And One More Thing...: A Mother's Advice on Life, Love, and Lipstick
By Joan Caraganis Jakobson
I realize that from the sixth grade until college graduation (and yes, sometimes even beyond) most daughters are in profound denial that any maternal advice can be even remotely valuable or worth listening to. It wasn't until I was nearly out of college when I realized that much of my mother's advice actually made remarkably good sense. With each turning point in my adult life-marriages, babies, divorces, boring men at dinner parties-it was, ultimately, her rules and advice about manners and behavior that saw me through. I didn't agree on every single issue that she feels strongly about, but she provided a sturdy, reliable framework for me and I would like to do the same for my daughter.
I began writing this book several years ago when my daughter, Caitlin. and some of her college friends were visiting and we chatted away on a drizzly gray summer weekend. I was amazed that they wanted to talk with me for more than five minutes. (Of course, if the sun had been shining and they could have gone to the beach, I would have been alone in the kitchen, talking to myself as I emptied the dishwasher.) But as we began discussions on the usual topics, I found myself beginning sentences with, "Now when you girls get married ... and "Of course, when you have children of your own, I hope you'll never ... "And I was pleasantly astonished when the girls actually seemed interested in what I was telling them. (Caitlin hadn't asked me for advice since she was in the second grade and wanted to know how to get rid of a cowlick in her eyebrow, a little-known affliction, then and now.) The heartening memory of that day was the fact that they not only welcomed some direction, but also the knowledge that rules, though ever changing, still exist.
Since the starting point of this book was a series of questions and answers among my child, her friends, and me, I have stuck to that arrangement. Caitlin, who represents our universal daughter, poses the questions and I, the collective mother, attempt to answer them. When Caitlin recently announced her engagement. I realized that I had plenty to tell her before she left home for good, and there wasn't much time left before the rehearsal dinner.
Even though I wrote this for daughters, my friends who have read it found it useful. Of course, they didn't agree with me on every topic (not many do), but reading it helped them figure out just what it was they wanted to tell their daughters. For those mothers who want to modify or adapt this book for their own girls, there are several blank pages at the end where they can add their own recommendations and tell their family stories. These pages will also provide mothers with the opportunity to offer some maternal advice that can be read and absorbed by their daughters in private. These same mothers will be spared a face-to-face discussion and the subsequent rolling of eyes, accompanied by a chorus of "Oh, please!" and cell phones conveniently ringing the minute a new subject is launched.
For the girls, the good news is I'm not their mother. The bad news is I have even more to say than she does. But maybe because they'll never have to face me at the dinner table, they'll listen.
Despite the fact that, according to some, I look like a middle-aged woman from the suburbs who drives a minivan, my life did not always proceed on a proper course. After Caitlin's father and I divorced when she was five years old, I fell in love with a married man and had a baby boy with him before his divorce was final. During this time, I had the deeply dubious distinction of being the first unwed, pregnant class mother in the history of my daughter's very traditional school. However, because I wrote my thank-you notes promptly and never wore a T-shirt that said "Beer Is Food" to the Middle School Parents' Night Dinner, everyone survived. (Except my father.)
The impression I hope that you ultimately take away from this book is that the social graces, our codes of behavior, have endured because they work. Over the years, although we've tweaked the rules, we've kept them close by our side because by following them, we gain the freedom to deal with unforeseen issues. Events occur that are part of the human condition, but for which no one can plan. But etiquette codes can ease the journey. Master the minor issues and you can deal with the important subjects on your own terms.
Of course, I will tell daughters what to do about a host of other things that may occur as they get older, such as living on their own for the first time, financial concerns, dating, parties and men, careers, future husband, and future children.
And I will also give advice on how to respond if you see your best friend's husband with another woman, how to tip hotel concierges, and the importance of using a lash primer before applying mascara. These subjects may seem rather trivial now but learning more about them can help you keep your friends happy, avoid the loser rooms in hotels, and make your eyelashes look improbably thick and wavy without having to resort to a scary eyelash curler.
Our girls are leaving home to begin their new adventures, so we'd better make sure they're prepared for life without us-whether it's marriage or graduate school, a career in bartending or weaving classes in Guatemala. Even if they don't follow our advice immediately-with this book, it will be available for them to act upon at some later date, especially if they hope to inherit any jewelry.