When we began thinking about what to put in the Wisdom section of The Earthling’s Handbook, I realized that many of my most valuable lessons and most cherished beliefs come from my parents. I may have complained about them a lot when I was a teenager (who doesn’t?), but as an adult I’ve found myself repeating many of the things my parents used to tell me. They may not be perfect, but they’ve taught me some important lessons. Therefore, in honor of Mother’s Day 2002, I decided to share with other Earthlings some of the most useful things I learned from my mom.
Mothers are people too. Rather than being a martyr who fulfilled my every need, Mom showed me from the beginning that I was not the center of the universe. She always had interests in addition to motherhood, which enriched both of our lives. By involving me in the housework, she taught me that these tasks are part of life and can be fun. When Mom started traveling a lot in her career as a professional storyteller, my brother and I were proud that we could take care of ourselves, and later we found it easy to live on our own. Mom didn’t make herself unimportant in our lives by refusing to be our servant; she made herself important to us as a person to talk with, think with, learn from, and respect. She’s always coddled us when we really need it (she’s still my favorite person when I’m sick!) and sometimes just because it’s nice.
It’s wonderful to be female. Mom didn’t tell me that we were oppressed, victimized, held back by evil patriarchy–she taught me that people of both sexes are capable of great things, but that some people mistakenly believe women are inferior! Any behavior that is traditional for females might or might not be something I want to do, and doing some of those things doesn’t mean I have to do all of them.
Speak up for what you believe. We marched on the Oklahoma Capitol when I was 5, advocating ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. I’m sure some people thought Mom brought me along just to be cute, or to demonstrate that she was advocating this law for the sake of her daughter’s future . . . but I understood the basic principle we were fighting for: I was astonished and furious that anybody would think it was okay to have any law saying I can’t do something just because I’m a girl, and I wanted those laws changed! The ERA didn’t pass, but I learned how to express my opinions to the government and the public. When you speak up, at least you know you’ve tried to make things better.
It’s okay to be different from the natives. Sometimes you find yourself living surrounded by people who don’t share your beliefs or interests–and you don’t have to be in another country to encounter this. Any culture has some worthwhile traditions, and it’s important to learn what’s going on around you and consider participating . . . but it’s also important to have home habits that are comfortable for you and express your values.
It’s more important to have things that are enjoyable and useful than to be fashionable. Consider each new trend to decide whether it’s useful to you. If you buy something just because everyone else has one, you’ll be stuck with it when the fad has passed and will probably feel it wasn’t worth the money. Look for things that really suit your needs and tastes. When you do like a trendy item, stock up while it’s widely available and try to make it last until the trend comes around again.
Cooking is worthwhile. Making your own food is deeply satisfying in a way that throwing a frozen box into the microwave is not. Once you know the basic techniques, it’s easy to modify a recipe to suit your tastes, to figure out how to make something similar to what you enjoyed in a restaurant, or to think of a way to use the ingredients you happen to have on hand. Cooking at home is usually cheaper and healthier than eating out. Besides, it’s fun!
Plants are wonderful. They can make amazing stuff out of dirt! They make food, cloth, wood, fragrances, medicines, and all sorts of beautiful things to see. They’re very different from us, as different as something from an alien planet, yet our lives mesh together so neatly that we live on what they exhale and vice versa.
Take a walk. Not only is it a great method of transportation and exercise, but walking also is a way to step away from hectic everyday life and let your thoughts roam freely. Find a route that you can follow without thinking about it, and your mind will be free for working out problems, practicing what you’ll say or write tomorrow, or just letting your thoughts wander.
The world is made up of interwoven stories. Everything has a story about how it came to exist, what’s happened to it, and how it became what it is today. Everyone is a character or a footnote in many different stories. The world is filled with things and people, each with stories, and the stories overlap and tie together infinitely, and we can never know them all. My mother helped me learn how to tell stories and how to seek out the stories behind things I didn’t understand, and she showed me that I was worth hearing. Thanks, Mom!
UPDATE: Almost a decade later, I decided to link this article to Works-for-Me Wednesday. I am a mother myself now, and all of these ideas still work for me and are things I hope to teach my child!