What my mother taught me

June 10, 2016

Big Sur, Calif.

When my mother died in 1999 I figured she’d be all over me from the afterlife.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My mother has been MIA pretty much since she died. Which has surprised those of us who have talked with my father in the afterlife. Because my father was not the primary person in this life, my mother was.

Since she’s been missing I feel we have lost connection and it gives me a funny feeling that I can’t explain. Like I’d be uncomfortable in her company.

The only time she ever appeared to me was in a dream that I remember as if it were yesterday, a dream in which she admonished, “Carol, you are not a very spiritual person.”  It wounded me so deeply I could bring up that feeling right this minute.

On the other hand, look what I’ve done in my life since.  Yeah, so, who knows. Still, I can think of a number of lessons my mother taught me. So, here you have it: what my mother taught me.

what-my-mother-taught-meGirlfriend fun is way fun.

Mom was big on lunching and traveling with her girlfriends. She spent a whole lot of time with them, maybe because it was a respite from a marriage that didn’t go the way she wanted. Still, her enjoyment of girl-time was a big influence on me and how I like to spend my free time.

Travel with young people.

I think I was 15 or so when my mother, her BFF and daughter and I took our first plane trip together, me with a rosary clutched tightly in my fist.  Still, we enjoyed girlfriend time in NYC and Toronto on a regular basis, often staying at the same hotels as celebrities and having some hilarious moments. I love to hear stories about moms traveling with their daughters. Instilling love of travel and new experiences is important to a full life.

Working for what you have is important.

After high school my  mother worked three jobs to support her immigrant parents. I am not sure the role her older brother played in that and I know her younger brother was the beneficiary of her hard work and didn’t really contribute. But my  mother felt a responsibility to take care of her parents and her work ethic and my father’s run strong in me.

There is a fine line between caring and co-dependency.

My mother had a hard time with this. There were loved ones that she loved to their detriment, allowing them to coast and take advantage of her. I won’t mention the dead or even the living. But I learned about co-dependency because I saw my mother doing it with others. I came out of the womb way independent so I never fell victim to that. Not that she didn’t help me when needed, because both my parents always stepped up in that way.

If you don’t use the big brain you were blessed with, it turns on you.

My father was the doctor but my mother had the bigger brain. That’s just a fact. She just never had the chance to go to college. Like many 1950s housewives, she had no outlet for her intelligence and over time it turned to various manipulations and not good ones. She could be a world-class shi t stirrer.  Things would have been way different if she’d used her keen intelligence in a different way.

Don’t stay in a bad situation.

I have this beautiful photo of my parents in their early marriage lying together on a sofa reading the paper. My aunt told me that they really were in love in the early days. I never saw that. When I was a kid I fantasized about having a different father. Mom had a boyfriend before Dad, a guy named Charlie, and I would fantasize about Charlie being my father.

My parents went to war pretty early–maybe when I was just a few months old– and part of it was my father’s strange ideas about child-rearing. We three kids were the worse for it. I worked hard on this in therapy for many years, into my 40s, and emerged fairly whole. My siblings, not so much. I can see exactly what happened and how, but I can’t do anything about it. Those things run deep and people must fix them for themselves.

Since I’m from the planet Observia, I watched everything. So when I found myself in bad relationships, I exited. Period. I have no apologies for that.


Pacific Grove, Calif.

Always protect the defenseless or those who can not take care of themselves.

My mom took good care of her parents and she also helped friends in need. She was taken advantage of, for sure, but her generosity was well-meaning. I got some of my heart from my mother. But the truth is, she didn’t do so well in that regard with her kids.

Get out and see the world.

At some point my mother developed a fear of flying and stopped traveling. She’d been to Europe twice and Vegas countless times (she was a gambler and her father was a gambler –he made book for a living) and then, afraid to fly, she stopped going places she couldn’t drive.

I didn’t want to live that limited a life, so I have tried to embrace the larger world despite my own fears and neuroses. I knew I wanted to see things way different from my life and I continue to do that.

Fear is your enemy.

My mother was all about “all the reasons to say no” –they were mostly fear-based and as I result, I became about “all the reasons to say yes.”

Just say yes.

It’s not that hard.

When we look at what our parents taught us, I think we could all agree that some things were worthy of modeling and others were cautionary tales. But then, I think that’s the role of parents. Kids have to learn from their mistakes. Of course, it’s easy for me to say as I’m not a parent. But at the same time, I am not foolish enough to think that if I were, my kids would see only the positive. Kids see EVERYTHING.

I’d love to know what your mother taught YOU.

60 comments on “What my mother taught me
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    What a wonderful way to present your mother’s fault and fine points, as a way to remind yourself what she taught you.As a memoirist, I am fighting with myself and my work with how to (not) reveal too much; but you did and didn’t, and made your mother seem all the more human and loving in the process. This was a writing lesson for me this morning. No resentment, just lessons. I love it. What a perfect way to forgive, present and understand the complicated relationship that will forever be Mothers and Daughters.

  2. I love this. Your mom sounds a lot like my mom. (http://ayankeeinrebelclothes.com/mother/) They probably would’ve gotten along great. Sometimes she frustrates the heck out of me and I don’t understand her, and other times I see the wisdom in her simplicity. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  3. so many things I could say but one lesson my mother taught me was to always be kind and friendly and polite to those serving you – waiters, waitresses, shop clerks, bank tellers.
    It is something she modelled everyday. I never saw her belittle or be unkind to people who served her, and when she went into a restaurant, or a bank or a shop she was always greeted warmly.
    Thanks for this post – my relationship with my mother was complicated but you helped me start the day remembering good things about her.

  4. Lana says:

    Brilliant Carol. Love the things you’ve learned through your relationship with your mom. My mother is moving back to Washington, and has been living with us while she finds a new house. We have such a difficult relationship, but I appreciate the reminder to look for the positive.

  5. Elizabeth Towns says:

    You’ve made me reflect on what some of the things are I’ve learned from my own mother, even in the stressful parts of our relationship. It’s so easy to pick out the negative, but the learning is in what I can put to use effectively. Thank you

  6. Your mother sounds like a strong, wonderful person, Carol. Maybe she has just moved on?

  7. tara pittman says:

    My mother taught me how to be frugal.Money was tight growing up but we kids had everything we needed.

  8. What a wonderful legacy your mother has left! And I like the way you chose to learn from your mother’s mistakes too. “Shit stirring” could have left you bitter, but you took the lesson instead of offense. Great post. I adore your work. 🙂

  9. Andrea says:

    Oh I could say a lot about my mom, but….suffice it to say that she DID instill in me persistence

  10. Carol Denise says:

    Your relationship with your mom sounds so similar to mine. I, too, believed my dramatic mother’s spirit would be constantly in touch with me and family, while my quiet and reserved father is the one who sends signs to me so much more. She lingered around for about a week after her passing and then moved on it seems. For her it was probably the most peace she had her whole life after endlessly searching for the greener pasture to no avail. Thank you for a well-written saga of your relationship with your dear mom.

  11. Melisa says:

    Your mom was a great influence on your life. I think the reason you have not heard from her since her passing is because she feels she did right by you.

  12. Azlin Bloor says:

    A very wise woman indeed!I love every single one of her maxims!

  13. Our parents are just people with their own sets of flaws and strengths. It’s great to have this midlife perspective where we can learn from both without judgement. Thanks for sharing, Carol.

  14. Michelle says:

    Your mom was very wise in spite of her flaws and weaknesses. I mean, you seem to have turned out pretty well. I always said to friends who had a difficult relationship with the parents to just sit down with them and ask who they were before they became mom and dad. You’d be surprised who they were is what made them into who they are. My mother taught me many things, negative and positive. But one thing she taught me that I’ve taught my own children, be YOU, do not be anyone else, just YOU.

  15. Stephanie Ortez says:

    What a wonderful and motivational post. I’m sorry about your mother, but clearly you have gained so much wisdom from your parents that are helping you to live your life to the fullest. You’re right, fear causes to overthink and get stressed out so much we completely forget how to get back to that healthy place and start over. Everyone should apply the concepts you’ve exposed here. It’s worth fighting for.

  16. You’ve certainly made me think. My relationship with my mother was pretty much in the crapper until I was married, and even then it took some therapy on my part to work through it.It got better as I got older and she mellowed as she aged too.It was my mother’s words and being there that got me through my first miscarriage and a subsequent stillbirth.

    I became fiercely independent because she wasn’t, so I’d say she taught me that without knowing it. She taught me a lot about babies; she had 5 and I had six.

    When she was dying, she called for me and I was there. My daughter and I assisted the hospice nurse with her post-mortem care. My three other sisters couldn’t handle it. I mention this because they are the ones who have had after live experiences with her while I have not. I’ve wondered if that is because I saw her out of this world just as she saw me into this world,so maybe there is no need for it. I know it exists because I have it with my deceased husband and my father, but throughout the course of my life I was always much closer to them.

    As an aside, the daughter I mentioned had just graduated with a degree in history and planned to teach. When we returned home, she decided to become a nurse. After taking a job as a CNA, she continued her education and now has her BSN. She credits my mother for that. When I listen to my children speak of my mother, I think she taught them more than she taught me and for that I am grateful. She taught me how to be a good Nana.

    I loved reading your post and smiled when I read about you flying with a Rosary clutched in your hand — I still do.

  17. Amy Jones says:

    This was beautiful. I think a mothers advice is one of the most precious things in the world.

  18. Alana says:

    I only had my Mom for 12 short years. But the lessons she taught me. Be frugal. Always kiss your spouse when you meet at the end of the day. Be there for the ones you love. So many lessons. You have made me smile today.

  19. It sounds like your mother was quite wise and wonderful. I’m sorry she’s not (yet) connected since passing.

    My experience with my own mom (still living) is quite different. But I’ve learned much by doing my best to do the opposite of her.

  20. You surely brought up many memories and still memories I make with my mom.

  21. I am so sorry that your Mother hasn’t been in touch with you in in the afterlife, but obviously she left you with plenty of guidance and support to see your through the rest of your life. You are blessed to have had her for the time you did and for her to have shared her life with you.

  22. Elizabeth O. says:

    So many essential lessons in life, from how to enjoy and live to how to be careful and considerate. That’s really very nice and I’m sure she’s such a joy to have around, no wonder you’ve been craving for her presence.

  23. This is a lovely post. It is nice that you can see all the wonderful things your mother taught you and yet realize she was not perfect.

  24. Your mom was a strong person and you learned a lot from her. I have a similar relationship with my mom.

  25. Your mom may not be making herself obvious right now but she’s taught you some pretty amazing lessons and I bet she’s making sure you remember them. I love that you’re from the planet Observia 🙂

  26. Leanne says:

    You are so fortunate to have had a mother who gave you so many worthwhile lessons and examples – my mum not so much! I think both my parents were narcissists so their lives were all about “them” and we just got by on a wing and a prayer!

  27. Heather says:

    I can relate to Leanne above. My mother doesn’t talk to me, not sure why but it has been 10 years!

  28. Estelle says:

    Great post. Your mom possibly reincarnated quickly so she could enjoy herself again. My mom has given me the gift of a youthful spirit ands love of reading and culture.

  29. Nicole Escat says:

    Your mom sounds a great mother, one of the best mothers on earth. I remember my mom on her.

  30. Lexie Lane says:

    Every parent teaches us differently from one another depending on their personalities, especially our mothers, but still at the end of the day, they always know what’s best for us.

  31. This was a really interesting post that I think a lot of people can learn from! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I actually know a lot of people who stay in bad situations and change because of it. Wish I could say that they were positive changes!

  32. She Joh says:

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your mom. I couldn’t agree more with the things your mom has taught you. My mom has taught me similar pieces of wisdom in life. THis was a great read, thanks for sharing!

  33. Leigh Anne Borders says:

    You learned alot from your wise mother. Sorry for your loss.

  34. Your mom left a great legacy. Thanks for sharing what you remember most.

    My mom has always been one of my best friends, my confidante, my biggest supporter. She has taught me to love unconditionally, use my talents to lift others, and be kind to all I meet. My dad had a stroke recently and I just got back from spending a week with my mom, helping her through this health transition. She shared her fears, her concerns, and her worries for the future. I am so glad we have the kind of relationship where we can keep each other company in the good and the bad.

  35. aziel morte says:

    Your mom sounds like a wonderful mom and you have an awesome memories with her. I enjoyed reading this post

  36. I know it must have been hard to lose your mom as it would be for me to lose mine. When that time does come, I’ll have to make a list of everything she taught me. She’s taught me several things your own mom taught you.

  37. parpar de real says:

    So many good memories with your mom, I think your mom was great based on your story

  38. Rosemond says:

    It sounds like you’ve taken the best parts of your mom to heart and learned to craft your own life from the habits and views you didn’t want to live by. I think we can learn so much from seeing what our parents were and were not but then we have to be brave enough to, as you said, just say yes.

  39. Liz Mays says:

    I often wonder if my mom will communicate after she dies. My dad appears to me in dreams quite often now, and it’s always so comforting. She did teach you some valuable lessons though.

  40. My mother taught me about never surrender ! Always try harder and go further!

  41. Lisa Rios says:

    We always learn so many things from our mom every day in our life & I am sure we can take lot of positives from their relationship we have with them. You like it or not, as a mother I am sure she has left so much in your life to deal with.

  42. I love your blog…I kinda do the same thing in my blog.I talk about the love and all she taught me.

  43. K. Lee Banks says:

    I empathize with your loss! My Mom passed away almost 5 years ago (July 7, 2011). Just as you did, I think the best way to honor their memory is to reflect on what we learned and happy thoughts on days and years gone by.

  44. Kathy says:

    Sounds like she taught you well. I love all of these things that you have written here. I think that just saying yes is one of my favorites.

  45. You are right, kids do see everything. Some of the things we learn from our mothers are things to do and others are things we’ll decide to do differently. I learned from my mother the joy a garden can bring and also the importance of a positive attitude, which she does not have.

    Andrea’s Wellness Notes

  46. Rosey says:

    3 jobs. How wonderful that she had that in her. She sounds amazing, and I agree w/you on the travel…it is fun and it is important too.

  47. Brianna says:

    I don’t have a very good relationship with my Mom. I did learn quite a bit from her, but a lot of it is what to NOT do.:)

  48. Christina Aliperti says:

    I love the way you explained your relationship with your mom. And it seems that she taught you so much that you need to know in life.

  49. What a perfect post for me to read on this monday. Wow your mother is amazing. I love how much you’ve learned from her. Brilliant points hahaha yes there is a difference between caring and co dependency that alot of people seem to mix up

  50. These are some awesome life lessons. Summary of my favorites: work hard, play hard, don’t let your fear stop you, don’t put up with thing that make you unhappy, see the world, and stand up for what you believe is right.

  51. doran poma says:

    I love Big Sur!!! I live just down the road. It is beautiful that you can find so many lessons out of your memories with/of your mother. I am always inpired to create a better life based on not only my own lessons but also from those around me. It looks like you also try to live that way.

  52. tp keane says:

    Your mother sounds like a very wise and traveled woman. Perhaps she doesn’t come to you because you don’t need her to. You’ve already learned everything she had to teach you.

  53. I lost my Mom in 2009 and I miss her terribly every day. Like your Mom, she taught me so much by example. She gave me the gift of being able to love unconditionally.

  54. I’m not sure what I’ve learned from mom. Even today, I would say that I don’t really know her. Sure, I know how she acts when she doesn’t get her way. I know the look she gets on her face when she can’t hear what you’re saying and it’s pissing her off. She’s even told me stories of when she was a girl, but I don’t know who she is on the inside. She has always kept a distance from not just me, but everyone she’s ever met. She has this deep fear of looking stupid that she keeps herself hidden. I’m most like my father. I’m the only girl of 5 and I’m more like him than any of the kids. Momma was raised in a society where women were not valued at all. They were there to be a servant to “their man”. Their thoughts, ideas, or dreams were of no consequence.

  55. Danne Reed says:

    My mother taught me a lot of things. She is the most wonderful person in the world to me, she is a strong and beautiful woman.

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