Words of Wisdom from Mom
Seven memorable lessons to live by that are still applicable today
The older I get, the more sense my mother makes. While she has been gone for a little more than 16 years, her words continue to resonate with me, some of them just for laughs, others for their incandescent, timeless wisdom.
February reminds us that at least one month of the year should be short and sweet. By now we may already have thrown off our lofty January resolutions, or revised them at least. So here are my seven most memorable edicts from my late mother, Pat Weldon, that you may want to adopt, ignore or find amusing. Do so at your own discretion.
1. “Act like you’re having a good time.” Not that my mother advocated superficiality, she was just convinced that “having a sour face,” or being a “Gloomy Gus” was selfishly contagious. Since my well-cared for siblings and I could not possibly have anything to be truly unhappy about considering our privilege “and all the starving children around the world,” she thought we should at least put on a happy face. Because feigning positivity is the first step toward actually feeling good.
2. “Don’t take the last one.” So many boxes of cookies or platters of burgers sat with one lone leftover throughout my childhood because this lesson in consideration of others was embedded in our psyches. How can you possibly claim the last treasure for yourself, without asking permission, or if someone wants to share? In adult life, by the way, this translates to way more than food. On a commuter train, don’t take the last available seat without asking if someone else needs it more. Don’t take the last spot in a checkout line as it closes without turning behind you to see if someone else is in a big hurry.
3. “Never arrive empty-handed.” You cannot possibly enter someone else’s home without a token of appreciation. Whether you are bringing a homemade dish, a bottle of wine, or even a book to share, merely walking across another’s threshold dictates that one hand must be bearing a gift. This does not mean that you are buffering your presence, it means that you are a gracious guest who is appreciative of the invite.
4. “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” Advocating for this one may sound hypocritical coming from an author and journalist who stands in front of crowds to give lectures, speeches and workshops, but I know what my mother meant. For the sake of being showy, don’t divert attention to yourself by always being the loudest person in the room. Be respectful of others. This does not mean you stand shyly in the corner always. It means do not be the one who laughs the loudest, is disruptive and wants to be the center of attention in every situation.
5. “Upside down and inside out.” This is super specific, but is also a metaphor. Every other Saturday my mother instructed us to take our bedsheets and turn them — you guessed it — upside down and inside out. We literally flipped the sheets to get another week’s worth of sleep on them. It also gave her another week off doing all the bedding laundry from eight beds. Taken as a metaphor, it means that you can look at a problem a different way, you can solve a situation by being thrifty or ingenious. It also in a very broad context means to consider the abundance at your disposal, not the scarcity.
6. “You’re tired, you’re hungry, you pulled a muscle.” There were three unofficial diagnoses available for any number of complaints. In the absence of bleeding, much could be solved by a nap or a ham sandwich. And no physical harm was imagined to be the worst it could be. Even if my brother Bill really did break his arm on the backyard fence, there was a half-day when he was assured he only pulled a muscle, before my mom took him to the doctor. In the broader schema, this assurance maintains that the problem is simply solved and this is the approach you should take before hitting overdrive and hysteria.
7. “Don’t be empty of yourself.” I have never forgotten when I came to my mother in tears after a very bossy 8-year-old girl pronounced that I was “full of myself.” She said it in such a mean way that I knew it was not a good thing. My mother’s response was, “Well, why would you want to be empty of yourself?” She was telling me to look on the positive side and to reach my potential, not in a way that was haughty, but that was fulfilling. If a glass is best seen as half-full, then a person is best seen as full of herself.
And may each one of us this month and all year, feel truly full of ourselves.Edit Module