What My Mother Taught Me: Be Imperfect, Live Longer!

On this Mother’s Day, when 30 countries around the world honor the women who gave us birth, I’m honoring the memory of my own mother by sharing one of the lessons she taught me by example: Be imperfect; live longer!

As many of you know, my family emigrated from Iraq when I was just a boy of seven. Although we’d been fairly well-off in Baghdad, we had to leave most of our wealth and possessions behind when we came to this country. From a life of relative comfort and economic security, our family of eight squeezed into a tiny, 600-square-foot apartment in Queens, New York. Nevertheless, my mother handled this “downsizing” with good humor and spunk.

Neither of my parents spoke English, but my father found work as a messenger deliveryman and my mother, who was in the habit of sewing our clothes, found work as a seamstress at neighborhood clothing stores—hemming trousers, taking in pants, shortening sleeves, and the like. By temperament, she was anything but a perfectionist, and from time to time a mistake would get her fired. She never let this setback get her down, however. She’d simply go to the next clothing store down the street and offer her services there!

Similarly, at home, she was a “follow your bliss” type of cook—combining ingredients she thought would go well together, but seldom bothering to follow a recipe. Her culinary flops never seemed to defeat her, however. She’d encourage us to “try it, you’ll like it!” even when we had—and obviously hadn’t.

Both she and my father were committed to “looking on the bright side.” I’ve already shared the story of my father staggering home one night after being beaten and robbed and insisting he was fine because his left leg still worked! Similarly, I remember my mother being greeted on occasion by the rabbi at our temple. This simple recognition would be enough to lift her spirits for days. Together, their example taught me to make the most of life’s favorable circumstances: “Life is good, bad, and indifferent; focus on the good.”

Perhaps as important as their example was for my own upbringing, I believe that my parents’ attitude also helped them to live happily in spite of challenging life circumstances. It also helped my mother to live a long time! Being content with her own imperfections, she lived to 94.

Today, as you remember your own mother, I hope you will recall the good life lessons and experiences they passed on to you. And if you lost your mother at a young age, I hope that other women in your life were able to let you know that you were loved.

To mothers everywhere, in gratitude for all the gifts they give us.

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