10 Awesome Lessons I Learned From My Mom

My mom’s a middle school English teacher and over the past, oh, 25 years or so, she has taught thousands of kids. Her reputation precedes her too. She’s known for being tough and strict — maybe even a little demanding — but serious students know she’s the best teacher for the job. She loves what she does, she’s passionate about the subject, and she gets results. Sometimes, years after leaving her classroom, students will send my mom a “thank you” and tell her they were far more prepared for high school and college than their classmates who didn’t have my mom as a teacher. And I know what they mean. My mom didn’t just help prepare me for school; she prepared me for life — and in a big way. After the jump, the ten best things my mom, the teacher, taught me.1. How to read.

When I say my mom taught me how to read, I don’t just mean she taught me the alphabet and how to sound out words on a page. She did that — she is an English teacher, after all — but perhaps more importantly, she taught me how to read for pleasure. She read to me almost every night well past the time most other parents were reading bedtime stories to their kids. She created comfy reading nooks in our various homes (my favorite was a great big papasan chair my parents bought in Japan, where I was born), and she made sure we visited the library and the bookstore frequently enough that I always had a pile of books ready to consume. Reading has fueled my imagination, kept me company when I was lonely, and made me a better writer.

2. Embrace your size.

My mom is six feet tall and full-figured — a big woman by American standards, but downright Amazonian in Asia, where I happened to grow up. I hated watching strangers point and laugh at my mother, but never ever, in my entire childhood, can I remember a time when my mother put herself down. Despite her size — or maybe because of it — she has always carried herself with confidence and grace. I can’t say I always have that same confidence about my own body, but I know growing up with her as a role model has given me a far healthier attitude than I would have had otherwise. How can I feel bad about my hips when my mom, whose hips I inherited, always exuded beauty?

3. Hair is important.

Anyone who has ever met my mom knows this is a huge understatement. My mother is a freak about her hair. Always has been. She’s been known to spend an hour styling her hair just to run to the grocery store. She says hair is a woman’s crowning glory, and you know what? She’s right. When my red hair started fading a few years ago, she was the first person who persuaded me to start coloring it. And I’m so glad I listened to her. Just like she doesn’t feel herself if her hair isn’t “done,” I don’t feel myself when mine isn’t red. Some other mothers may say we’re silly or frivolous; my mom would say we just know what matters in life (and feeling good about yourself ranks pretty high).

4. Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize.

An outfit isn’t complete without some great earrings, a big statement necklace, a little brooch, some cute shoes, or a fab handbag. If you’re leaving the house without at least one or two of these items — or all of these items, as my mom would argue — you might as well be going out in public naked. Enough said.

5. Know your colors.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, my mom is way into standing out from the crowd and looking good. Maybe it’s because she’s so much bigger than everyone and she knew eyes were always going to be on her anyway, but she has made it a point to always look polished and put-together. For her, that definitely means wearing the “her” colors (jewel tones, if you’re wondering). If I wear a lot of green, purple, blue and black these days — and I do — it’s because my mom showed me at a very young age how those colors make me “pop.” Thanks, mom.

6. Be adventurous.

It’s not all appearances with my mom. She embraces experiences more than anything else. Case in point: when she was just barely 22 she married my dad, a man she’d known only nine months, and moved across the world to Okinawa with him for, what she was told, would be at least a 30-year stint overseas (it’s now been 37 years)!! Not only that, but my parents honeymooned in Saigon on their way to Japan. Saigon! In 1973, y’all. Actually, I’m, not sure if that’s adventurous or just plain crazy, but whatever it is, my mom — well, both my parents, really — definitely passed along the travel and adventure bug. As a family, we traveled the world and now I know that seeing new places and experiencing different cultures is the best life lesson of all (yes, even better than knowing your colors).

7. Food is meant to be enjoyed.

I wouldn’t say we’re food snobs in my family, but we certainly know how to appreciate a good meal. Whether it’s fried chicken — a longtime family favorite — or Indian (my mom’s fave), we see food as a rich life experience. My mother can — and has — written multi-paragraph emails to me describing a recent meal she’s enjoyed. Because of this, I’ve never ever seen food as the enemy. Even now, as my mom continues what, as far as I know, is her first diet as an adult (she’s lost over 80 pounds so far!), she still is sure to enjoy what she eats (she just eats less of it). And because of her and the way she raised me, I see food as pleasure, the way it should be seen, and I’m so grateful for that.

8. Don’t be a doormat.

My mom is pretty much the last person in the world who would tolerate anyone walking all over her. Perhaps, again, it has something to do with what some people might consider her intimidating size. Maybe it’s her years dealing with whiny middle school kids. But I think it’s just who she is. She is Strong with a capital “S” and she’s not gonna take your s**t. When I was a teenager, this caused great tension between us, as I happen to be just like her in that way, but now it’s one of the traits I respect most about her. “Stand up for yourself,” she told me when I was young, “because you’re the only person who will always be able to.”

9. Be generous.

Hands down, my mom is the most generous person I know. She’s generous with her money, her time, and her love, and generosity is something she instilled in me at a young age. We were never rich growing up, but when we visited poor orphanages and nursing homes in Asia, I got to see how lucky we really were and how important it was to give to those less fortunate. Even when I haven’t had money to be generous with, I’ve learned to be generous with my skills. I’ve helped countless people — including ex-cons — write resumes and cover letters to get jobs. I’ve cooked for friends who are broke and can’t afford a nice meal out. And I’m always happy to give advice to people who need it! But you know, that’s just little stuff and it doesn’t take much, but it can go a long way. And, cheesy as it sounds, it helps make the world just a tiny bit better.

10. Protect your skin.

Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen, lots of water, moisturizer and eye cream. These are mantras in my family and if you look at my mother’s skin at 59 (tomorrow is her birthday), it shows!