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Things my mother taught me

Published February 19. 2011 09:00AM

I have a girlfriend who likes to sit around the house in her nightgown and slippers.

"It's my version of heaven," she says. "Most of the time I'm running all over the place. Staying home in my night clothes is a what I do when I want to treat myself."

I can't do that.

My mother won't let me.

OK, I'm a grown woman now and I can do what I want. But for many of us, buried inside our head is a parent's voice telling us what to do.

My mother has been dead for seven years but I still hear her voice in my head as clearly as if she were here today.

Parents have a profound influence on us, whether they are here or not.

Some of the things they drilled into our head when we were young remain with us forever. Not sitting around in pajamas is something that has stayed with me.

"Pajamas are for sleeping," my mom used to say as she insisted we shower and dress as soon as we got up. We had to "report for duty" fully dressed first thing in the morning, getting her list of what she wanted us to do that day. Sometimes, the power of a mother continues for generations.

My mother believed in giving kids responsibilities. I did the same thing with my children; now they are doing it with theirs.

I still cook "the old-fashioned way" because that's what I learned from my mom. When I buy convenience foods such as prepackaged coleslaw I feel guilty because I hear her voice telling me how much better and how much cheaper it is to make your own.

Like many of her generation, thrift was a by-word for her. By words and by example, she taught her three kids how to be thrifty in all things. She poured over the ads in the paper, making a list of what specials were at each store. Then she went out and bought the specials, storing the extra supplies in the pantry for when she needed it.

The other day my friend Kay walked into my small pantry and asked why I kept extra food on the shelves. "It's not like the stores are all going to close and you won't be able to buy food," she said.

I told her about the thriftiness of buying sale items and "two for one" specials for the staples I use all the time. It saves money (and aggravation) when you don't have to rush out and pay too much because you are out of something you need right away.

Kay still can't see the wisdom in that, saying it creates storage problems. If she had had my mother, she would feel differently.

My mother had a unique way of budgeting, at least it seemed unique to me when I was young.

She took the week's pay and divided it into envelopes - so much for food, so much for bills, so much for leisure activities. And, of course, so much for savings.

Saving came first, even if it was only a few dollars she could save.

Today, some financial experts advocate that exact system, only they call it "the bucket approach," putting money in one bucket for savings, in another for bills, etc. Of course they're not talking about real buckets. It's just a term to show us how to separate money and budget, with savings being a priority bucket.

My mother never sat us down and said: "This is how I budget." But we all seemed to learn it from her. When I checked with my brother and sister, I learned both of them still use Mom's envelope system.

Whenever I go out of my way to save a few cents, such as being diligent in comparison shopping or waiting to buy gas at the cheapest station, I can still hear my mother's voice saying, "If you save money on little things, you'll have money when you need it for big things."

It isn't just thrift I learned from her. From watching her reaction to serious medical setbacks and to other bad news and family crises, I learned how to live with courage as part of everyday life … how to persevere when things are tough and how to deal with pain, both physical and mental pain.

Again, it isn't that she sat me down to teach me those things. Kids learn things from parents by osmosis. They pick up tips, tricks and pointers when they don't even realize they are paying attention.

My only regret is that I didn't tell my mother how much I learned from her and how I looked up to her. I probably didn't realize it when she was alive.

I remember times when I questioned her judgment, when I thought she was harsh. Unfortunately, I remember when I was young telling her how mean she was. I was never going to be like her when I grew up, I said.

"You'll understand someday," she would always say.

She was right about that, too.

Whenever someone tells me about troubles they are having with a daughter, I tell them to have patience. Years of patience.

Someday they will understand.

They will understand and appreciate things their mother tried to teach.

And they just might have mom's voice in their head, even if she's gone.

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