The AfterEllen.com Huddle: We Got it From Our Mamas

Moms! Sometimes they drive you crazy, but other times, they teach you valuable lessons that you might not appreciate right away. It can sneak up on you, the things you acquire from your mother, whether its how you treat others or how you look at tough situations. With Mother’s Day being celebrated this Sunday, we thought we’d find out what you have learned from the woman who helped you to be the person you are today.

Dara Nai: Like many kids, I asked a lot of questions. My mother was the master of the pithy reply. She rarely offered more than one-sentence explanations for anything, and she never talked to me like I was a kid. Some gems over the course of my childhood:

“Only boring people get bored.” — After I complained I was bored. I was about five years old.
“He had nothing more to say.” — After 10-year-old me asked for another J.D. Salinger book, but learned I had read them all.
“Money doesn’t buy class.” — In third grade, I pointed out that the boat in our next-door neighbors’ driveway had sat there for a year.
“I gave them enough.” — On why she stopped being Catholic at the age of 59.
“The subject is intrinsic.” — An actual subject line from an actual email.
“Because I said so.” — The answer to everything else.

But by far, the best one-liner life lesson I ever got from my mother was, “The time is going to go by anyway.” Wherever I wanted to do something, but was discouraged because it felt like it was too late, or would take too long, she would say, “The time is going to go by anyway.” That simple and true observation has made my life immensely richer, bigger, and more interesting. So, if you think it’s too late to learn a second language, or it’ll take too long to get your Masters degree, or you’re too old to change careers, just go for it. The time is going to go by anyway.

Lucy Hallowell: My mom taught me about taking care of other people. She can do a million things but man, can she take care of people. If there is a person who is sick or needs help in a three country radius she knows about it, has made them some hot dish and bars or pie and has plans to take it to them along with a movie or a book or a board game or something to keep them busy. Sometimes it drives me bonkers because there is always someone sick that she’s got a lot of feelings about but she always makes sure everyone is OK.

When our second kid was born she came and stayed with us and did stuff like cook us dinner because sometimes you are so bone-tired you forget to eat and just fall asleep sitting up. When she could see our older kid was just too much to take, they went to the grocery store for a long, long time and gave us a much needed break. She has a knack for knowing what people need and she makes sure they’re taken care of, it’s just what she does.

Heather Hogan: When I was a kid, my church used to volunteer as an overflow shelter for homeless folks when the winter weather was at its worst. Most of the church members were fine with allowing the homeless people to sleep downstairs in the fellowship hall, but very few actually wanted to interact with them. But my mom, she was different, and even though I was very shy and kind of afraid, my mom was determined to make sure I was different, too. Some nights we cooked for the homeless peoples, and some nights we just chatted with them and played games with them while other people cooked, and by the time the third winter rolled around, I was even working the check-in table by myself. To be allowed into the shelter at night, everyone had to pass a breathalyzer test.

One night, a guy named Kenny who we’d known a long time, he failed the breathalyzer three times in a row. The look of absolute terror on his face, of complete helplessness and hopelessness when that machine kept beeping at him, I will never forget it at long as I live. Two of the deacons were getting ready to escort him out of the building but he cried out for my mom. He shouted, “Diane, come help me! I’m sober! I swear! Please help me!”

My mom came running out of that church kitchen faster than I’d ever seen her move, and after a very heated discussion with the deacons, they tried a different breathalyzer machine. Kenny passed the test multiple times. Turns out one of the machines had been washed incorrectly and it was giving out false-positives every other time someone blew into it, even our pastor. After Kenny was all settled into his corner on his pallet with his puppy — because my mom had already made it very plain that Jesus would not turn away a puppy — he turned his face into the wall and cried and cried and cried. My mom, she was livid. She called those deacons into the kitchen and shouted them down and poked them both in the chest over and over saying, “God gives second chances! That’s his thing! Second chances! One day you’re going to need a second chance too!”

Kenny taught me how to play checkers, how to change a bike tire, the correct way to tie a full Windsor knot in a tie, and the chords to play every Eagles song on the guitar.

From my mom, I learned that there’s one kind of folks: folks. And that God would rather you cook a hungry guy spaghetti than beat him up with your Bible.

I want to throw in a shout-out to my stepmom too. When I came out to her and my dad, I was sitting in the back seat of the car and my dad was driving down the interstate. I said, “Listen, I don’t think this is going to come as a shock or anything, but I’m like really gay.” My stepmom literally jumped into the backseat to hug me for finally having the courage to say it out loud.

Elaine Atwell: My mother’s greatest gift to me was her example. My mom had one of those childhoods that a person can be said to have “endured,” but endure it she did. She also raised my two older sisters alone while putting herself through med school and living in a house heated only by a wood stove. (True fact: she met my dad while chopping wood.) But, by sheer force of will, she became a great doctor and the dominant symbol of strength in my life. I didn’t inherit her drive, and my strongest childhood memories are of her absence, but growing up with her story set the blueprint for my own life. Like, OF COURSE you will overcome adversity and beat the odds and live your dreams. That’s just what women do.

Ali Davis: My mom subtly taught me about reading my whole life. She was a single parent on a scraping-tight budget, but somehow she always made sure my sister and I had books. And not just any old thing. I only realized a few years ago how carefully diverse my children’s books had been: They were set in New York and the Midwest and Africa and South America and the Middle East. I have no idea how she managed to find them in our tiny Central-Pennsylvania town.

Her first rule (passed down from my Grandma Roo) was that as long as we were reading, she didn’t much care what. Grandma Roo had bought Mom silly Hollywood movie magazines; Mom let me walk to the market to buy copies of Mad that I didn’t understand yet. Mom was the one who handed me a copy of The World According to Garp in the 7th grade. Sure, there were sex scenes in it, but what was way more important to her was that it was a really good book. She always encouraged me to read, even if it was stuff like silly fantasy novels she had no interest in. When she started taking my book recommendations, it was something of a triumph.

We still both send each other books we like all the time. If Mom likes it, I know I’ll like it. And if Mom cannot put it down, I know I shouldn’t wait until she’s done with her copy to race out and get one.

I want to throw in a shout to my stepmom too, if I may:

When I was a kid, my family played a lot of volleyball, for some reason. My stepmom is pretty and sweet-natured, so people underestimate her a lot. She is also very good at volleyball.

One summer there was some sort of family reunion thing and of course a volleyball game started up. My dad’s cousin Dennis was playing. Dennis was always a little macho/aggro, and he was one of those dudes who didn’t really believe that women could play sports. So if you were female and next to him on the volleyball court, he was always leaping in front of you to swat at the ball.

I watched a game in which my stepmom very patiently put up with that for about the first third of the game. And then the next time Dennis dove in, he took an elbow to the chest. My stepmother offered a very flustered and sweet apology about how, goodness, she just hadn’t seen him dive into her zone.

The game started up again, Dennis tried to jump in front of her again, and Dennis took an elbow to the head. And oh, goodness, did he get a nice apology, with another note about how he should be careful about getting into her territory. It may have taken another couple of reinforcing blows, but he mostly stayed the hell out of my stepmom’s turf after that.

When I asked her about it later, my stepmom winked. If was a very useful lesson: Always be polite, but throw an elbow when it really deserves to be thrown.

Dana Piccoli: When I came home from my first day of theatre camp (I was 11) proclaiming that I would be the next Broadway superstar, my mother said, “Sounds like a plan”. From that moment on, she never once questioned or discouraged my dreams of being a performer. She never spoke of back up plans, because she wanted me to live my dream fully. My mother was, and still is, a very talented performer but she never got any support from her family. They told her she was being silly, and to forget about it. It took until she was in her 40s for her to start performing again, but she hasn’t stopped. She even teaches now! Dreams fade in and fade out sometimes. Dreams that were once big, sometimes feel better when they fit in the palm of your hand. All that matters is that you keep dreaming, and that’s what my mother has taught me, every day of my life. For years, my mother told me I was going to write and I always laughed it off. Here I am though. As my mom would say, when the universe tells you something, you better listen.

Punky Starshine: My mother taught me how much I love making people happy. Even though it would embarrass the heck out of me and ensure I carried the title “teacher’s pet” all through elementary school, she would make presents for my teacher for every single holiday, every single year. And as much as I protested every time, the smile it would put on my teacher’s face when I gave it to her made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s also thanks to her I learned how much I love making people laugh. The hours I would spend making up new lyrics to songs in the car, or “translating” Spanish soap operas for her before I knew a word of the language have helped shape my sense of humor. Lastly, she taught me how to yell. I can count the number people I’ve raised my voice in anger towards on my fingers, but there is no number high enough to measure the number of times my mother and I went at it when I was a teenager. I know that doesn’t SOUND like a good thing, but having been able to let out all my teenage angst on her is the reason I can count the number of people I’ve raised my voice in anger towards on my fingers.

Karman Kregloe: My mother, Gail, has always been a force of nature and a tough act to follow. She has a legendary bullshit detector and has been right (much to my chagrin, at times) about the character of every single person to whom I have ever introduced her. If I’d listened, she could have saved me from some ill-advised friendships and at least one ridiculous relationship. In addition to all of that, Gail has taught me to take adventures, read everything I could get my hands on, be loyal and cuss well. And that typing class she made me take in high school has turned out to be pretty useful, too.

Jill Guccini: My momma has always been a sort of superwoman to me, the lady who does everything: when she’s not kicking ass at her job, she’s in zumba class, or singing in one of the choirs she’s in, or walking with her friends, or making clothes for various people’s babies, or gardening or renovating her house, or cooking and baking delicious things, or reading more books than I will ever read in my life. She made my wedding dress, she’s always in better shape than I am, and she always knows more hip hop than I do. She’s taught me, essentially, to never stop living as much life as you can live.

She also taught me that on Thanksgiving, you should always have nearly as many pies as you have people, or what’s even the point?

Bridget McManus: My mother taught me the power of wearing a costume. When I was growing up, my mom was a recreational singer and actress so she had some dynamic costumes. I’m talking everything from hula grass skirts to mega-sequin ensembles that, luckily, she has passed down to me. At one point, we had so many costumes overflowing our basement that my stepfather had to add a closet over the garage to store them all. (Maybe we are hoarders.)

Grace Chu: My mom is around five feet tall and weighs less than 100 lbs, but she doesn’t take shit from anyone. People are generally afraid of her. She taught me that being diminutive is not a bar to being a boss. Also, maintain an impeccable credit score.

Trish Bendix: When I was in high school, I was part of the forensics team. This was “forensics” in the “debate” sense, where teens competed in areas of speech or dramatic interpretation. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) My dad is a high school football coach, so when he got a new job in a city two hours from where we lived, I had to go to a new high school my sophomore year, and that school did not have a forensics team — until my mom said she’d get certified to judge and become our coach. The team was only a handful of us, including my sister and I, but when she agreed to become the adult sponsor we needed to compete each weekend, she allowed us that opportunity we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

That’s just how my mom is — selfless to a fault. My entire 29 years, I’ve watched her put other people first. She’d gladly give up her time, her energy, what money she has to make someone else have it easier or live happier. She’s an eternal optimist, and I hope that it has rubbed off on me, because that kind of joy in everyday life that comes from creating positivity is not easily maintained, but always appreciated, even when I was an angsty, bratty pre-teen. My sister and I have put her to the test and she never faltered in unconditional love and giving.

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