Monday, January 8, 2018

Things My Mama Done Told Me

My mother would have had something to say about the recent cold snaps and snow storms. She was obsessed with the forecast. Her TV was perpetually tuned to that station with the 24/7 weather crawl and easy-listening tunes. "Mom, why do you have that station on all the time?" "I like the music." Nah. She liked to see the temps from Cape Breton to Yukon. "Look at that! It's -35 in Flin Flon today!"

She'd phone me with long reports on expected highs and lows. Wind chills. Precipitation chances. Humidity values. And then she'd sum it all up with her standard phrase, "Oh, well. There's nothing you can do about the weather." 

"Nope," I'd say. I had no follow-up.  

But isn't that what mom-isms are all about? They shut you down. You're stuck. There's no room for a comeback. Who hasn't heard this one, "I don't care what the other kids are doing. If they all jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?"  

What do you do with that question? Do they actually expect you to sass back, "YES, MOM, I WOULD! I WOULD TOTALLY JUMP OFF THE BRIDGE, BECAUSE EVERYONE IS DOING IT!"  No, of course not.

And obviously you weren't about to cave and admit that you WOULDN'T really jump off the bridge because then she HAD you, even though you weren't asking about jumping off a bridge, were you, you were asking if you could go to the concert that EVERYBODY else was going to. Except you, apparently.

Someone posted an invitation on Facebook recently asking readers to share things their mothers always said. I read a handful of submissions. This one was popular, "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about." Yes, my mom lobbed that one at me. But I have to give my mother credit for creativity. She had some adages in her arsenal that I believe were uniquely her own.

Her winterized version of, "If you don't stop crying…." in our frigid Manitoba climate was, "…your eyelids will freeze shut." For all I knew, she might have been right. I wasn't going to test the theory. And with good reason — they told us what would happen if you stuck your tongue to a metal pole in sub-zero temps. And it was true. So, I wasn't chancing my eyelids.

Winter also gave her the opportunity to cast me outdoors in my snowsuit, "Go outside and play. It'll put roses in your cheeks." My play time would be ruined by anxiety watching for some kind of mutant floral growth to start blooming on my face. 

All morning in school, I'd imagine my breakfast porridge sticking to my ribs like wallpaper paste. It was horrifying.

Okay, those last two weren't exclusive to my mom. You're probably familiar with these gems from the vernacular. I've put them in convenient categories for you. 

The "Make Me Proud of You" Category:

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

"Children should be seen and not heard."

"Because I said so, that's why."

"Keep your mouth shut when you chew your food."

The "Smarten Up" Group:

"Wipe that smile off your face, or I'll wipe it off for you."

"Quit moping. Get outside and shovel the sidewalk. That will cheer you up."

"If you behave that way in school it's going to reflect badly on me."

"I'm not your maid."

The "Just You Wait" Group:

"Just wait until I tell your father. OR: Just wait until your father gets home!"

"Just wait until you have kids of your own, THEN you'll understand."

"Wait until you're older. I'll tell you about it someday."

"I'm waiting….!" (spoken with sing-song voice.)

The "Play Nice" Category:

"It's all fun and games until somebody comes home crying."

"If they tease you, it means they like you." (Huh?)

"Those kids are more to be pitied than laughed at."

The "Who Do You Think You Are?" Sub-Group:

"Don't you get too big for your boots, Little Mrs." (I knew she meant business when she called me Little Mrs.)

The "We're a Decent Family" Category:

"Of course you have to wear clean underwear. What if you got in an accident and had to go to the hospital? I'd die of shame. They'd think your mother doesn't take care of you."

The "You're Embarrassing Me in Public" Sub-Group:

In the 1950s, Kotex was disguised at the store in plain brown paper wrappers. Mystery packages. I asked, loudly, only once, "Mommy! WHAT'S IN THAT?" Her reply, "Hush. You ask too many questions." 

The "You'll Ruin Your Life if You Keep That Up" Category:

"Don't you make that face! Do you want it to stay that way?"

"Quit walking like that! Someday you'll end up that way." (I did a pretty good Igor routine) 

"Don't crack your knuckles, they'll end up like tree stumps."

Or my favorite: "You don't want to start shaving your legs — you'll have to keep it up for a lifetime." "But, MOM! EVERYBODY shaves their legs!" (You know where that's going.)

My teen years were an interesting test for passive-aggressive parenting. A pair of turquoise denim bell-bottom pants I bought with my clothing allowance and paired with an orange ribbed sweater gave her a new motto, "Well, okay — if that's what YOU think is nice to wear." The implication was that she didn't. I heard that one many more times before I left home.

I know better than to go out in March or April without a sweater because, "You don't want to push the season." 

Tripping hazards are tidied up in my own house because of this warning shot, "If you kids don't pick all of this stuff up, somebody around here is going to fall and break their neck."

"You haven't looked hard enough," is guaranteed to reveal the location of a lost item.

I never ever run with scissors. I always wait an hour after eating before going in the water. 

Mom Maxims rattle around in my brain like pennies in a jar. They come in handy from time to time. And they make me think of her. She did a fairly decent job being a mom.