1) Spelling my name "differently."
I have spent my life having to annunciate and spell my name for people. It drove me crazy. As a little kid (6-years-old), I was afraid to correct people when they misheard my name. For four years, the doorman at the apartment building where I waited for the school bus called me Karen (I walked to the building by myself, so I don't even think my mother ever knew). Eventually, I came up with a routine: "Not Karen, Cari. Like Cary Grant, but with an 'i'." With the Millennials, a generation that on average doesn't know who Cary Grant is, I say: "Like Carrie Bradshaw, you know ... Sex and the City." I've come to appreciate the "i." I won't fill up this paragraph with too much psycho-babble, but it's come to truly represent me (as in "I"), it's made me appreciate that I can be different and it's okay. It stands for "independent." Practically speaking, had my mother spelled my name in one of more classic ways, 15 years after the world-wide-web stampeded onto the scene, my URL (www.carishane.com) may never have been available!
2) Making me talk to people.
I was a shy kid, so much so that I found it difficult to speak up in class simply to ask a teacher if I could use the rest room. But, my mother taught me to talk to people and, even more than that, to engage people in conversation. It started at a very young age on the ski slope, my favorite place on earth. Standing on the lift line with my mother, as we approached our turn to jump on the lift, she would push me forward to go up with a person from the singles line. Then, as the lift rounded the corner and I prepared to sit, my mother would scream, "ask her (or him) everything you can about who she is and what she does for a living then report back to me at the top." And, I did! Whether it was a pimply-faced 16-year-old boy or a 65-year-old woman, I asked my chair-mate question after question and I reported back to my mother at the top. She taught me how to ask the right questions -- really, how to be a journalist, to get the type of response that provided interesting information. Which leads me to #3...
3) Teaching me to appreciate that people are interesting.
While sitting on those lift rides, I listened intently and learned. I heard stories and found out that different people had different experiences and, further, that even when their experiences were similar to mine, they may have been different for them. I would listen to my chair-mates speak and hear passion, joy or simply a good story. To this day, I truly believe that everyone has a good story to tell. As a writer, this has been a huge source of professional enjoyment.
4) Telling me to always use a rest room when one is available.
Let's put it this way, I had my share of embarrassing, I-can't-hold-it-in-anymore moments for years, long after I got out of diapers. One day when I was really too old to still be experiencing these moments -- I believe nine may actually have been the number, 4th grade -- I "went" while sharing an elevator ride in my building with the psychologist who lived and worked in the apartment next door! (Oh, I bet the psychologist begged my mother to take me on as a client!). That was my turning point, right then and there that I realized my mother was right. No matter what the bathroom looks like, use it; because, you really cannot hold it in forever.
5) Telling me to ask for and get what I deserve. To be my own advocate.
I spent my childhood moving tables in restaurants. Not during the meal but, rather as we were getting situated. It was my mother's Goldilocks move and she was seeking "just right." We'd be seated and she would ask for a different table because we were sitting under the air conditioning vent or too close to the entrance to the kitchen. About five years ago, in my mid-forties, I started "getting" why we had to move, that is, my mother's need for "just right." After decades of not saying something to the Maitre D' about a table I didn't like, I decided someone else could be the sucker and sit in the "bad" seat. I finally realized, whether at a restaurant, a store or in business: hey, I'm going to damn well do my best to make sure the entire experience is a good one for my goal, just like Goldilocks: "just right." I have learned not to accept what I find unacceptable; I have learned to advocate for myself.
6) Making me speak my papers out loud.
I hated writing as a kid. Go figure. But my mother, not my teachers, taught me to write. Having started out as a secretary climbing the ranks in public relations firms until she was an executive (not unlike Peggy in the TV ad version, Mad Men), my mother was a speedy typist. When I was struggling with a paper she would say, "you say it and I'll type it." As a 13-year-old, I whined back, "If I knew what to say I would just write it myself." But, she persevered. "Don't think about how you want to write it, just say it, and I will type your words." She drove me crazy repeating over and over, "just say it the way you speak it, I'll type it, just say it." And voila, she taught me how to write; I write the way I speak -- in my voice with the same rhythm and cadence with which I would carry out a conversation. This here, is me -- the writer -- speaking to you -- the reader.
7) Always having a place for things easily misplaced.
My mother was a loser. Not in the sense that she was pathetic or odd. But rather because she was constantly losing things: keys, sunglasses, hats, gloves. Because she was always losing things and I hated hearing her yell at herself for it, I am organized. I have set up my home with a place for all those things my mother used to (and still does) loose. Ask me. I know exactly where everything is!
8) Teaching me to save and to live within my means.
I'm frugal -- a healthy kind of frugal. I learned from my mother that spending money on memories -- vacations, events, entertainment -- is so much more fun than spending money on things, such as more clothes that I don't need. I learned not to live on credit. I spend less than what I earn so I can save and, I pay off my credit card bill every month. It's simple math math: if you make 3-million a year (which I don't) and you spend 3-million and one, you will be living in debt.
9) Teaching me to always be able to rely on myself.
Growing up in NYC, my mother always insisted that I had enough money in my pocket for cab fare. This was before taxis took credit cards (and in an era before 15-year-olds had credit cards -- at least the 15-year-olds I knew). "When you have money in your pocket, you don't need to rely on someone else to get you out of a sticky or uncomfortable situation," my mother would tell me. It's a good life rule.
10) Teaching me to, "eat like you are eating with the queen."
Though black tie affairs are not a constant in my life, there are enough of them that I am grateful my mother insisted on good table manners even when we were eating at home. She taught me the proper way to hold a fork and a knife, how to place the knife and fork to indicate to the server that I am finished, which fork to use for salad, etc. I have never felt uncomfortable in any dining situation. Yet, I'm still waiting for the Queen's invite.
11) Figure things out for myself.
I was bad speller as a child and I remain one today. But, rather than simply telling me how to spell a word (i.e., solving the problem for me), my mother would insist that I look it up in the dictionary. Of course, that's a bit of a Catch 22 since it's hard to look up something you can't spell. But my mother expected me to figure it out. Instead of giving into my incessant complaining, rather than shutting me up by just telling me, she taught me to figure things out even if I didn't know where to begin to make the problem go away, that is, to solve the problem.
12) Never to cut a line.
My mother has always been a line-cutter. I hated it as a child and I refuse to cut lines as an adult. It's unfair, period. My mother's line-cutting taught me to never cut a line and further still (see #5 above), to call out those people whom I spy cutting.
13) Teaching me to appreciate what I have and who I am.
As a little kid, my parents and their friends always told me I looked like a little china doll, with thick, pitch black hair, porcelain skin and blue eyes. But, I wanted to look like the girls in my class most of whom were blonds with thin, straight hair. My mother, who could be silly and serious, fun loving and clever, who walked around the apartment saying, "laughter is healthy, we should laugh more," never wanted me to look like the other kids. She wanted me to look like me; and, she wanted me to act like me. Have fun, be quirky, be myself. Appreciating me for me took me about 45 years. But I am glad I got here.
14) Teaching me how to tell a good story.
My mother always listened to me as I told tales about my day at school. And, while she hung on my every word, she also always interrupted. Her questions, consciously or unconsciously, taught me to fill in the blanks that may have forced her interruptions, to garner the information that was missing from my story, to give my stories more depth and drama. I learned to create hooks, tell a story from beginning to end with an arc, to throw in a cliff-hanger -- to tell a good story.
15) Teaching me to love animals.
Okay, this one wasn't embarrassing or annoying. But I am grateful that my mother never turned away a found animal. When I dragged in a lost dog, never did she say, "You can't bring that filthy dog home." Further still, she always persevered with me to find the pet's owner.
16) Teaching me about my children.
My mother taught me that my children are the most valuable and precious things I will ever create, know, have. And, that while motherhood is often difficult and at times even sucks, children are worth every ounce of pain that goes into raising them.
Thanks Mom. And now I must go to the bathroom; but, actually!