During an afternoon of coffee and conversation, a friend of Erin McHugh’s pointed out that she frequently invoked quotations and memories from her mother. Then Erin started noticing how many other people did the same. It also became clear how humorous, moving, and unusual these gems wereso she decided to do something about it. In Like My Mother Always Said, McHugh, author of the successful Abrams Image feel-good title One Good Deed, collects the wonderful and laugh-worthy words that our moms tell us in their attempts to be helpful and instructive. (Whether they succeed or not is another thing entirely!) Offered up in quips and short anecdotes, all the kinds of nurturing and nutty information we glean from our mothers is divided into chapters such as “Questionable Wisdom,” “Unconditional Love,” “Good Manners & Bad Behavior,” and “Wise Words.”
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About the Author
Erin McHugh is a former publishing executive and the award-winning author of more than 20 books of trivia, history, children’s titles, and more. She splits her time between New York City and South Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
Some things were ever thus: eye-rolling when your mother is being embarrassing, door-slamming, muttering under your breath. And the deep, deep sigh, accompanied by the universal "Oh, Mom."
"Nobody wants to talk to you unless you have George Washington in your pocket."
— ANN, mother of Marianne
"I am not your friend; I am your mother."
— SUSAN, mother of Tamara
"It's only a problem if you make it a problem."
— ROSEMARY, mother of Betsy
"Pain equals growth."
— BARBARA, mother of Michelle
"Oh, no thanks, I'll just have a sip of yours."
— TESSIE, mother of Suzy
"That really gets my Irish up!"
— NANCY, mother of Jonathan
"You're wishing your life away."
— KAY, mother of David
"Your eyes look sick."
— DOTTIE, mother of Erin
"I know when you're sick."
— HAZEL, mother of Hope
"'I want, I want, I want.' People in hell want ice water."
— BETTY, mother of Alisa
"Somebody's gonna end up crying."
— SWANEE, mother of Valerie
"Every woman should have a nice gay man looking after her."
— JO, mother of Elisa
I grew up with just my brother, and my mother would always joke, "I have a third child, Not Me. Whenever I ask who did something, my kids respond, 'Not Me!'"
— EMILY, daughter of Sally
"Ask your father."
— PAT, mother of Mary Claire
"You are not going out when they honk the horn. We have a doorbell."
— ALICE, mother of Patty
My mother wrote letters to me regularly in college and always signed them, "Love, Mother," except for one time when she signed, "Kathryn, your mother." This became the dorm joke — that my mother had to remind me who she was. When I spoke to her about it many years later, she said that she had initially signed it as if writing to a friend, realized what she'd done, and tried to remedy it by adding "your mother." It's a plausible explanation, I suppose. But the result was that I put it on my bulletin board and loads of people got a kick out of it. She also used to send me articles from Reader's Digest on what she considered relevant topics, such as sex, venereal disease, drugs, and so on, all of which also went on the bulletin board. She helped to educate my entire dorm — though whether anyone took her advice is another question!
— SUSAN, daughter of Kathryn (her mother)
On the dangers of TV:
"That thing is the idiot's lantern."
— VALERIA, mother of Elisa
Whenever I would complain that one thing or another wasn't fair, Mom would shoot back: "Life's not fair!"
— JODY, daughter of Joyce
"You're not hungry. Your mouth is bored."
— JOALICE, mother of Sharon
"You kids think you're immortal."
— KIMMEY, mother of Ann
"Do you want it, or do you need it?"
— DEE DEE, mother of Kathie
My entire life — and I am likely on the back side now — when I've been with my mother and I'm set to leave her, she says, "Don't talk to strangers." No clue why.
— SUSAN, daughter of Elinor
"That's why they call it work!"
— SHAN-LI, mother of Jating
Even today, though I have had my own business and owned my own home for decades, my mother constantly says to me on the phone, "I hope you don't go in that pool by yourself. You might hit your head or get a cramp."
— DENISE, daughter of Gert
Whenever I got in trouble:
"What's wrong with you? We're going to lose our house!"
— MICHELLE, daughter of Barbara
During a thunderstorm, when we were scared, Mom would say: "The angels are bowling."
— CYNTHIA, daughter of Tess
"Nothing in life is perfect."
— LOIS, mother of Janice
My mom ends every conversation with a lilting, "So that's the scoop!" Even if she just told you someone died.
— KATHLEEN, daughter of Barbara
"Put down that stick — you'll put your eye out!"
— KATHERINE, mother of Peter
Every single year, when it was time to have my school picture taken, my mother would say the same thing: "Try and look pleased."
— EDMÉE, daughter of Katharine
"Why do you always try to take more than you can carry? Make more than one trip!"
— ROSLYN, mother of Candice
Whenever we would ask Mom to find something we'd lost (and it would often be in plain sight), she'd say: "None so blind as he who will not see."
— ROCKY, son of Sylvia
"You're lucky you have a dishwasher to empty."
— TIMMY, mother of Lisa
My mother was a pet-name person, and while she called us by our first names often (or by one another's: "Lara, Colin, Beckie — whatever your name is"), she more often called us by sweet names. Lamb. Sweetheart. Lovie. My sweet lamb. Goose. My love. La Bean. Sweetpea. Perhaps the worst was when I was picked up by a heavy-metal heartthrob to go skating at Montvale Roller Rink; she sent me off on my date by asking, "So, what time will you be home, Meatball?" How embarrassing.
— LARA, daughter of Debbie
— Singer and actor BARBRA STREISAND, daughter of Diana
Mom is superstitious. When my husband and I were moving from an apartment on the tenth floor to a larger apartment on the eighth, my mother told me that I must take an upholstered (it must be upholstered) chair out to the street and sit in it for a few minutes. Why? Because if you are moving to an apartment on a lower floor this is a necessity. Needless to say, I told her I would, though I had no intention of actually doing it. But in the middle of the move, Mom showed up, grabbed an upholstered dining room chair, and had me sitting on the chair on a very busy sidewalk in the middle of Manhattan. It made her happy, and I can't help but think it is the reason that we are so happy in our eighth-floor apartment.
— ELISSA, daughter of Frances
"This will become a jewel of your crown in heaven."
— RUTH, mother of Faith
The end to her every conversation, no matter the subject: "I don't know what else I can tell you."
— DORICE, mother of Ellen
"I don't know. Who knows, you know?"
— BARBARA, mother of Kathleen
"Look it up." We thought we should even have this etched on her tombstone. She would never give us the answer to anything. We had to "look it up." So annoying. Yet, after my mother died, the one thing my daughter wanted to remind her of Grandma was my mother's much-used, nearly falling apart dictionary.
— ANNE, daughter of Patsy
To the butcher, every single time: "Make it a nice chicken."
— ANNE, mother of Karen
— ANNE, daughter of Mary Anne
On how to describe and recount dreams: "How would you describe your dream to a Martian?"
— PEG, mother of Andrew
LOVE, SEX, & MARRIAGE
"Always do this." "Never do that." "Men like," "Women hate," "No one wants" ... if it's anything mothers have endless advice on, it's your love life. Of course, it's annoying how often they're right.
"Don't be impressed by a man's car — he may be living in it."
— CAROLYN, mother of Melody
"If the sex doesn't start out good, it's rarely going to get much better."
— MARY LEE, mother of Susan
"Pay attention to how a date treats the wait staff in a restaurant. The way he treats them is how he will eventually treat you."
— ANN, mother of Lynn
"The only reason a woman should get married is when she can't pay the credit card bill."
— ELSA, mother of Mercedes
"When I want something and your father doesn't agree, I have to make him think he's right. But it plants a seed. Then he thinks it's his idea, and I get what I want!"
— ANNE, mother of Jen
My mother would harrumph when a friend got engaged to someone she didn't approve of. "There is many a slip between the cup and the lip," she'd say, meaning lots can happen before you ever reach the altar.
— NANCY, daughter of Roxy
"Never let your husband know how much you can do, because he'll let you do it."
— CARRIE, mother of Deborah
"I'm going to show your boyfriends your room and when they see what a slob you are, no one will marry you."
— GERALDINE, mother of Jayne
"Find someone with a brain."
— JOAN, mother of Tara
"Just go out on a date with him — you don't have to marry him."
— JOAN, mother of twins Martha and Sally
When we went to lunch my mother always asked the hostess for a table in the corner because, she would confide, "We have secrets to share," which meant a long, intimate conversation with her two daughters and their best friend about daily life, stories from my mother's childhood, and funny observations about the day we had just shared.
— BUFFY, daughter of Middy
"French kissing is the step before sex!"
— CAROLE SUE, mother of Jennifer
On trying to cement a new relationship, my mother always advised: "For every two phone calls, you call once."
— Matchmaker PATTY STANGER, daughter of Rhoda
"Marriage is not a gift dropped in your lap."
— MARIAN, mother of Pauline
"There's plenty of time for those kinds of things."
— KAY, mother of David
Advice to a woman whose engagement has been broken off: "Never give back a diamond."
— TILLY, mother of Sessalee
When I was a young girl, and college still seemed like a place for girls to find husbands, my mother taught me that the best answer to the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was, "Independently wealthy."
— JOAN, daughter of Mari
"Avoid sleeping with your male friends or you won't have any."
— MARGARET, mother of Andrea
"You're just like your Aunt Patricia — you'll sleep with anyone who says you're beautiful."
— GLORIA, mother of Joe
On the occasion of her daughter's marriage: "Always keep your own money."
— LEIGH, mother of Gina
I have to say that I have not often asked my mom for advice (thinking that I always knew better, probably!), but I do remember one time I did just that. It was right before I was getting married, and I asked for her best marriage advice. She said quite simply and promptly, "Don't try to change him." At the time I didn't think much of it. But now, with my father deceased for five years, my parents married for fifty-plus years before that, and my husband and I a few years short of our own twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I see the wisdom in her comment: What you see is what you get.
— CAROL, daughter of Elvira
"It's better to be a rich man's darling than a poor man's slave."
— GERALDINE, mother of Jayne
On the game of young love: "Play it cool."
— SANDRA, mother of Abbe
"If you buy a man a watch, your time will run out."
— ELLA, mother of May
"Green on Monday, sex on Sunday."
— LYNN, mother of Alicia
"You should always have a set of pink sheets because you look so much better in bed the next morning."
— JANE, mother of Ann
"The best birth control is a dime held tightly between the knees."
— JOAN, mother of Susan
"There are good girls and fast girls. You do not want to be thought of as a fast girl."
— OLIVE, mother of Olive
I informed my parents that I would be spending the summer living on the Cape with six boys and one other girl, so they sent me a plane ticket to come home immediately. That was when I got the speech that if I slept with my boyfriend, I would be ruining "the most beautiful night of my life." (It was way, way too late for that.) When that selfsame boyfriend came home with me to meet the parents the next spring, my mother cornered him and told him, "A woman is like a bird; she needs a nest." She didn't quite say, "Marry her, or else," but evidently he got the picture.
— ANNE, daughter of Anne
Who knows how to get to you better — and faster — than your mother? The Queen of the Zinger always knows how to hit you where you live.
"If you don't remember what you wanted to say, it couldn't have been very important."
— EDITH, mother of Edith
"You have Champagne taste on a beer income."
— VIRGINIA, mother of Meredith
"No one is paying as much attention to you as you pay to yourself."
— JOALICE, mother of Sharon
"I don't care if you get Cs, as long as you're learning. But I'll probably be pissed about it a little later."
— MARY, mother of Isabelle
"Do not make me get the wooden spoon!"
— JANICE, mother of Mary
"Life is about doing things you don't want to do."
— MARY, mother of Nancy
"I don't care who started it, I'm finishing it now!"
— HELEN, mother of John
Whenever my siblings and I started squabbling, it was always: "Love, or a hit in the head."
— ROCKY, son of Sylvia
"He touts his knowledge summa cum loudly."
— MARY ALICE, mother of Diane
"Suck it up, Buttercup!"
— CINDY, mother of Christine
ME: "What's for dinner?" MOM: "D'overs." (pause) "Leftovers."
— DOROTHY, mother of Ann
"If you've never been hated by your child, you've never been a parent."
— ACTOR BETTE DAVIS, mother of Barbara
On her son's boyfriend: "He is my cross to bear."
— JEAN, mother of Michael
"Once the water is contaminated, it's very hard to purify."
— ELEANOR, mother of Dianne
I was practicing the piano aimlessly while my mother was in the bath. She came out, looking like a damp million bucks, and said, "If you come near a tune, play it, dear."
— ROBERT, son of Eleanor
My mom, an Irish Tiger Mom through and through, stressed studying above all else. In addition to, "Never mind the boys, keep your mind on the books!" she also used to say, "If you get an F, just keep walking." As in, just keep walking 'cause you're not coming into my house with an F!
— ALISON, daughter of Beth
I don't want to say my mother had a specific favorite saying, but I will say that at her ninetieth birthday party we had cocktail napkins printed up that read: "I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN."
— FAYE, daughter of Mary
My mother had an entire theory — based on fruit — about the women in our family. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My mom was a Granny Smith apple, tart and crisp and made a great apple pie. Your sister is a Honey Crisp, sweet and always ready for lunch. You, my dear, are a Red Delicious, good-tasting, but your skin is a bit tough and hard to swallow."
— JULIE, daughter of Dottie
As I would be flitting around the house, trying to work out an improvisational dance: "That's almost a skill."
— KAREN, daughter of Lorraine
As a lead-in when she had bad news to deliver, my mom always opened with this, figuring it sounded way worse than whatever it was she was going to tell me: "You're a big girl, it's a cruel world, and there's no Santa Claus."
— LILY, daughter of Cecelia
"Robin Carol, you would rather lie than tell the truth!"
— JENNY, mother of Robin
"She's as crazy as a road lizard."
— TILLY, mother of Sessalee
"Ooooh, I'm so full I feel like a rubber band around a watermelon!"
— LOU ANN, mother of Mary Dawn
"There's always going to be someone smarter than you, richer than you, and better looking than you. So don't get too full of yourself."
— MARILYN, mother of James
When I tried to convince my mom to let me have my way: "I understand what you're saying. I'm simply not interested."
— SUSAN, daughter of Sally
"Never trust a man."
— ELEANOR, mother of Denise
"You're my son and I love you, but I don't like you very much right now."
— GINNY, mother of Todd
"Intellectual giant, emotional dwarf."
— ROSEMARY, mother of Dee Dee
To her son's boyfriend, every Christmas: "If it's the Holiday Inn you're looking for, this ain't it!"
— PEGGIE, mother of Chris
"Don't put a razor where the hair don't grow."
— SATYRA, mother of Sonia
When my sisters and I were young — around ten — we used to like getting all gussied up in our dresses and shiny shoes (city girls!). My mom would say, "You girls are about as sexy as a wet sneaker." I still think about it today whenever I'm getting ready for an occasion.
— LISA, daughter of Mary
Excerpted from "Like My Mother Always Said ..."
Copyright © 2014 Erin McHugh.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Oh, Mom! 5
Love, Sex, & Marriage 17
Family Relations 37
Personal Hygiene & Good Health 43
Unconditional Love 51
Keeping Up Appearances 67
Good Advice 73
Good Manners & Bad Behavior 87
Wise Words 99
Questionable Wisdom 115
Mom Learned It All from Grandma 125