Motherly Advice: On Making a Heaven of Hell

evel & girlsOn Mother’s Day, we all have our mothers with us.

Whether your mother is far away, as mine is, or has passed away, as has my husband’s mother, your mother is with you because of the ways she changed you. She lives through the lessons and advice she provided.

That advice and those lessons shaped you into the person you are today, the person who is currently passing lessons and advice along as well, ensuring that your mother will live forever.

What’s the best advice your mother ever gave you? What advice has shaped your way of seeing the world?

My mother gave my sister and me endless advice, as mothers do–advice about what to wear, how to present ourselves to the world, how to behave when boys dumped us.

But the one lesson that sticks out in my mind is the one my mother would attempt to teach every time we faced a dicey, scary, unpleasant situation.

She’d say, “Think of it as an adventure.”

She’s say, “Think of it as an adventure,” and we, as kids, then teenagers, then adults, would think, “You have no idea what you’re talking about, lady.”

And yet, for years now, I have seen this as excellent advice, a sure-fire way of re-casting a tough situation, from threatening and scary to exciting and fun.

We heard this advice a thousand times in our lives buy I remember one time clearly, when my sister and I were probably 9 or 10.

We had gone to New Jersey for Christmas. The drive home was a mess. As we traveled north, we were caught in a huge snowstorm that closed major highways. We lived way out in the country, on a big hill, where the weather was always worse than anywhere else.

My father plowed on, driving through snowdrifts. About a half mile from my grandparents’ farm, the car met its match and thunked into a snowdrift that was just too big.

So, we got out of the car and walked to the farm. With the Siamese cat tucked inside a coat.

We slogged through the snow banks and made it to the farm! We were warm and safe! My grandmother fussed over us!

But my father insisted we had to get home, to our own house, a little further up the hill. Why? Who knows.

He got the big tractor, with the big chains on the big wheels. My mother stood on one of the wheel axles. My sister and I clung to the back of the seat, with our feet on the trailer hitch. We had traveled this way a hundred times before, but not in a blinding storm, with freezing fingers.

Our house was close and the tractor made good time but we whined. We kvetched. We felt sorry for ourselves. How come the cat got to stay at the farm and drink milk, while we had to risk our lives to get home?

But there’s my perky mother, as cold and miserable as we were, chirping, “It’s fine, girls! Think of it as an adventure!”

You have no idea what you’re talking about, lady.

And, yet, it gave us another perspective. This wasn’t an endless, ill-conceived fool’s errand. It was a swashbuckling journey to the comfort of home, rising above the elements! Laughing in the face of adversity!

An adventure!

I can’t tell you how many times since then I’ve found myself re-framing the tough moments of my life as adventures. Not awful, exciting! Not scary, invigorating! I can handle it!

Of all the things my mother taught me (and, really, no matter what my teenage self thought, she was very clever in the arena of child-rearing), this was perhaps the lesson that I needed most. We shouldn’t look at the worst of a situation, feel sorry for ourselves, bitch and whine and moan.

Every challenge is an opportunity. We learn how strong we are only by having our strength tested. As Milton wrote, in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

My mother taught me that I could turn hell into heaven. That’s pretty powerful stuff! Happy Mother’s Day, Evel, and thanks!

Whether or not today is officially Mother’s Day on your country’s calendar, any day is a good day to think about lessons learned and shared—how does your mother’s teaching live on through you?