Somewhere in the world is a stealth educational system more powerful and more secretive than the CIA or MI6 or Mossad where mothers go to learn how to keep their children in line. No one talks about it, no one can give you directions, and the mothers who graduate aren’t talking. But when they leave this sacred training place, they are full armed with pithy, single sentence-sized bits wisdom and warnings that can go head-to-head with any fire and brimstone sermon.
Preach it, mothers.
A Human Lie Detector
My mom graduated from the stealth institute summa cum laude. Her arsenal of wisdom went hand-in-hand with her super hearing, X-ray vision, eyes in the back of her head, and extraordinary mind-reading capabilities. She was a human lie detector who, with a single withering look, could extract truth from my brother, sister, and me the way the Barefoot Contessa extracts juice from lemons. As children, we didn’t have a prayer when it came to hiding our indiscretions.
Mom could shell out entire sermons in a single sentence that could be embroidered on a wall hanging. Most mothers can. Patriarchs, protest if ye must, but I’d be willing to bet shekels to donuts that Solomon leaned into his mother’s wisdom when he penned the Proverbs.
Like it or not, a mom’s words of wisdom eventually become part of every woman’s genetic code. Think I’m lying? Have your lips ever been moving, but it’s your mom who is speaking? I rest my case.
Lee-isms Shaped My Life
At our house we called these words of advice Lee-isms because Mom’s name was Lee. Every one of them has played a part in shaping our lives.
10 Axioms to Live By
Always wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. What mother hasn’t said that to her child? Although for the life of me, I can’t imagine a situation when it’s okay NOT to wear clean underwear—accident or not. I think basic hygiene and demands it.
Eat your bread crust because it will make your hair curly. I grew up in an era when straight hair was so “in” that I flattened my hair under the molten heat of a Rowenta. In Susan World, crustless sandwiches weren’t just for tea parties, they were a necessity to keep me from looking like Roseanne Roseannadanna.
If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch your death of cold. In other words, you won’t catch an ordinary cold that will run its course in 10 days, you’ll actually die. It makes sense to heed these words if they come from an Eskimo mom to her Eskimo children. The worst a Midwestern child can expect is a bad hair day.
You’re not sugar. You won’t melt. This was the response we got when we protested about going outside when it was raining. Granted, we might not melt, however, if our hair got wet, we would surely die.
Don’t sit too close to the TV or you’ll go blind. Don’t read in the dark or you’ll go blind. Never try on someone else’s glasses or, (you guessed it) you’ll go blind. Losing eyesight was a big threat at our house.
Don’t shove beans up your nose. I don’t recall a single time in my entire life when I was tempted to shove legumes up my nose, so when it came to this axiom, I was an unusually compliant child. And for the record, I never, ever put beans in my eyes for fear of going blind.
If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Most moms came home from stealth school with that one in their arsenal. My mom did it one better with the statement’s first cousin: If you don’t have anything to say, try not to say too much of it.
Don’t answer the phone on the first ring. People will think you have nothing better to do than hang out by the phone. Of course, with a cell phone in my pocket, it’s not out of the question that I could actually get to the phone during the first ring. Still, I force myself to wait.
You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I never knew why I’d want to catch filthy, common household pests. And it seems flies are attracted to vinegar and honey, so does it really matter? I do know this. If you let the vinegar splash in your eyes, well, that can’t be good.)
Reading opens a brand new world. This is my favorite Lee-ism. It was all the bait I needed to learn to read and it turns out Mom was right. This sage advice has enriched my life and introduced me to exotic places and fascinating people I never would have met on TV or even in real life. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was five or six years old.
But only in good light. Otherwise I might go blind.
How about you? What favorite advice did your mom give you?