys, leave the wickedness to the women.

COLOR COORDINATE YOUR BRA AND PANTIES:

Even if no one will ever see or know you made the effort – you will, and you’ll feel damn pretty for it. I’ve been matching my unmentionables since I was 16, and while I can’t say for certain if anyone has ever appreciated it, it’s always made me feel fashionably in control.

AND FOR GOOD MEASURE, THOU SHALT NOT KILL:

That’s it. She never elaborated beyond that. But what kind of a mother would she be if she hadn’t at least taught me that?

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