Who better to share the best advice from mom than one of our favorite dads? John Brodie, Editor-in-Chief of Maisonette and, more importantly, father of Nicholas and Alexandra and husband of Honor, our Creative Director at Tory Burch, imparts five lessons handed down from some extraordinary women.
“Whether you’re a fan of The Shirelles, The Miracles or LL Cool J, you know that in lyrics (as in life) mothers are fonts of wisdom. During my formative years, most of it rolled off my back like the wah-wah-wah of the teacher in Charlie Brown. But there are a few pieces of advice that were imparted to me to by my mom, my aunt, my friend’s mom, and my maternal grandmother that still influence how I think about life. And now that I’m fortunate enough to be two kids into a parenting collab with my wife Honor, these choice bits of advice ring true and are proving more valuable. Ahead of what our Italian friends call the festa della mamma, I hope these bits of mom-splaining prove helpful to you.” — John Brodie
#1 “Please” and “thank you” never go on vacation
Half the fun of this #parentburn is that you can deliver it with a dollop of sarcasm, yet the underlying message is valid. Raising well-mannered children involves a lot of repetition. Some are born with innate reserves of empathy, while others need to acquire it through skill-and-drill. While writing thank-you notes was not my favorite activity that my mother prescribed for me, it made me mindful that acts of kindness, gifts, favors and treats should be acknowledged. (Fun fact: I still use the same Tiffany card stock that my mom and I selected together).
There is a fine line between a privileged child and one that is spoiled or bratty, and what separates them is appreciation. So whenever one of our kids tries to get away with, “I sent a thank-you-text,” we sit them down and make them write a note. There is eye-rolling and sighs, but these little chores are inoculations against their becoming brats. Also, in a world where the mail is often just catalogs, bills and charity appeals, a thank-you note is a bespoke treat that people remember.
#2 Go do something constructive
When I describe my childhood to our kids as a Dickensian era of rotary phones and a lone TV in the living room, they can barely imagine how I entertained myself. Whenever I interrupted my mother during her needlepoint or New York Times crossword puzzle by announcing, “I’m bored,” her stock response was: Well, why don’t you go to your room and do something constructive.
Constructive was a big word, but in our house, it loosely translated as any activity involving crayons, glue sticks, colored paper, scissors and collages. One thing that makes me really sad is when I see children who can’t spend time in their rooms entertaining themselves. The head of one of New York’s leading nursery schools once said to me, “John, a child’s mind needs to lie fallow from time to time.” What she meant was that children need to learn how to use their imaginations to allay boredom. One of the most disheartening things I see in modern-day parenting is children at a restaurant watching an iPad or playing a game on an iPhone. Kids can be difficult and short-circuit an evening out, but we never resort to electronics…at the table. Sure, it takes a bit of effort to engage a 9-year-old in whether unicorns or mermaids are more on trend, but both Alexandra and Nicholas now know how to make conversation at the table.
#3 Put your punim up in the sun
Coming from a long line of Russian peasants who came to America to escape religious persecution and in search of new tanning products, my maternal grandmother believed that everyone looked better with a tan. Punim is Yiddish for “face,” and she liked me the color of a mahogany side table by mid-June. At her country club in Long Island we could wile away summer afternoons playing gin rummy and getting tan. To this day, nothing makes me happier than the smell of chlorine, French fry oil and Ban de Soleil SPF 2. (BTW, not sure it is still legal to even sell that wonderful orange goo outside certain French protectorates any more).
#4 Stay away from the gin
Growing up, my best friend’s mom was one of several amazing women who helped finish raising me after my own mother died when I was 17. She enjoyed a Chesterfield unfiltered cigarette and had come of age when fashionable people went to nightclubs to dance and drink. When I was growing up, the drinking age in New York City was 18, which meant you could get served in a bar pretty easily by 15. One night as we were chatting in her apartment before heading out for the evening, she told my pal and me, “Stay away from the gin.”
“What’s wrong with gin?” we asked in unison.
“It is made from the juniper berry. And when you drink too much gin, it makes you want to fight or do the other thing that begins with F,” she advised.
As she spoke both of us were simultaneously thinking how we could get our hands on a bottle of Tanqueray that night.
“If you see a debutante slap a boy, chances are she’s been on the gin.”
The sickest I’ve ever been on liquor is gin. To this day I give it a wide berth.
#5 Life is not a dress rehearsal
This was my late aunt’s mantra. She would say it often as we were debating about whether or not to plan a trip to some exotic spot together, make a reservation at a fancy restaurant or linger at the table for one more digestif and some deep conversation. Her point was not lost on me. I am a bit of an Eeyore and not spontaneous by nature. But I have never regretted those moments when, like Chevy Chase in Vacation, I have just leapt into the pool. The older I get the more I realize that the doors we left unopened, the trips we didn’t take, the risks we talked ourselves out of are the building blocks of regret. My aunt is one of the few people I know who visited all seven continents, lived in Paris, London and New York and decided to get a PhD when she was retired (in history from St. John’s College). When she died a few years ago, her final words to me were “No regrets.” When St. Peter tolls my bell, I’ll be lucky if I can say the same thing.