A Mother’s Wisdom

Chapel Hill News logoMay 13, 2007

A mother’s wisdom runs through a daughter’s life like those tunes you can’t get out of your head. Sometimes the notes resound with great depth of feeling and purpose; other times lyrics yammer mindlessly between your ears and you wish you could find the mute button.

I want to share with you some of my mother’s many teachings, and I hope you’ll send me some of your mother’s.

* Sleep with pieces of cotton ball in your ears, held in place by your hair net.

* Never underestimate the healing power of cider vinegar. Rub it on your lower legs vigorously, every night. “It just takes the fire right out of your tired limbs.”

* Dab a Q-Tip with baby shampoo and swab the rims of your eyelids, to discourage unsightly skin tabs.

* Do not bathe in more than 4 inches of water, and make sure it’s tepid. Why? Not sure.

* Women only: to avoid the ill effects of a draft, sleep in two sleeveless undershirts, under your brassiere. Top it off with a long-sleeved nightie and, if possible, your bathrobe.

* Fresh air is essential. Sleep with a window open, summer or winter (creating a draft).

* Treat split ends the way you would a plastic cord that’s beginning to unravel. Braid hair, strike a match and light braid tips. Blow out the flame immediately and breathe through mouth. The smell of singed hair is unbecoming.

* Don’t go out to dinner wearing black and white. People will mistake you for the wait staff.

* Don’t take typing in high school. You could end up a secretary. (Never mind that your daughter will have to pay friends to type her college papers … and wind up a non-typing writer.)

* Make the bed every morning, using hospital corners, flattening all creases. Your day will run more smoothly

* Buy the smallest house in the best neighborhood. Location, location, location.

* Sing your children to sleep with chilling nightly lullabies containing moral lessons. “Murder ballads” like “Tom Dooley” are ideal, though any song about death and disaster will do (“Go Tell Aunt Sally,” “The Ship Titanic”).

* Deliver difficult news about bodily functions in vague mysterious terms. I was in fourth grade. Mother and I had said our prayers and sung our songs when she whispered in my ear, “Some day you’ll bleed.” Without another word, she turned and abruptly left the room. I can still hear her heels clicking on the stairs and fading into the bright grown-up world downstairs. All alone in my dark room, my chunky body trembled. Bleed? From where? My ears? My underarms? My eyes? Please not my eyes.

* But moving right along: On special nights lighten up with songs that only express mild caution, lighthearted anxiety, or blind faith, like “Que Sera Sera.” We didn’t sing it that night.

* Above all, love your children unconditionally, knowing very simply that you would die for them.

Over the years, my mother and I have had our share of arguments, but we have never been estranged. And though I have had to work at getting the nagging tunes out of my head, what I hear most when I think of her is not really a song but something more like a mantra: “love you, love you, love you …”

That is my mother’s ultimate resounding wisdom, the final sum of all its kooky parts.

What did you learn from your mother? E-mail me — or leave a comment on my blog: http://carolhenderson.blogspot.com/

Happy Mother’s Day…and, oh, one more: Stock up on Witch Hazel, Epsom salts and prunes. Don’t ask.