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Mar 18 2011

What I’ve Learned From My Jewish Mother

By at 2:03 pm

Lili's mom

In honor of my mom’s 70th birthday today, I’ve composed a little love note about the lessons I’ve learned from her so far. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Fight Like a Bulldog for Your Family. I am not exaggerating when I say that my mother has brought my father back from the brink of death several times. And it’s always been about making sure that he had exactly what he needed—the right people, the right tests, the right medicines—exactly when he needed it, no matter how many people she had to fight and how many enemies she made. It’s heroic.

Be Yourself, Always. Since I can remember, my mother has been marching to the beat of a different drummer. For at least five years of my childhood she wore her hair in a giant bow on the top of her head. She wore purple sequined hats to back-to-school night and bright yellow dresses to weddings. Over the years her style has toned town, but the lesson has remained: if it makes you happy, and it doesn’t hurt anybody else, do it.

Work Hard at a Job You Love. My mother worked as a teacher in a preschool handicapped classroom in the inner city for most of my childhood. Her work was incredibly challenging and she often came home drained, sometimes from the children and more often from the politics of city school system. But she was always home by 4pm, and despite having a rewarding career was also very much present for us, deftly navigating the work-life balance before anyone had put a name to it.

Marry for Love, and Brains. Despite my mother’s plea that I marry for money, her two husbands have been uncommonly smart, and not particularly wealthy. Much to her and my father’s joy and chagrin, I found my own genius to marry, a grad student with a dangerous love of lifetime learning. And I wouldn’t trade him for all the businessmen in the world.

Shop Much, Spend Little. To the untrained eye, my mother seems like she spends a lot of money on “stuff.” Perhaps even like she’s obsessed with shopping. But looks can be deceiving. You see, despite the fact that she loves to shop around for cute little things for herself, her children and her grandchildren, she hardly ever pays full price. For anything. So where’s the real money going? Simple: simchas, high school education, college education, help with down payments, generous gifts, and the like. She may have a room dedicated to her costume jewelry, but it’s always been clear where her values are.

What have you learned from YOUR Jewish mother?

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