AI: Like my Momma taught me

I’ve been traveling this week, spending a few nights in hotels, and a few nights couch surfing.  When staying with friends or family (including the ever-wonderful and too, too cool Elyse)  I have an compulsive need to be a good guest: pick up my dishes, strip my bed when I’m done with it, generally not be too much trouble.

I blame my mother:  she made sure we knew what the polite rules were, and that we stuck to them under pain of death, even when she wasn’t around.  No, especially when she wasn’t around.

What life lessons from your childhood are still Pavlovian in your adulthood?  What do you do without thinking because your Momma taught you?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. I always bring a gift when invited to someone’s home. I cannot, under any provocation, swear in front of my mother. And I always feel guilty if I stay inside on a sunny day. I can always hear Mum telling me to go out and play in the sunshine because you don’t know how many more sunny days we’re gonna get.

  2. @Sheila the Grate: Maybe it’s because I grew up in the middle of the Arizonan desert and now live in Phoenix, but I can’t stay inside if it’s raining … because we don’t know how long ’til we see rain again.

    “It’s raining! Let’s go play in it!” – My mom.

  3. *Always wear your seat belt.
    *Try really hard to try everything at least once, unless it’s snails or something. (with this, they once inadvertently indirectly got me drunk at age eight)
    *Learn to say “please” and “thank you” in the language of whatever country you are visiting, and SAY it!
    *Never, ever, ever, ever have a mess, anywhere, ever. (this has not been good for my marriage)
    *Always make too many potatoes.

  4. @Elyse: Hee hee! I was wondering about the “Double AI”. I consider it a special treat.
    I was really lucky in the parent department. My dad taught me to ALWAYS open doors (car doors, doors in buildings, etc.) for ladies, even if they are just friends and not ‘romantic interests’. You should see the looks I get when I hold doors for strangers here in NYC: “Thank you?!?” As if I were some type of door-holding alien.
    I was also brought up to be a perfect guest: help clean up, help make meals, strip the bed in the morning, all of it.

  5. My parents didn’t teach me much of merit, but momma did tell me, “There will always be someone better than you at whatever you think you’re good at,” and “You’ll never be pretty so you best be neat.” I use the first to avoid pride and the second as a reason to decorate myself and dress how I feel because I’d rather be remembered for my style than my physical genes.

  6. I almost never slam a door. Nothing would set my mom off more than when I would run out of the house and let the screen door slam. Also, leaving the fridge door open, or standing there with the door wide open and not taking something would make her shout, “Either take something or shut the icebox!”

    Just the other day, I told my 9 year-old nephew to shut the fridge and my sister almost fell down laughing.

  7. Listen to everything, even when it doesn’t seem relevant. Always be figuring out what you can do to help. My mother was a hell of a person, to whose example I still aspire.

  8. I always eat my vegetables first. And I clean up as I cook. I let my kids play outside unsupervised. With the occasional inspection of their self-designed tree climbing apparatus – there’s a reason safety engineers don’t consult small boys.

  9. I must drop everything I’m doing and remove clothes from the dryer as soon as they dryer stops so that they don’t “look like an accordion”.

  10. @catgirl: I don’t do that with *all* my clothes, but my mom drilled it into my head to dig out my khaki pants and hang them up by the cuffs from a trouser hanger with clips to avoid that.

  11. Always bring a gift when a house guest is one of my moms that’s stuck with me; and to never mention my aunt Jackie’s dry nasty turkey. And while my wife says I’m well trained about the toilet seat I seem to have a recurring problem with replacing a used up ‘bog roll’ (toilet paper, just so Rebecca can add to her Brit lexicon).

  12. Seatbelts at all times

    Never complain about something someone else has made/bought for you as a gift. If its a piece of crap, then its the best piece of crap in the world.

    Family will screw you over first

    Don’t become too emotionally attached to anyone/anything, it will eventually be gone.

  13. Odd. I was thinking about this recently. The strongest conscious memory is card etiquette; cutting shuffling dealing, and general card table manners.

    I also was taught the chivalry bit with doors and chairs. Recently, I entered a grocery store checkout queue at the same time as a older woman, and I motioned her to the place ahead of me. She said that it was really all right if I went first and I replied that I could feel the ghost of my father standing behind me, ready to box my ears, so she really had to go first.

  14. ^Something I taught myself-if you want to learn something, get in there and start trying. I learned to cook by getting in there and throwing stuff together. See what works, what doesn’t. I used to have a roommate whose bf always complimented me on my cooking, and wished he could cook. Under my breath, I’d tell him to get is @$$ in that kitchen and start burning sh!+.

  15. Things I learned from my mom:
    1) If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. If I had a nickel for every time she said this…

    2) Don’t say “shut up”. My parents never, ever said that to us kids. Mom wasn’t above bellowing “Hush up!”, though, when necessary. I still don’t say shut up. Well, there was that one day, with a particularly difficult class, when I said “shut the f*ck up.” But that’s not the same, is it?

    3) It builds character. Whatever needs to be done builds character. It’s basically a nice way of saying “suck it up, honey.”

  16. Eat everything on my plate.
    Don’t leave 1/8 of a cup of coffee in the pot and pretend I’m leaving some for the next person out of considerateness. Make the next pot.

  17. All I really got from my mom is “Well, life’s not fair.”

    My babysitter, however, insisted that we finish our milk (still can’t leave a glass unemptied) and always clean our plates. Even if we couldn’t stand what was on them…leading to her helpful suggestion to combine things you DO like with things you don’t so the icky things aren’t so icky any more.

    And so, the resoundingly unsuccessful Green Beans with Ketchup side dish experiment was duly consumed over a rather extended dinner hour, never to be seen again.

  18. “Putting your keys on the table is bad luck.”

    I absolutely HATE being a skeptic and still being tied to this superstition. I actually remember as a kid telling my mother “quit bothering me about that, I’m going to grow up like you.” (Meaning superstitious.) And I did.

    What makes it even worse is how obscure of a superstition it is. Hats on the bed, black cats, the number 13, walking under ladders…none of them bother me, but damned if I’ll toss my keys on the dining room table.

  19. Always have a valid passport. Got my first one 36 years ago and have never been without one since. At any given time, I can tell you exactly when it needs to be renewed.

    The rest of the stuff, I’ve been fighting to forget.

  20. My mother taught me that anything that needs to be done, can be done later. Deadlines are just guidelines.

    I am really trying to unlearn that lesson.

  21. I always clean my plate. Always. (But she also taught me to only take what I was going to eat, and that meant at least a little of everything.)

    Try everything once (food-wise). I’m vegetarian, now, but I am still willing to try most foods that don’t have meat in them. At our dinner table, if I tried it and instantly hated it, I could go spit it in the toilet. That was such a gross prospect, I think I only did it a handful of times. Most times I’d at least swallow one bite.

    Non-food-related things… always dress nicely for events. When most parents were rolling up to PTA concerts in t shirts and jeans, my mom was dolled up (with perfume!) She was really big on making sure the performers (even when we were 6) know that you appreciated their hard work.

    Tip well.

    Read to your children. (I don’t have them, yet, but that woman read to me every single night for at least 8 years. I can’t imagine not doing the same for my kids.)

    She also taught me to guilt trip, but I’m trying really hard to forget that one.

  22. My dad always taught me to always – always – carry a book on you. You never know when you’ll need it! In fact, I remember at least twice I was late to school, because we had to turn around to get the book one of us forgot at home (he gave me a ride to high school, since he started his day in town about the time i started school). haha

  23. I will never forget this, among all the many things my Mom taught me: Once when we were watching elephants perform at a circus on TV, standing on their hind legs, balancing on little stools, I looked over at my mother, and tears were streaming down her face. I asked her what was wrong, and she said: “Do you think the elephants like doing that? Look how big they are, how can that be comfortable for them? Why should they suffer for our entertainment?”
    And thus she taught me everything I’ve needed to know since: question everything and always have compassion.

  24. When washing dishes, do the pots and pans last; use ice cold water in pastry; laundry goes start water, add detergent, add clothes; and warm the pot before making tea.

  25. @catgirl:
    I do that too, holding doors open for people. Male or female. Not sure if that’s something I got from my mom or simply picked up along the way though. It also kind of clashed when I held the door for a female friend who out of feminist principle refuses to obey the “ladies first” stuff.

    My mom did give me the habit of always putting the toilet seat and lid down after you’re done.

    And there’s also a few things I do just like my mom without her having told me to, like always washing your hands twice: first time to clean your hands, second time to clean/rinse the bar of soap.

  26. -Always open doors for others.
    -Never shuffle your feet. Walk with grace and confidence – toes straight, shoulders back, head and eyes forward.
    -Ladies enter/exit a room first.
    -The host takes the first bite/drink (or eldest lady).
    -No one needs to see the inside of your mouth; chew with it closed, cover it when you yawn/sneeze/cough.
    -If possible, rise when a host/lady arrives/leaves.
    -If walking with a lady, walk on the street side.
    -“Please” and “thank you”.
    -Keep your voice down.
    -Listen. Your opinion only matters to you, unless asked. And then be frugal.
    -Never place silverware back on the table once used; rest it on the plate
    -It’s not the gift, it’s that it is a gift. Always be very appreciative.
    -Respect is never deserved, it’s always earned, but extend credit to all you meet.
    -Present yourself well; you never know when you’ll meet your next employer/friend/lover/etc.
    -Never wear wrinkled clothes in public.
    -Only family & lovers get to see your underwear/sleepwear, and athletic clothing is for athletics.
    -Smile, and mean it. Even on the phone.
    -Walk softly upon the earth. Try to never leave a trace, other than your good will and fond memories.
    -Never litter.
    -Be gracious.
    -Never impose on others.
    -You’re smarter than most. There, I told you, you’ve heard it. Now there’s no need to waste any more energy proving it to anyone.
    -Gentleness, patience and selflessness are the marks of a real man. Ego, violence and crassness are the marks of an adolescent. Being a gentleman (or lady) is the highest calling.
    -Remember that no one wants to be poor, disabled, ignorant, not loved. Treat everyone as an equal and with compassion.

    I’m sure I missed many lessons she taught me. Getting all these down has invigorated me to continue to try to be a better person. I must now go shave.

  27. Always wear a seatbelt.

    Bike keys means you take your helmet too, and wear it.

    Always say “Thank you”.

    Hold the door open for others.

    Drink your milk. Never leave anything in a glass.

    Be helpful and polite.

  28. If you’ve cooked or eaten something that leaves a lot of residue in the pot or bowl, fill the vessel with water and let it soak before trying to wash it.

    The rest of her advice is religious in nature and had to be discarded. Soaking dishes, though? I have the pot I used to cook chili in soaking before I even start eating my chili. (After I’ve gotten the chili OUT, of course..)

  29. @Paradym: “-Ladies enter/exit a room first.”

    This bothers me.

    I can enter/exit when I want…I don’t need to go first before the menz.

    Indeed, I usually go last because I’m generally busy yapping with someone, anyway.

  30. @marilove:
    I should start by saying that I’m a big fan of your posts. I always smile and often chuckle at what/how you express yourself.

    That said, the purpose of that practice is actually respectful. It allows a woman to make her entrance, and of course if goes along with holding the door open.

    I think we are losing something in our culture when we find distaste for some of the pleasantries of courtesy. The term “lady” used to denote a woman who was well-mannered. That it is now derogatory is a shame, such as “intelligent” being equated with “elitist”.

    Nonetheless, if I were ever so fortunate to enjoy a social occasion with you, I would attempt to refrain from calling you a lady and any behaviors that might be construed as sexist if you would afford me some forgiveness if I happen to reflexively slip and act a gentleman. :-)

  31. I learned to keep things neat and clean from my Mom. She is a neat freak and she gets frustrated if things aren’t cleaned pretty often. She also taught me to be polite and say please and thank you to people.

  32. @Paradym: Hear, Hear!

    When did we get to the point that showing someone respect suddenly gets taken as doing something insulting?

    And, for the record, being a gentleman is not just determined by how one treats a lady. It is determined by how a man carries himself and how he treats others, men and women alike. In fact, looking over this post, it seems that the most frequently remembered lessons from our mothers are in basic civility.

    Given the events of this past week (Kanye West, Serena Williams, Rep. Wilson, the Cog Hill heckler, just to name the most recent) I agree that we are losing something and I for one will not give it up without a fight.

    To bring it back to the subject at hand……maybe the reason I am so distressed by all of this is that my mother expected (and still expects) good manners out of all of her children and now grandchildren. To this day, I still bristle when my nieces and nephews don’t end their requests with the word “please” or acknowledge my giving them what they asked for by saying “thank-you”. I can still hear my own mother (repeatedly) correcting me as a child.

  33. Compulsise “light switcher offer”.

    I’m not sure if I learnt this from my Dad, or whether it’s a genetic pre-disposition….. but I can’t help wandering the house every night turning them off while bellowing “Why is this light on ?” at anyone in general.


  34. I absolutely cannot invite myself over to someone’s house. I also have a hard time just dropping in on someone without calling.
    My mother also instilled a strong belief that if “it doesn’t have maid service, it’s not a holiday” (from my mom’s belief that camping is not a vacation for the mom who still has to cook and clean, sometimes without running water). So, no tents for me!

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