Recently my co-worker was venting that her teenage daughter is completely embarrassed by her. Never mind that my co-worker is a cool graphic designer with good fashion sense, her daughter is 15 so by default her mom is mortifying. I tried to reassure my co-worker that I found my mother totally embarrassing in high school, but now as I approach 25, I think my mom is awesome. I trust her judgment and value her insights. I realize that while my mom might still do things that are embarrassing, she is a treasure trove of wisdom that I’d be lost without. So in honor of my great mom and as a lesson to all the angsty teens on the internet, I’d like to share the best of my mother’s wisdom, from the mundane to the deep.
1. Always pack liquids in plastic bags.
My mom is great at packing suitcases. Her packing style looks like Tetris, and everything always comes out wrinkle-free. My mother’s biggest packing lesson is this: always pack liquids in Ziploc bags. You don’t want to arrive at your final destination to find your clothes covered in shampoo or expensive Italian olive oil. You will do this for a while and nothing will spill, and then the one time you forget because you can’t bring yourself to get a Ziploc from the kitchen, that jar of fancy pumpkin butter will ruin your favorite dress. And mom will smile sympathetically while thinking, “I told you so.”
2. Wear long underwear in the winter.
Growing up in Chicago, my mother always preached the importance of layering. She is a particular cheerleader for long underwear. I have a distinct memory of going to the dentist on a below zero day in so many layers that I couldn’t bend my extremities. When I reached high school, I rebelled against my mother’s edict to wear long underwear on very cold days. The extra layer made my pants feel too snug and I thought my L.L. Bean long underwear was hideous (ok, it really was). But each time I rejected the extra layer, I found myself freezing my legs off at the bus stop. Most recently I travelled to Yellow Stone without long underwear. And I thought my legs and tuchus would fall off from cold. So yeah, mom was right again.
3. Relationships ebb and flow.
Last fall I called my mom in a panic. My relationship was feeling flat. I wasn’t feeling the love and excitement I had felt at the beginning. I was bawling my eyes out with worry about what to do. My ever wise mother shared with me some advice she received from my father’s mother. My grandmother told her that relationships ebb and flow over time. You will not always feel passionate love over the course of a long (healthy, non-abusive) relationship. Don’t make rash decisions the moment you’re feeling down on things. If the love is deep it will come back and flow again if you give it time. Sure enough, a couple of months later I sent my mom an email with the subject line “you were right.”
4. Don’t bleed until you’re cut.
Here is another piece of wisdom passed down to my mother and then to me by way of another family matriarch. Don’t allow the possibility of future pain or disappointment to ruin your current happiness. Yes, losing an older or sick loved one will be incredibly sad, but don’t ruin the present by grieving prematurely. Yes, breaking up with a significant other will be painful, but why mourn the potential loss of a relationship while it’s still going strong? This is some of the hardest advice for me to follow because I am not naturally chill or laid-back or go with the flow. I am an expert worry-er and as I inch toward my mid-twenties, I am becoming an expert future freaker-outer. Sometimes I obsess over the future – what if I never find the right career path, what if I never find the right life partner, what if I’m never happy? I work myself into a frenzy over the endless negative possibilities lurking in the future, and then I forget how blessed I am just to have woken up this morning. So when I feel the worry taking over, I try to channel the best mama I know and remind myself: don’t let the fear of tomorrow ruin today.