My mama gave me advice. She gave it whether I asked for it or not, and more often than not, she has always been right. One piece of advice she gave me was, “Never make a bet you aren’t sure you’ll win.” I took that to heart and the only two bets I’ve ever placed, I won. Granted they were against her for two rather silly things: whether the Marietta Diner’s monte cristo sandwich had a beer batter and whether or not Sicily was a part of Italy. She may have regretted giving me that piece of advice at the whopping payout of five dollars a piece on those, but she can rest assured I have still refused bets I wasn’t sure I would win.
Another piece of advice I was given completely contradicted my nature and personality. See, I am what some people would call a type-A, which translates to “anal” in Southern terminology. I am a painstaking perfectionist who despises stress and working up against deadlines. If I can get the job done several months in advance, you can be sure I will take that option. My mother, though, saw this as both a potential strength and possibly my greatest weakness. She knew that I would rub up against failure one way or another and did her best to prepare me for it. “Do your best, and then drop it.” Again, I end up paraphrasing my mother, but I still hear it in her voice. So when I came home defeated with a grade I was less than proud of, she would ask, “Did you do your best?” I would answer that, yes, I had tried as hard as I could. She would respond with, “Then I’m proud of you. Good job.” I was generally frustrated hearing that when I was younger, since it did not do much to remedy the way I felt in the moment, but the effect as I grew older helped me to cope with those moments when my best just wasn’t good enough. I have since begun to settle into my gifts, realizing that I can try many things, but some things I will always be mediocre attempting. If you haven’t heard it said to you recently, “Do your best, then drop it.”
Every parent and child have a secret dread that appears the moment that child enters the world. That secret dread builds until that child begins to enter the age of puberty and adolescence. Suddenly, the world begins to look different, and the dread weighs heavier than ever before… The talk must be delivered. Of course, we all know the talk I am referring to: “the birds and the bees.” The older I get the more I wonder why Southern culture is so afraid of talking about sex. Well, everyone that is, except my mother. When the talk happened, it almost seemed as if my mother had been gleefully awaiting the day when she could use her words to send me into a mute stupor with my eyes wide and fearful. It was a particularly clear day in sixth grade. The sun was just cresting the horizon as we pulled out to drive to school. I had a question burning the back of my skull and needed it answered if I were to have any peace. That ancient dread lay in wait, though, causing my words to stick in my throat. When I finally asked my question, my mama, became an encyclopedic lecture of clear, concise, scientific language that described the act of sex, what it was for, how God designed it, and why marriage was so important. Understand, though, up to that point, my knowledge about sex was minimal at best, and suddenly, it was as if I had taken a bite of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. As I exited the car, I remember hearing, “Does that answer your question?” I nodded, still stunned into silence. As I sat in my desk in homeroom attempting to process the information, my friends kept asking me, “What’s wrong.” My answer, “I can’t talk about it right now.” I sounded like some soldier looking back on battles fought and hard won.
Later in life I was given another piece of advice. “Don’t be stupid.” The amount of situations this advice applies to is innumerable. The advice, though, did not stop at simply warding off teenage stupidity. “But if you’re going to be stupid, don’t be stupid.” Now, you may be wondering what the difference between being stupid and being stupid is. It’s a fine distinction, really, and one that needs some semantic exploration. See, there are two levels of stupid. There is the first level which causes one to find himself in a situation of his own making without much of a way out. For example, a hormonal teenage young man out with a similarly hormonal young lady can lead to many moments of stupidity depending on how many others are around and how much each is willing to risk. Now, if a young man were to find himself in such a compromising position, by indeed being “stupid,” he would be wise to have taken certain measures in order to not be stupid. See, we can get into situations in our control or outside of it, but the real point is how we handle the situation. My mama, ever the mama tiger, made sure that we looked out for ourselves. Sure, we cared for others and made sure we looked out for their best interest, but one verse of Jesus’ in particular describes the way she trained us: “Be gentle as doves, and as shrewd as snakes.” In other words, we should do everything from an innocent motive, not seeking to take advantage of anyone, but always on the lookout for those wishing to take advantage of us.
As mamas do, mine was always making sure that I was prepared for marriage. Sure, dads work to prepare their children for whatever may come their way, but mama’s want to make sure their baby is taken care of by whomever might be in their child’s life. My mother trained me in the art of not complaining during shopping trips, carrying bags and lifting furniture, and making sure that I could sit through a romantic comedy. (Though hers were more weighted on the comedy and less on the romantic side.) My mama also gave me another piece of advice when it came to marriage. “Marriage is forever, and forever is a long time.” She said those words frequently and with gravity so they would sink into our minds. It seems like this would be common sense, but my mother wanted to make sure that we understood that marriage meant something. Whatever woman we brought home to mama would be put to the forever test. Every family has the forever test. It’s called Christmas. You want to see if someone can hack it in marriage, make sure they show up for the extended family Christmas celebration. At the end, ask, “Can you live with all of that?” If they answer affirmatively, you have a keeper. If they hesitate… that may not be the one. So, if I dated a girl they all had to meet mama. I had to see how they would match up against mama tiger. Any skittishness would be analyzed and kept in memory for later. I only joke about that, but then again, I’ve never sure myself. And for the record, those of you wondering, I only ever dated three girls. Third time’s the charm, as they say, and I am currently married to a lovely young woman. That lovely young woman is also being corrupted by my mother and now finds herself ogling shoes and getting her nails done. When I met her, she was barefoot and hanging out of trees. Well, actually, when I first saw her she was fleeing campus with bubblegum pink hair due to a red-head hair dying mishap. The advice she gave me about forever, though, it forces me to think every day, “What will I do today to make sure forever is a happy place?” Now, I understand that not all married days are blissful, but so far we have been content in our five years together. I attribute that, at least partly, to the advice my mama gave me about committing to forever.