I was 11 when my mom and stepdad got married. Both parents had three kids, so the marriage instantly turned us into a large, boisterous family trying to learn to live together and share everything, with each child constantly jockeying for position and attention from the clearly exhausted and constantly outflanked new stepparents from either side.
My stepdad was a doctor, so he sought refuge at his clinic and the local hospital, where he could be in charge with no questions asked (this was in the late 60s, when doctors told God what to do). Mom stayed home with the kids. Within the next couple of years, five out of the six were teenagers. All at the same time. There was a reason 5 p.m. was referred to as "Attitude Adjustment Hour" at our house.
My mother quickly developed a parenting style that was pithy, blunt and on-the-fly. She had no time for silliness like drawn-out negotiating or soul-searching chats with her offspring, biological or otherwise. Mom would drop tidbits of wisdom like bread crumbs, and if we were smart, we'd listen. If we were really smart, we'd learn.
Like many women, after raising my own child and then being handed darling, dimpled grandchildren to help guide along life's journey, I find myself repeating maternal admonitions recalled from my youth. The older I get, the smarter she was. So today is dedicated to my mother, and her 25 Most Memorable Mom-isms.
1. You have to suffer to be beautiful. (As a child, this was usually offered up when she was yanking the snarls out of my hair. In later years, it included high heels and Botox.)
2. If you're fighting with someone you care about, be the first to say "I'm sorry." You don't have to mean it. You just have to say it. (Well, somebody has to go first.)
3. It's time to diet when you're wider from the side view than from the front. (Weirdly accurate. It's better than a scale. Go look. We'll wait.)
4. The only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead. (We thought she invented "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." To this day, you can't coax, bribe, or threaten a secret out of any of us.)
5. The best way to avoid falling in love with a poor man is not to date one. (Mom was nothing if not practical.)
6. If you kiss a boy, he'll want to "do it" and you'll get pregnant. (Granted, we were very young, but for years my sisters and I thought kissing made you pregnant. Mom's work was done.)
7. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. For someone else. (By the time we were all in college, this became "Absence makes the heart realize it doesn't miss your absent ass.")
8. Don't confuse the wedding with the marriage. (Mama Kardashian might have done better by her daughters if she'd passed this one down.)
9. A woman rarely regrets not sleeping with a man. The same can't be said of the opposite. (In our younger days, it was a more direct "Keep your knees together and your feet on the floor." That worked, too.)
10. You can learn a lot about a man by how he treats his dog. (Mom nailed this one. It's true. Every. Time.)
11. Marriages are like pancakes. You screw the first one up. (With six kids and 14 marriages between us, we might have taken this one a bit too literally. Don't judge.)
12. Don't buy a car you haven't driven or marry a man you haven't slept with. They're both hard to return. (I was in my 20s by this time. And it was the 80s.)
13. Frankly Scarlett, you're not that important. (Instantly squashing all wails of "Everybody will be looking at me!" when we got a zit on prom night.)
14. You can't be the bride at every wedding or the corpse at every funeral. (We learned "It's not always about you" very early. Nice job, Mom.)
15. If he says he's not good enough for you, he's right. ("You're too good for me" became the relationship kiss of death with the girls in my family. See ya', buddy.)
16. Fred was good, but Ginger did it all backwards. In stilettos. Be Ginger. (Did I mention that Mom was a rebel?)
17. Never be a mistress. You'll either get dumped or become his wife, in which case, he'll get a new mistress. (Usually emphasized with a finger shake and "You following me here?")
18. Promiscuous men are studs. Promiscuous women are tramps. Men don't marry tramps. They may sleep with them, but they don't marry them. (Self-explanatory, and undisputed.)
19. Life is not fair. Deal with it. (See #18)
20. At a certain age, a woman has to choose between her ass and her face. Skinny older women look even older. And they're cranky. Eat. (Bless you, Mom.)
21. Don't smoke. But if you must, do so only when seated. Women who walk while smoking look trashy. (Surprisingly true. Check it out next time you're in a mall.)
22. Never do anything for a man when you're dating that you don't want to do when you're married. It sets an ugly precedent. (So to all the boyfriends I never cooked for, blame Mom.)
23. Assume every photo of you will be seen by me, your dad, your minister, your boss and your future children. (All aspirations of becoming Porn Star Patti in college instantly vaporized. Go, Mom.)
24. Never bet on a horse with a bad track record. (Usually accompanied by a stern look and an admonition, "If he lies and cheats on you, he's a creep. But if you let him, you're an idiot. I didn't raise idiots.")
25. When in doubt, be fabulous. (And we were.)
Thanks, Mom, for your wit and your wisdom. Despite what must have not-infrequently seemed insurmountable odds, you raised some pretty terrific (and occasionally fabulous) kids. And now I'm going to get my granddaughter. We're going to have a talk about kissing.