Lost & Found: Mom Edition (#221)

Every mother has secrets. Some are dark — a deeply buried history of domestic violence or mental illness. But some are light — generations of wisdom on everything from gardening to cooking.

My mother died before I was fifteen. As a “liberated woman,” she turned her back on domestic wisdom. She had no helpful hints to give me regarding makeup, stain removal, cleaning, sewing, or baking. She was, in fact, terrible at all those things. She had a hell of a green thumb with houseplants. Our neighbors exclaimed over all the hanging baskets of greenery in our D.C. dining room. At the time, I shoved errant leaves out of my hair and glowered. Now I wish I’d asked how she did it.

As she had six children who survived, Mom undoubtedly had a ton of information on pregnancy and child-rearing. She died before she could pass any of it along. Mainly, I learned from her mistakes, vowing to marry later in life and use ALL the birth control.

When you’re in your twenties, you don’t think much about running a household or raising kids. But once I was married, with house and garden, I realized I didn’t know jack about flowers or pregnancy.

I wonder how many other women realize, after their mother is gone, that they’ve lost generations of useful info along with the person who loved them most in the world? A hundred years ago, other women in the community might have come forward to help a bereaved daughter. Now young women tend to leave home and live alone in the city, hanging out with other young women. Without a weekly call home to Mom for advice on some disaster, we’re on our own.

Luckily, we’ve got women bloggers. And sisters.

During one visit, Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister told me that those shoots I was weeding in my new yard were freesia.

Gladioli gone crazy.

I let those shoots sprout and discovered I had fragrant freesia and gorgeous gladioli. They’re perennials, which means they come back every year. (Husband complained about the profusion of pink gladioli until I reminded him that all those flowers are FREE.)

Turns out I also had some narcissus. I cut them and brought them inside. They fell over. I found a post about how a half-shot of gin in the water will keep your paperwhites upright. Apparently grandmas everywhere know this. I sometimes wonder what housewife hastily dumped her gin into her flowers during Prohibition and made this handy discovery. Whoever she was, I salute her.

I was lucky enough to have Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, too. She’d had children before I did. She warned me I would feel like shit when pregnant. She was right, damn her.

And when I bled vaginally on a Sunday, all the OB’s answering service said was, “Call again tomorrow, go to an ER if it gets really bad.”

I looked in my pregnancy books. All they said was bleeding = miscarriage.

I called Dr. Sis, telling her I was probably losing the fetus, and that it was okay, it was undoubtedly because something was wrong–

She interrupted. “Is the blood bright red?”

“No, more brownish.”

“You’re fine. There’s a lot of extra blood in the cervix at this point. Some is going to leak out. If it isn’t bright red and heavy, it’s totally normal.”

“So the fetus doesn’t have two heads after all?”

“Probably not. Do you still feel like crap?”

“Yes. If I’m not actually throwing up, I feel like throwing up.”

“That’s a good sign.”

“Yeah, thanks, gotta go puke now, bye.”



Yesterday, my husband brought me tulips for Mother’s Day. I cut about an inch off the stems and put them in a vase. They began to droop.

“Maybe you can tie them up with a ribbon?” Andy suggested.

“Do we have any gin?” I asked.

He brought me a bottle and said, “You’re not really going to start drinking over drooping flowers.”

“Watch and learn, buddy.” I poured half a shot of gin into the vase.

This morning, my tulips stood tall.

Boozy. But good.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

21 thoughts on “Lost & Found: Mom Edition (#221)”

  1. I’ve heard of alcohol being a plant’s favourite drink. As you’ve shown, there you go. The baby making story sounds like it’s taking a sinister turn.

  2. Ha, I didn’t know that about the alcohol. I do have some “liquid for flowers” to make them last longer and I suspected it was mostly alcohol.
    I don’t have gin, does rubbing alcohol work too or is it too strong? I received a bunch of blue water lilies this morning and they are a bit bent.

    Speaking of alcohol, the only pregnancy advice my mum has given is to rub my nipples with alcohol to toughen them up and prepare for breastfeeding. It sounded a bit weird and a google search confirmed that you are NOT supposed to do that and that it’s some old wives’ tale. I also didn’t know anything about pregnancy or babies and I’m getting all my info from books and the internet…

    1. Maybe just a couple drops of rubbing alcohol? Try and and let us know.

      Are there lactation consultants in China? There are whole groups of them here, like the La Leche League. A lot of familial knowledge about breastfeeding was lost when Nestle and the government started pushing baby formula in the the fifties and sixties here. So now many hospitals have one to help new mothers learn to breastfeed. Those women could probably tell you if anything works.

      1. Yes, there are lactation consultants here too! Like in the West, formula was heavily pushed here. I think this started to change after the 2008 formula scandal, but many people turned to formula bought abroad instead of breast. Now there seems to be a campaign against foreign formula (lately I have seen many news pieces about fake formula destined for China and discovered by the police in western countries before it was shipped, articles about how “foreign doesn’t mean better”, and people’s comments saying that Chinese formula companies improved a lot and are now very good and more nutritionally adequate for the Chinese children needs). There’s still a lot of misconceptions about breast milk. A friend breast fed her two children and her mother in law (who is an obstetrician) forced her to wean because “breast milk is not nutritious after a certain point”. (And she weaned abruptly! Said it was super painful, both physical and emotionally!).

        1. Well, breastmilk doesn’t necessarily have the nutrition a child needs after 1 year, but it does provide both antibodies and comfort.

          That MIL is awful and I hate her.

          1. The weirdest part is that she offered me her MIL’s help if I had any doubt/problem during my pregnancy. I think I’ll pass xD

  3. This is a very helpful and heartwarming post! Thank you for sharing! I have a suggestion here. Lets hate less but explore the possibilities that we all have options even if some expert or higher authority force something on us. Supposed that a so called “evil” mother-in-law is demanding, a new mother can always stop breastfeeding according to her own schedule.

    Sometimes, it is hard to deal with women because many women fail to own their yearning that they not only want an expert with many credentials and experience on subject matter but it is also best if the expert is armed with psychological skills, emotional intelligence and good people skills. The truth is, no one is perfect. Once you can accept that then suddenly the world changed to a much bearable place. Here is a post about increasing milk production that might interest you http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health/article/1298932/hits-and-myths-papaya-and-milk-production

    1. Thanks for the comment, the suggestion and the link. While I agree that hate can be problematic, especially when it is a generalized hate based on factors a person cannot control (such as skin color, gender, sexual orientation), I think fury is appropriate and in fact necessary to effect change — especially on people who do evil. The more people call out cruelty and injustice, the less acceptable such behavior becomes. Women — white women like myself especially — have spent too much time accommodating cruelty. We’ve scurried past opportunities to denounce domestic violence, sexual harassment, the loss of our reproductive rights, and white supremacy. What has it gotten us? Well, here in the U.S. we now have a government that endorses all of the above.

      I don’t see MIL as just “demanding;” she is downright CRUEL, here, abusing her medical and familial authority and inflicting unnecessary pain on both mother and infant. She is also infringing on another woman’s bodily autonomy to inflict that pain. That is much worse than simply being “imperfect.”

      Of course in a perfect, western scenario, the daughter-in-law would fight back and be victorious, but again, this doesn’t take into account the power some cultures bestow upon the MIL. Maybe this daughter-in-law can’t fight back without losing the roof over her head. The daughter-in-law, like many new mothers, was undoubtedly sleep-deprived, a hormonal mess, and unsure of herself. Challenging an authority in that state is much easier said than done. 🙁

  4. Wow. I learned A LOT in this post. The blood thing (for future reference) and the gin thing (I have some sagging flowers now, will they work on non-tulips?)

    Mothers do pass on a lot of wisdom, and I’ve always been jealous of that stereotypical ‘American mom’ that you see on TV. You know, the one who makes pies and tells you some household secret about removing stains and knits you a sweater, or whatever. Since my mom was a Vietnamese immigrant, there was no way I would ever get the American mom experience. When I was a kid I just wanted my mom to be normal and try to fit in, but now I’m grateful I got such a weird hybrid upbringing.

    1. I was proud of my mom for getting her law degree, but, like you, I envied the kids with a stay-at-home mom who chauffeured them around and baked cookies. Or cooked nice dinners. But each parent gives us something, and my mom mostly taught us that we didn’t have any limits just because we were girls.

  5. Huh! So gin works with cut flowers. That’s new to me. Tulips have an unfortunate tendency to droop.

    I’m sure I learned a lot from my mom, but by now her advice is mixed in with knowledge I gained from other sources or figured out myself. I don’t know that she told me much about pregnancy, even though she lived nearby. I read Dr. Spock.

    My kids grew up overseas … with maids. So I was worried they wouldn’t have any domestic skills. Fortunately they picked them up somehow. They’re all good cooks, especially #2. The youngest is an excellent housekeeper who gives me advice and cleans out her sisters’ closets. The middle daughter has always been messy and she’s not about to change. When the oldest decides to clean house or repair something, she jumps right into it. I guess their habits are more a reflection of their personalities than anything I did or didn’t teach them.

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