Inspired by Amy Silverman’s Mamafesto, I am moved to write down some of the many, many things that my mother taught me.

  • If you buy white dishes at yardsales, then everything will match, but not match too much.
  • Do your homework before watching television.
  • Garden creatively.
  • Always eat breakfast.
  • Never eat any breakfast cereal that lists sugar in the first three ingredients.
  • You may have to occupy your senator’s office at some point in your life. Do your best to prevent stupid wars.
  • “I don’t care who started it,” she used to say, when breaking up a fight between me and my siblings. “I only care who ends it.”
  • It’s good to recite Shakespeare while cooking. “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…”
  • Baking bread is therapeutic, especially if you know what you don’t have to worry about, like measuring flour. “Let rise a while,” my mother’s recipe says. When I asked her how long is “a while,” she told me: “Oh, you know, as long as you have. Somewhere between forty-five minutes and two hours. It all depends on what else you have going on that day.” This is useful advice for many activities beyond bread-baking.
  • Rain before seven, clear before eleven. And “if there’s enough blue in the sky to make a pair of Dutchman’s trousers,” then the weather will clear up. Although I have no idea what this means, I find myself repeating it. Don’t ask me what are Dutchman’s trousers or how big is this celestial Dutchman. It’s a saying that comes from my mother’s mother’s mother and she may be the only one who knows.
  • Life isn’t fair. Carry on anyway.
  • Community is crucial.
  • If a last-minute guest shows up near dinner time, just make an extra side-dish. This makes it easy to feed everyone with a meal you planned for fewer people
  • The activities that mass-culture promotes as fun are often not fun.
  • Walking is fun.
  • Never buy a book you haven’t already read.
  • Frequently violate the previous rule, but make up for it by freely lending out books, so then your house will not become overrun with books. Or at least not as overrun with books as it would have been otherwise.
  • Never go to the dentist or doctor’s office without bringing along a copy of The New Yorker. You don’t want to be dependent on whatever magazines happen to be in the waiting room.
  • Reading The New Yorker is one of the great pleasures of life, but don’t feel guilty if you don’t read it cover to cover. In fact, if you ever do find yourself reading every word in any edition of The New Yorker, then you need to re-examine the rest of your life, because something’s wrong and you have too much free time.
  • Wear it now; don’t save it for a special occasion. Stuff is meant to be used.
  • Peasant traditions are worth imitating. Peasant food, peasant fashion, peasant architecture: it’s the original crowd-sourcing, tried-and-true, tested over time.
  • Teaching is one of the noblest professions.
  • When teaching, never ask a question to which you already know the answer. Open-ended questions are more interesting for both you and your students.
  • The goal of every good teacher is to make yourself unnecessary. That is also the goal of every parent, and — though they often forget it — the goal of every bureaucrat.
  • Every job has some parts of it that you won’t like, but try to keep those aspects of work to less than an hour a day.
  • Figure out what you would do if no one were paying you and then figure out a way to get paid for it.
  • Tell all your friends where the spare-key is hidden. It’s nice to come home to an old friend sipping tea at your kitchen table.
  • It’s a good idea to travel halfway around the world after college.
  • Try to leave the world a better place than you found it. This includes sneaking out in the middle of the night to plant sunflowers on a military base.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.

4 responses to “Mamafesto

  1. e961

    Elaine, your memory is more eccentric than mine. You’ve made me laugh and cry. Thank you. What a list.

  2. elewinnek

    “Eccentric?” What did I leave out? I’m pretty sure I didn’t include everything. Karen just reminded me that an addiction to NPR, enjoyment of foreign films, inability to do our hair, and policy of minimalism in many things (from television to home decor) are also part of our heritage.

  3. Val

    As a non-family member some of these “mamafestos” sound very familiar. What a legacy! Val

  4. Marla

    I love this!

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