The Legacy I Didn't Know I Wanted

05/12/2015 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016
Amy Mullis

As far as legacies go, my tastes lie with something simple, like a check. Or stock. Or heirloom china. Unfortunately, Mama wasn't the heirloom china type. What I got when she departed for the peaceful place where mothers don't have to cook, clean or say, "If I told you once, I told you a million times," was not the inheritance I assumed was my birthright. What she left me was the very thing I was the least qualified to handle: Wisdom.

Giving me a lapful of life lessons is like tossing me a copy of the Atkins diet and a size six sheath dress and telling me the party starts at 7. You may as well shove the plans for building a biplane into my arms and tell me to be in Paris by midnight. When it comes to legacies, it's best to just go ahead and hand me a gold bar.

Now that I'm in the stage of life where good advice usually involves a recipe loaded with fiber, I realize that what Mama left me was a handbook for life. Thanks to the seeds my mom planted in the rocky garden of my mind over the years, I've sailed through many of the stormy seas of life without having to evacuate to life boats. Turns out Mom knew best all along. Here are Mama's Rules to Live By -- along with some of my own observations for those who, like me, have trouble following directions.

1. There is something to love in every person. However, there are some people who hide that something really well. Actually, Mama just said that first part. I learned the second part from my sister.

2. If you rip a page out of your brother's comic book, he can rip a page out of yours. This is a mother of four's version of The Golden Rule. I learned to treat friends, family and their possessions with respect. And I'll never know what happened to Archie and Jughead that day at Riverdale High.

3. Give a child two cookies; one for each hand. This is a smart idea because it keeps the child busy for twice as long, diverts him from "helping" with your biscuit dough and prevents you from having to walk every morning for a week to work off two cookies that you would have eaten to relieve stress if your child had two hands free to plunge into the dog's food.

4. Don't honk your horn at anybody. At first I assumed this was Mama's version of traveling etiquette, but now I realize that she understood road rage long before anyone held up traffic trying to read road signs through the wrong part of skinny designer bifocals.

5. Always have a skill you can fall back on. By this, I know now that she meant a skill that will continue to be of service to the Community of Man. Unfortunately the skill I chose was typing, which caused typewriters to immediately become extinct.

6. If you're not tall enough to see out the car window, sit on a pillow. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. Even the Marines agree with her.

7. If something particularly unpleasant is happening to you, there's probably a lesson involved. Wade through a puddle or two on the linoleum and you'll remember to let the new puppy out. You'll also remember to buy a mop.

8. Don't sell things you can give away. That might not make sense in an e-Bay world, but knowing that someone who needs it will have a warm coat for the winter goes a long way toward offsetting the thrill of bagging $1.50 for your old hula lamp in an online auction.

9. Play to win. Unless that gets in the way of playing for fun. When playing Scrabble with an elderly woman who can't see past her elbow, give her a break if she thinks she drew five blanks. Come to think of it, that's how Mom always won at Scrabble, so there's probably an extra lesson tucked in there.

10. Always take time to watch the birds at the birdfeeder. Time spent with nature is a peace of mind investment. And last winter, a tiny chickadee who muscled his way through a crowd of rowdy cardinals to have lunch gave me some great ideas for handling the next family reunion. And the big project due at work.

11. Don't worry, it'll get worse. This was my mom's slogan. When I was 3 and ran to her with a skinned knee, she said it. She was right. I broke my arm. When I was 33 and getting divorced, she said it again. And soon my kids became teenagers. But by then, I had it figured out. If things can get worse, the problems that seem overpowering right now aren't the end of the world. Things can also get better. So if teaching two teenaged boys to drive and adding them to my insurance is the worst life has to offer, I can handle it.

But I sure wouldn't turn down a check.