My Mama Told Me


When I was growing up many, many moons ago, my mom always seemed to have at her immediate disposal a wealth of one-liners to fit any parenting occasion.  Sometimes these one-liners were perfect and beautiful in their simplicity, like “A kiss will make it all better” whenever a tumble from my bicycle bruised my knobby knees or “You’re too good for him anyway” whenever a boyfriend failed to make a promised phone call.  More often, though, her one-liners were just annoying and trite–and sure to elicit a major eye-rolling from my adolescent self as I quickly turned away (timing was important because eye-rolling was a capital offense in our house, subject to a quick smack across the cheek or–even worse–a weekend grounding).

Back then I thought my mom was unique in her ability to have such “advice” always at the ready, but I have since learned that so many of my friends were subject to the exact same admonishments from their mothers (was there some kind of parenting manual they had all memorized?).  And even more dreadful is the realization that, despite my best intentions to the contrary, my own children sometimes suffered from the same one-liners accidentally slipping through my lips.

How many of the words of wisdom below were you subjected to as you were growing up?  And, more importantly, how many of them have you since heard yourself repeating?

  • “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” I grew up poor without realizing we were poor; consequently, I frequently asked for things my parents couldn’t afford, and I got very tired of hearing this reminder over and over.  I wasn’t stupid; I knew money didn’t grow on trees–it came from the bank, and all my stubborn mom had to do was go there and get some.
  • “Go ask your dad.” And when I would ask my dad, he would almost always respond with, “I don’t care.  Go ask your mom.”  And so I would tell my mom, “Dad doesn’t care,” which usually resulted in Mom slamming the nearest available utensil against the kitchen counter.  Apparently Mom did care.
  • “Don’t sit so close to the TV–you’re going to ruin your eyes.” I don’t know if it was the TV watching or the reading in the dark (which I was also told not to do), but Mom got that one right.
  • “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!” Why not sixty-seven times or a hundred or eight hundred or a million?  What was so magical about a thousand?
  • “Just wait ’til your dad gets home.” I lived in fear of the moment when my dad’s car pulled into the driveway, and I would often be sobbing before he ever stepped into my bedroom.  But the spanking I had been dreading all afternoon seldom materialized; a verbal lashing was usually sufficient to make me tremble in regret and to offer a teary apology to my mom.  My middle son tells me that I used a slightly different version of this warning:  “We’ll just see how funny you think it is when your dad gets home” (which seems to suggest that my attempt at discipline was snickered upon).
  • “Because I said so–that’s why!” I tried very hard not to scream these words at my own children–and I failed miserably.  If there is possibly a parent out there who has never uttered these same words in exasperation, I’d like to meet that parent and learn the secret to such patience!
  • “Don’t make me come in there!” A slightly different–although just as intimidating–variation was “Don’t make me pull this car over!”  Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I made my mom come in there, and I made her pull the car over, and I don’t remember either situation ever ending with positive consequences.  I am also guilty of yelling both of these warnings at my own children, usually in response to intense sibling bickering in the backseat or the house-shaking vibration of little boy bodies slamming against the bedroom wall.
  • “Quit that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” I never really understood the logic behind this one, but when my mom made this threat I definitely knew to “dry it up” and to do so as quickly as possible.
  • “You’re the oldest–you should know better.” This was a frequent reprimand after my sister (who was only 11 months younger than I was and a whole lot meaner!) hit me and then I hit her back, resulting in her wailing just loud enough to draw my mom’s attention.  The fact that she hit me first didn’t matter; I was the oldest.
  • “I don’t care what all your friends are doing!  If they jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Bringing up what my friends were being allowed to do was a sure-fire way to guarantee that I would not be doing the same; it shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure that one out.
  • “I slaved for hours over a hot stove and this is the thanks I get?!” This one was also frequently followed with, “How do you know you don’t like it?  You’ve never even tried it!”  It didn’t really matter, though, what my mom said about my refusal to eat the by-products of her said slavery; if I didn’t want to eat something, I wasn’t going to, and the impending punishment was irrelevant (as were all the starving children in China–in my little self-centered world I just didn’t care that they were being deprived of the same meatloaf and mashed potatoes that I was so rudely refusing to eat).
  • “Don’t you backtalk me!” which was usually immediately followed by “Answer me!”  I was confused.
  • “This hurts me more than it does you.” Out of all my mom’s one-liners, this was the one I hated the most, the one that most tempted me to scream, “Liar, liar!” as the leather belt was blistering streaks across my backside and I was trying desperately to squirm out of her grasp.  It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized what my mom was talking about–and how right she was.

So, did any of these sound vaguely familiar?  And did your mom have some of her own frequent one-liners that have been forever scorched into your memory?  Let’s hear ’em!

Footnote:  Below is a picture of my mom at age 15.  One year later she became a bride, and two years after that she became a mother.  By age 23 she had her hands full with three small children (which is hard for me to comprehend).  She may have made a few mistakes as a young mom, but she also did a lot of things right, and one thing was always certain–she loved her children (and they loved her in return).


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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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15 Responses to My Mama Told Me

  1. emjayandthem says:

    Wonderful post and I heard every single one of them growing up. The scary thing is that I’ve repeated many of them. The most irritating? “Oh just let it go in one ear and out the other…” we’ve had many conversations about that one and she’s later admitted that it didn’t serve any purpose except to change the subject. HA!

    Beautiful photo of your Mom & tribute to her .. and, like you, I can’t imagine being that young and having a young family shortly thereafter. wow!

    Hope you’re feeling better .. MJ

  2. Janet says:

    Wait a minute–I thought those one-liners were requisite for good parenting! Which is why I used them so much….

    P.S. What a beauty your mom was!

    • Thank you! She had auburn hair and green eyes, and obviously I looked nothing like her! I’m starting to feel better about my own frequent use of these one-liners as I come to realize how many other good mothers did the same!

  3. Gail says:

    Yep, I think I heard every one of those growing up with the exception of “Just wait til your dad gets home!” She usually went ahead and took care of business herself and didn’t wait for dad. Ha! Another one I always remember was: “Do as I say and not as I do!” I always hated that one.

    Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    • Thank you! Yeah, I had forgotten about “Do as I say and not as I do!” I heard that one a lot also. My mom administered most of the discipline; when she told us to wait until our dad got home, we knew we had REALLY messed up!

  4. bronxboy55 says:

    I heard every one of these, repeatedly. I was also told I was “asking for a beating” and I would get my “head handed to me.” These last two more violent threats usually worked, not because of the fear they were intended to instill, but rather the confusion they caused. I always stopped whatever I was doing to figure out why in the world she thought I would be asking for a beating, and what I was supposed to do after my head was handed to me.

    • How funny! I remember hearing the “asking for a beating” also, and fortunately I was usually smart enough not to give voice to the smart-aleck responses circulating in my little brain (“I’m not asking for anything!”). Our poor mothers … and our poor children.

  5. I know them all and have said them all. One time in the car I yelled out “We have been on the road for five minutes and you guys have been fighting for ten. ” That did not stop things either.

    • The joys of parenthood! I’m so glad I made it out of those early days alive (and that my children survived me as well!). I can look back now and think of several instances when my parenting techniques left much to be desired–and I wonder how many more my children can remember. I guess the important thing is to do the best we can and hope it’s good enough.

  6. I heard them all as well. If we complained of boredom my mother would throw this one in our faces, “What do you want me to do, call a policeman to come over and play?” I never said yes, but I should have.

  7. You might not believe this, but the only one I heard was about not sitting so close to the television. This is not because I didn’t deserve to hear any of them, but because my mother was Queen of the Silent Treatment – which drove me to the brink of insanity. My children could only dream that I followed in her footsteps because I was very vocal when they misbehaved. I think I was making up for my mom not uttering a word.

    The photo of your mother is beautiful!

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