Life Lessons from our Mothers (Part 2)

Mothers are our first teachers.  They teach us how to count to ten, eat with our mouths closed, neatly make our beds, and share our toys with others.  Later, they instill in us values for interacting in society. They teach us tolerance, compassion and kindness.  If religious, they instill in us those creeds which either we determine as adults to follow or to shed for other life philosophies. Almost every day, I hear in the back of my head, something that my mother taught me growing up.  As no doubt you will agree, to our dying day, there is no escaping mom!

Here are the second group of life lessons from the mothers of my friends who shared generously what they found most valuable in the respective lives.

One of California’s first winery presidents, Michaela Rodeno, had a mother who spent her whole life telling her how special she was and continued to do so until she died at 85. “Naturally, I believed her. My report cards do not support that view, but she instilled it in all of us. She also had a profound respect for education, which is probably how I ended up with three college degrees (BA, MA, MBA).”

Michaela’s mother gave up a budding career working in a New York City ad agency to raise five children. Michaela explained that her mother was also too busy moving the household annually as her father was a Navy officer.  However, her mother was a lifelong reader/learner and went on to finally get a BA from Washington University when she was 62 years old.

Her favorite advice from Mom? “Rise above it.” Meaning if someone does you wrong, just get over it.

My wine writer copine Marguerite Thomas, had parents who divorced when she was three. Subsequently, she was raised by her father and stepmother. However, she remained in contact with her birth mother throughout her life and tells amazing stories about Barbara, her unusually colorful and free-spirted mother.  Barbara worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency where her responsibilities included things such as thinking up names for lipsticks and other products for the Merle Norman Cosmetic Company.

Perhaps more importantly, as Marguerite describes it, “Barbara (like my father and most of their mutual friends) were actively ethical and politically progressive people, which instilled in me a strong belief in issues such as civil rights, fair labor practices, equal educational opportunities and the like.”

One important thing Marguerite learned from Barbara is that “very few of one’s friends (or even family) are interested in hearing much about your ailments.”  Barbara also taught her “Never allow anyone to cut your cuticles.”  And, to this day, Marguerite swears no one has ever done so!

My Italian class buddy has a mother of impeccable taste.  Now in her 90’s, she still always looks beautifully “turned out” with her hair nicely coiffed and a carefully chosen wardrobe. When Joan describes her mother when she was growing up, “If she broke a fingernail or couldn't find a lipstick to match her dress she would have a meltdown (not a word we used in those days but that's what it was).”  However, from her mother she learned how to care for others before yourself.  “But if a member of her family was sick, or in trouble, or needed help of any kind, she was always there to provide whatever assistance or comfort was needed without giving any thought to herself or her own needs.  A valuable lesson indeed for me and my brother.” 

Another fellow public relations and marketing executive, Susan Smirnoff, was taught by her mother to Always keep a sense of humor in every aspect of your life every single day. Even when times are difficult or sad, a little levity can provide perspective and lighten life’s journey.”

Susan recounted that her mother went to work right after finishing high school. “She spoke about working for a costume jewelry manufacturer and among other tasks mom worked as a hand model—she had the most elegant fingers and always perfect (self-manicured) nails.  She married my dad at age 27 and did not work until his sudden death when she was only 44.”  Immediately Susan’s mother jumped in to take over the daily running of her father’s enterprises which included two hotels and three retail stores in Connecticut. “While the customer service came naturally,” Susan explained, “My mother had to learn and eventually mastered the finances in business. She sold off the holdings nearly 20 years later making a fortune for herself and the investors.” Can we safely assume that Susan’s mother, Bobby, laughed all the way to the bank?

Many of my friends, now mothers in their own right, have passed on their mothers’ wisdom to their own children.  Michaela Rodeno told me that she had self-published (for her family), The Sayings of Chairman Mom, which, as she described it, is “full of aphorisms, clichés, and wisdom gathered with help from my siblings that we were liberally dosed with while growing up. My daughter Kate has picked many of them up from me (making Mom immortal?).”

Yes, indeed, our mothers’ many invaluable life lessons are timeless.  Perhaps the most valuable of all is what love looks like.