Descending from an English/Irish mother and a fully Italian father, my Mom is a 5-foot 2-inch, blonde haired, blue eyed woman with a no-nonsense approach to life. Being a very logical person, my Mom self-admittedly has little room for emotions. This means that she tells it to you like it is, but always gives you the reasoning behind her way of thinking (which means that even if your heart disagrees with her on some things in the present, there is a chance that your head will decide about 10 years from now that she was right all along...). Mulling over some of the wisdom she has imparted to me over the years, I decided to share some of my Mom's wisest advice with you in case it proves to be as helpful to you as it has been to me.
1. God is in control. My Mom approaches this from, yes, a Christian point-of-view, but also from a logical one. We humans act like we control so much of our lives when we really don’t have control over anything. Who is to say that you are going to wake up tomorrow? Who is to say that the bank has to open tomorrow to give you access to your money? You move freely about on the roads now, but who is to say that they won’t be blocked off tomorrow? You can’t assume anything in life. My mom was in Washington D.C. in the 1960s when rioting broke out on the streets. Naturally, many people thought they would just flee to neighboring Maryland or Virginia to escape the violence of the riots. But guess what? Law enforcement shut down all exit points from the city and wouldn’t let anyone out unless they had a Maryland or Virginia driver’s license. You don’t control road accessibility, the weather, or even your own health. Don’t pretend to. Know that the Creator of the universe governs it all and give Him praise when things go smoothly and pray for His help when you hit unexpected obstacles.
2. Imagine what could go wrong and think for yourself. It seems a bit trite to say "think for yourself" but we are all affected by societal pressure in one form or another. I remember when I was growing up, my Mom got into a fight with her boss because she refused to come in on a day it had snowed. After a tense conversation, she hung up the phone and told me to always think for myself. “Is my boss going to pay for the repairs on my car if I wreck on the way to work?” she rhetorically asked. He just cared about the work that needed to be done while she was protecting her health and safety. Not to mention the fact that he had an easy drive to work and she lived much further away, opening herself up to more opportunity for an accident to happen. Years later, there was a ridiculously huge snowstorm in our area and when it was about to begin, armed with my Mom’s advice, I told my boss I was leaving for the day as opposed to asking if I could leave. That was also a tense conversation but it had to be done. When I was still about a mile away from home, the blizzard hit and, by the grace of God, I was able to make it the rest of the way home safely. Other family members and friends hadn’t even left work before the start of the blizzard and weren’t so lucky. How long do you think it took my best friend to get home? Typically her drive home lasted 30 minutes. Driving home in that blizzard her journey lasted 9 hours. Yes, 9 HOURS! My aunt’s drive home that should’ve taken 15 minutes took so many hours that she ran out of gas and had to abandon her car on the side of the road. ALWAYS imagine what could go wrong and think for yourself. People that assume everything will always go right will find themselves in a bad situation one day, or perhaps many days. As humans, even authority figures are fallible. Don’t let their pressure deter you from doing what you know is right.
3. Keep your emotions on an even keel. There are, of course, highs and lows to everyone’s life. But when your ship finally comes in, don’t let that distract you from preparing for when it goes back out to sea. Equally as important, don’t despair in the bad times because they will eventually pass. Remembering that the present is only temporary and that the future will bring change keeps you steady and prepared for what’s coming.
4. Women: Marry a man that loves you more than you love them. According to my Mom, men’s love fades over time as women’s love grows. You will learn to love your husband more and more over time but his initial head-over-heels feelings for you will wane. If you marry a man that loves you more than you love them, your love will increase as their love decreases, thereby causing you to meet in the middle.
5. The key to a long and happy marriage is respect for your spouse. I still remember when I asked my parents on their 40th wedding anniversary what the key to a long and happy marriage was and my Mom, quickly and matter-of-factly said, “Respect.” I was taken aback because I’d always heard “love” or “trust” were the foundations of a long and happy marriage, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized my Mom was right. You cannot have a long and happy marriage without respect for one another. No name calling. Absolutely no laying an angry hand on one another. No belittling each other. No sarcastic remarks. No putting the other one down in front of other people or behind closed doors. No constant threats of leaving one another. You two are on the same team. Act like it.
6. Cook dinner for your family and eat at the dinner table every night. My Mom was not a stay-at-home mom. She worked full-time for over 42 years and still managed to come home and cook dinner for her family every night. No shortcuts. No excuses. Dinner time was very important to her and was a means of opening up communication among family members. We'd all talk about our days and what was happening in our lives over a delicious home-cooked meal. Mom absolutely forbid us from eating in front of the TV and if you weren’t hungry for dinner, you still had to sit at the table with everyone else while the evening "debriefing" session was going on. This seems like an old-fashioned way of living in our high-tech, fast-paced, TV-dinner world of today, but if you make the effort to cook dinner and eat at the dinner table, your family’s bond will grow stronger.
7. Make your kids eat their vegetables, but not their meat. My Mom wasn’t a vegetarian but she definitely stressed the healthiness of vegetables over meat. Purely vegetarian dinners with no meat accompaniment were not uncommon in our household and thus, we got introduced to all kinds of things as kids. Asparagus. Brussels sprouts. Lentils. Spinach. Split pea soup. As a kid’s mind races, I came up with the only thing I could think of to get out of eating those things: “I’m not hungry.” My Mom, being the ever-sharp Mother that she was, always said the same thing: “That’s fine. If you’re not hungry, you don’t have to eat the meat but you have to eat the vegetables. And you cannot eat anything else for the rest of the night.” Years later, I asked my mom why she did this and she said:
“Kids naturally like meat. It’s not hard to get them to eat chicken or steak but it is hard to get them to eat their vegetables. However, if you introduce them to a variety of vegetables early on and make your kids eat their vegetables, they’ll eventually start liking them. Their palates are too immature as children for them to know what tastes ‘good’ and what tastes ‘bad.’ They’ll learn to like things as they become familiar with them. Usually if it’s new, they 'don’t like it' automatically. But if you keep giving it to them, their taste buds change and they learn to like it. It’s easy to cave in and let them eat whatever they ‘like’ as a kid, but it’s harder to go through the struggle and fights of making them eat what’s good for them. But if you stick to it and make them eat what's good for them when they’re young, you’re giving them the gift of health and variety when they’re older.”
Being the guinea pig in this situation, I can attest to its truth. I used to hate asparagus but now I love it (and even make soup out of it!). Lentils were awful but now I request them often. I’d prefer a bowl of split pea soup over a steak any day of the week. I’m starting to think my Mom actually knew what she was talking about all along…
8. Don’t let your kids get fat. This sounds really mean, right? But from my Mother’s standpoint, it is the parent’s job to make sure their kids grow into healthy adults. Give them home-cooked meals, not fast food. Don’t allow them to eat so much candy. Encourage them to go outside and play instead of playing video games. My Mother’s main fear was that fat kids will become overweight, unhealthy adults with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. Not teaching your kids correct eating habits will likely cause them to grow into adults that lack self-control when it comes to food and foster ignorance of their own body's nutrition needs. She didn’t want that for us and took it upon herself to lay the foundation for our healthy futures.
9. 100% cranberry juice will cure what ails you. OK, I exaggerated on the title of this one a bit but really, 100% cranberry juice helps immensely with many different types of illnesses. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the sugar-laden Ocean Spray cranberry juice cocktail. I am talking about 100% cranberry juice with no sugar added. It’s found in the health food section of your grocery store or in a specialty health food store like Whole Foods. It tastes horribly bitter but you’re not drinking it like juice, you’re drinking it like medicine. We all know that 100% cranberry juice helps with urinary tract infections, but did you know it can shorten the duration of your cold and make your sore throat go away quicker? It can also reverse the effects of gingivitis and prevent gum disease. Even if you are having an attack of diarrhea, it will help stop your symptoms and replenish you (yep, I just talked about diarrhea in a blog post). Filled with antioxidants, 100% cranberry juice gives your immune system a helping hand when it's under attack. My family’s been using it for years for whatever ails us and it works so well, I have even converted several friends to using it when they’re sick now too. It’s especially great as a preventative medicine, right when you start feeling like you might be getting sick. An 8-ounce glass two times a day right at the beginning of an illness will put you back on the road to health and wellness. And don’t forget, all those antioxidants will be grabbing the germs and taking them out of your body, so make sure you have bathroom accessibility when drinking it regularly (in other words, you will have to pee a lot when you drink it so stay close to a bathroom).
10. Try not to take medicine unless you truly, truly need it. And even then, take it for only a short time, if possible. My Mom doesn’t like the idea of long-term medicine. She says they’re always recommending new breakthrough medicines (because after all, the drug industry is a money-making industry first and foremost), but they hardly ever have any long-term research as to the effects it will have on humans. When you take any new miracle drug, you are the guinea pig. We've all seen the commercials about the personal injury lawsuits regarding a medicine that, up until recently, was marketed as the best thing since sliced bread. Remember Fen-Phen? In recent years, it’s been Yaz birth control. Stay off the long-term meds if you can avoid it. Even if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, get serious about diet and exercise before resorting to medication. Sometimes medication under certain conditions is unavoidable, but if you can reduce the amount you take by taking care of your body first, that would be a big help to you health-wise in the long run.
11. Don’t use plastic in the microwave or freezer. And never drink from a plastic water bottle that you left in the car on a hot day. My Mom was on to this decades ago. She said there’s no way plastic could be safer than glass or ceramic when it comes to our food. More convenient for breakage reasons, yes, but putting hot food in a plastic storage container makes the plastic softer and, in my Mom’s mind, makes her wonder if it’s leeching into the food. This is especially true with thinner plastics, like storage bags and water bottles. Leave a water bottle in the car on a hot day and my mom will refuse to drink it. Know those fancy Keurig coffee machines? It’s boiling water in plastic. Research is just now coming out showing how plastic is getting into our foods from the containers we use and how this is detrimental to our health. Do yourself a favor and ditch the plastic for glass or ceramic containers. And don’t buy so many processed foods that come housed in "microwavable" plastic. You’ll be healthier for it by avoiding these types of containers altogether.
12. Be gracious to those not like you. Notice I didn’t say to be sympathetic or to pity them. Being gracious is about being kind and loving. Although my Mom doesn’t show many emotions, she deeply cares for people that others have discarded. Whether it be someone with a disability or someone others talk badly about, my Mom will go out of her way to befriend the friendless. And not in a way that she thinks she’s doing them a favor. Unlike anyone I’ve ever seen before, she feels like she is the one who is honored to be their friend. Let me give you an example. At my Mother’s work, she was the chair of the disabilities committee which gave her an “in” to talk to one lady that many people had been saying bad things about. Rumors flew about this woman because she had missed so much work and people were saying things from she was an alcoholic to she was addicted to prescription drugs. After speaking with her, my Mom insisted something was truly wrong with her health. She could see the pain this woman was in and got to know her well enough to know it wasn’t drugs or alcohol that was the problem. She encouraged the woman to go to a doctor, and a different doctor, and a third doctor for an answer to her pain. Finally, the woman got her answer. She had cancer all throughout her organs. It was amazing she was at work at all considering how terribly ill she was! She passed away not too long afterwards and my Mom was just shocked at how no one took the time to get to know this dying woman for themselves, but instead believed the malicious lies said about her. Just five minutes of speaking with her on a personal level could have changed anyone's mind about her. Just because someone is not like you doesn’t give you the green light to criticize them. You have no idea what their situation is and it may be nothing like yours. Expand your tiny little world. Get to know them better. You’ll be the one better for it.
13. Don't trust a sick person to make good decisions regarding their own health care. What I'm really referring to is the fact that sometimes you must take charge to get a sick person the help they need. And conversely, if you are the sick person, you need to cooperate with someone who is able to determine what course of action you should take when you aren't feeling like your usual self. Case in point, when my Dad had his first heart attack, my brother walked by him and noticed he did not look good. My Dad was perspiring profusely and turned a very funky grayish/blue color. When my brother asked my Dad if he was OK, my Dad simply said he didn't feel well at the moment and that he was going to sit in his recliner to take a nap. My clear-headed brother told my Dad he was NOT going to take a nap, but that he was going to get in the car to be driven to the hospital right away. When my Dad got to the hospital, they did an EKG and exclaimed, "You're having a heart attack right now!" My brother likely saved my Dad's life that day. But it makes sense that when you feel really, really bad, the last place you want to be is in a hospital waiting room. Or sometimes you start having doubts that you're really sick and listen to that little voice inside your head that says you're making a big deal out of nothing. This results in you not addressing whatever issues you have that really need to be addressed. Always tell someone if you are feeling poorly so they can advise you on what to do. It's difficult to think clearly when you don't feel 100%, so outsource that task to someone else...it might just save your life!
14. You always have to act right, even when others aren’t doing so. My Mom used to say this to me all the time, especially when I wanted to defend myself by telling her what my brother had done first that made me retaliate. To her, it never mattered what the other person had done; it only mattered how I had responded. This has served me well in life by anchoring me to my morals, not my circumstances. Just because everyone else is doing something I know is wrong, doesn’t mean I get to also. I can’t control other people’s actions, but I can absolutely control my own.
15. Don’t sweat the small stuff. We’ve all heard this line before but my Mom instilled it in her kids. My husband couldn’t believe how little I tried to control him when we first got married. Why would I care if he wants to go out on a weeknight? He’s the one who’s going to have to face the consequence of being tired for work the next day. He wants to have a guy’s night out? Great! That gives me the opportunity to have a girl’s night out too. He said he was coming home at 11 p.m. but had such a great time he stayed out until 2 a.m.? Fine with me, as long as I know where he is and he texted me letting me know that the plan had changed. Making a big deal out of little things is usually about control. Don’t try to control people so much.
16. Make your house (or apartment) a nice place to come home to. My Mom said this to me so much growing up and yet I see so many people that don’t do this. As soon as their spouse or child walks in the front door, they start barking out orders to them. Or, they have no intention of providing dinner for their family. Or, they start talking about a subject they know will lead to a fight. If your family members don’t like coming home, pretty soon they won’t. Make it a nice place to be. Use the nice china, light those candles, and have pleasant conversation over a home-cooked meal. Pretty soon, there will be no other place they’d rather be.