A selection of my Mother’s sayings by Wendy Rush
My mother had a lot of sayings, many of which are common to other mothers as well. When I took the time to consider them I realised how strange some of them actually sounded, but how many had become shorthand for whole conversations about life, identity and behaviour. Here are a few that I remember (not a complete list by any means!) In a way these sayings capture so much about my childhood and how I learnt to understand the world. And as an adult I also appreciate how they are signposts to my mother’s own life experiences and the generation that she represents.
Be sure your sins will find you out: as a child these words hung over me like a thunder cloud ready to break should I step out of line. I only recently realised they come from the book of Numbers. It was as if Mum was really saying ‘be careful because one way or another I will find out what you are up to’. There are one or two ‘sins’ that I committed long ago that I hope won’t actually find me out, but I am left with the feeling that Mum probably knew about them anyway.
God loves you and so do I: this was something that a self-centred, uncommunicative teenager having a temper tantrum didn’t want to hear. But I heard it often. And as the years unfolded I came to believe it was true. These words always remind me of Mum’s persistent love for me even when my behaviour was at its very worst.
Because I said so: we were not encouraged to ask questions or to be curious, least of all when it came to being told what to do or what not to do. Unfortunately this resulted in me developing a tendency not to query anything I was told by any kind of authority figure until I was well into adulthood. And then I think I overdid it for a time when I began challenging everything people said to me. Sort of over compensating – a bit like when you’re in the shower and the water’s too cold so you turn the hot tap up, and then the water becomes too hot . Apologies to my dear husband who put up with a bit of this early in our marriage. It was a saying that galvanised me into making sure I explained things as fully as possible to my children, and answered their questions as best I could, relevant to their understanding. “This is why you are not staying up on a school night, can’t wear (brand name) shoes, will not be going to see such and such a band, can’t eat M and Ms for dinner.”
Close the door, you don’t live in a tent: tents didn’t have doors, they had flaps. And I couldn’t work out why, if you lived in a tent, you would leave the flap open. Wouldn’t the flies get in there as well? I shut the door anyway, and didn’t answer back.
You’ll survive: we didn’t get a whole lot of sympathy or ‘molly coddling’ when I was young. You fell down, you got up. You scraped your knee, it would heal. Your best friend moved away, you would eventually get over it. There was no crying and feeling sorry for ourselves. The message was, life goes on and things will be okay in the end. Although the approach sounds a bit harsh, we did learn to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and move on.
What you do on your birthday you do all the year round: I never worked out whether this was a good or a bad thing. Did it mean that birthdays are really just ordinary, mundane days where you go to school, do the dishes, make your bed? Or did it mean that if you did fun, exciting things on your birthday like eat cake, ride your new tricycle or play with your best friend you could expect every other day to be just as much fun? I prefer to think the latter, but I suspect she meant the former.
He who expects nothing will not be disappointed: here’s another ambiguous saying. Does it mean that it’s better not to expect anything then you will never experience disappointment? Or was she trying to tell me that it’s okay to expect good things – even great things – but be prepared that occasionally you might be disappointed? Again, I choose the latter explanation. I can’t imagine a life where all you do is try and avoid disappointment. How boring!
Don’t talk with your mouth half full, fill it: as a 6 or 7 year old I got a good telling off at the tea table for actually using this one. Mum was widowed when I was 3 years old and she had the occasional gentleman friend come to call. One such caller came over for dinner. He took a mouthful of food then began talking. What else was I to say except ‘don’t talk with your mouth half full, fill it’? Embarrassing for Mum no doubt. And me too in the end. I don’t think I ever said that out loud again.
How do you know if you haven’t tried it?: this is a very common Mum saying. One I used on my kids many times over. Makes sense to a mother, but doesn’t always make sense to a child. Somehow, as children, we just KNOW things.
As long as you live under my roof, you’ll follow my rules: yep, used this one a lot too. Particularly when we had teenagers in the house. It’s terribly unreasonable unless you are a parent then it makes perfect sense. I strongly support parents using this, otherwise watch out. There would be nothing worse that living under a roof where kids made the rules, unless of course you were a kid.
Have you got a clean hanky?: I guess there was some sense of parental shame attached to your child pulling out an already dirty hanky to blow their nose in public. Even if it started out clean, by the time you got home it would likely be dirty so what’s the difference?
When you grow up and have kids I hope they’re like you then you will know what I had to put up with: I still smile at this one. It was actually targeted towards my big sister who apparently was not averse to voicing her criticism of our Mum and her parenting skills. I learned to keep my opinions on this subject to myself.
Little pitchers have big ears: I always thought this was a weird one. Pitchers are jugs right? They have handles right? No ears? Although I did understand, even at a young age, that it meant adults would not discuss certain things in my presence because I would be listening and I just might let the cat out of the bag. Who, me?
When the wind changes your face will stay like that: for years I was never sure whether this was actually true or not. I was cautious just the same.
What did your last slave die of?: this one quickly circumvented any expectation you might have of Mum doing for you, fetching for you or picking up after you. Another effective strategy for ensuring we got off our backsides and did things for ourselves. I do recall my big sister being very quick to employ this saying as well.
If God wanted you to have holes in your ears he would have put them there: even now I chuckled at this one. Mum said this when I got my ears pierced four times (once in one ear, three times in the other) and when I paid for my sister to have her ears pierced for her birthday. Lo and behold, God must have given Mum special dispensation because I turned up to her house one day and there she sat, proudly displaying her freshly pierced ears!
You made your bed, now lie in it: a little saying that taught us about consequences. Don’t complain if you find yourself in circumstances of your own making. We learned to think a bit more about the type of bed we wanted to lie in before we actually went ahead and made it.
If the shoe fits: you would assume, with the reference to Cinderella, that this would have been used in a positive sense. Not so. If you complained that someone had called you a name or criticised you in some way I would interpret this saying (rightly or wrongly) as confirming that whatever someone else had said was likely to be true. My response could have been ‘the shoe does not fit and I will not wear it’, when in fact mostly it was more along the lines of, ‘okay, I will squeeze the shoe onto my foot because other people say that it fits’.
I have since turned this saying around: ‘if the shoe doesn’t fit it means it is meant for someone else’s foot’. In other words, don’t try and squeeze yourself into something that is not for you or you will experience all sorts of pain and you will miss slipping into the readymade shoe which is designed especially for you.
I’m proud of you: I don’t remember hearing this until I was well into adulthood. Perhaps Mum said it in more subtle ways that I never picked up on. Or perhaps she just didn’t want us to grow up thinking too much of ourselves. All I can say is that, when I did eventually hear it, it had a massive impact on me. Knowing my mother was proud of me made me walk that little bit taller.
There are many more sayings. But what I will certainly remember is that she was always there for me – through teenage temper tantrums, sneaking in at dawn when I should have been home at midnight, marriage, divorce, re-marriage, children and all the things that go along with it.
My kids tell me that I am starting to sound like Grandma, although some of my sayings are a little more original. Like ‘stay safe and have fun’ or ‘life is not fair, so you’ll have to learn to live with it, ‘teachers are people too, and they might just be having a bad day’.
I hope they will remember me saying ‘I love you’, ‘I am proud of you/admire you/am inspired by you’ (because I am) and ‘call me if you need me – anytime, day or night. No matter what’. Increasingly I am also saying ‘Because that’s what family is all about’. Because it is.
Do you remember your Mum or Grandma saying any of these? Or did they have other unique sayings? Are there things you say that you really hope your children will remember? Share them on facebook.com/risemagazine.