Mother Knows Best
In honor of Mother's Day, Kerrie Loya looks back at the women who inspired her with advice on how to live well - in more ways than one.
- by Kerrie Loya
This year in particular has been a time of recognition for me. My mother’s words of wellness wisdom keep popping into my head! I must admit, her word’s were the last for me to acknowledge as r...r...right, but she was the one who was right the most. In honor of these strong, beautiful women, I’d like to share some of their best wellness advice with you.
Great Aunt Jean
I was always a little afraid of Aunt Jean. Born to poor Italian immigrant parents, Aunt Jean didn’t put up with nonsense, whining or complaining. She worked hard and saved her money. She seemed way more serious than her sisters and brother whose vaudeville act she managed when they were young. My mom adored her.
WELLNESS LESSON #1:
STAY OUT OF THE SUN
We all lived in Southern California and I certainly lived my youth as a typical beach girl. Which of course meant I spent every sunny day tanning with my friends. Aunt Jean was horrified. She tried scaring me -- “your skin will look like leather” but of course, I didn’t change my habits.
I think she and my Mom secretly conspired, because although my Mom is half Italian, she has beautiful pale skin and avoided the sun even when we vacationed in Hawaii. The day they learned about a new, clear sunscreen, PreSun, everything changed. A compromise was struck and I promised to use it religiously on my face (while still tanning my body).
Well, of course, Aunt Jean was right, and I am so grateful I listened to her. I am told by my facialist that my skin looks many years younger than it is.
WELLNESS LESSON #3: DON’T GO TO BED ANGRY
Even before I was married, I got what she meant. You should go to bed free of negative thoughts so you get a good night’s rest. I also now guess that there could have been a bit of superstition in this one. People always regret fighting with someone who then passes away before they have a chance to make amends. Whatever the reason, I embraced this bit of advice as a teen.
My mother’s mother, Nanny, is still my beauty icon. Being poor didn’t prevent her from looking like a model in a simple dress with matching handbag, shoes, hat and gloves. Nanny was the dancer in the family, performing in vaudeville by tap dancing on her toe shoes. She maintained her lithe figure until she succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I never saw her angry or unkempt.
WELLNESS LESSON #1:
NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT LIPSTICK
I realize these might be fighting words to some women, but she didn’t say a full face of makeup! I’ve always interpreted this “rule” to mean it is important to look pretty and for Nanny, that meant lipstick. Now there are so many options from tinted lip balm to glossy stains. I used to think if I got stranded on a desert island with no makeup I’d miss mascara most, but now I agree with Nanny. There’s nothing like a bit of color on the lips to brighten up your whole face.
WELLNESS LESSON #2:
EAT WHOLESOME FOODS
Nanny and my great Aunts loved to cook. So did my Grandpa. I spent a lot of time watching the ladies make Marinara sauce and Grandpa make the best turkey ever. One of my first food memories is of a risotto Nanny made in a red sauce. I’ve never found a recipe for it; she served it in a casserole dish. I can still smell it now. Last winter I tried my hand at one of her specialties, stuffed cabbage. Mine was ok, but no where near as good as her’s. As the wellness movement grows, and the farm-to-table movement becomes mainstream, I raise a glass of wine to Nanny for her understanding of the importance of simple, home-cooked meals.
WELLNESS LESSON #3:
SING AND DANCE
Whenever Nanny was around, there was always singing and dancing. As I got more proficient on the piano, I’d play and she’d sing or we would both sing and usually my little sister would put on her ballet outfit and dance around the piano. Great Aunt Jean loved it! She didn’t have a voice, but I do remember Aunt Jean teaching me slightly off-color songs in Italian.
The greatest compliment Aunt Jean ever gave me was when she said my voice sounded like Barbara Streisand’s. That gave me the confidence to sing in public. Many years later when she was in a nursing home, I would go down and play piano and sing her favorites. Her joy always made me cry.
My house is always full of music and dance. It helps that we live in a Blues hall, but even when we didn’t, I remember my husband Jesse putting on various records and our two toddlers running and jumping around to the music. Later, Jesse taught Desiree to swing dance and she would leap across the kitchen into his arms while I was making dinner. I confess, just the other day I put on one of my oldest daughter’s favorite albums from when she was little, The Spice Girls, and just danced and danced.
What is it about dancing in particular that makes people smile? Whether it is awe-inspiring moves on Dancing with the Stars, or a simple slow dance with a partner, dance brings us into the moment and connects us to an ancient ritual. Everyone can dance. So put on some tunes and move!
My Mother, Valerie
My mom is a natural beauty. She never wears a lot of makeup, embracing her mother’s rule of never leaving the house without lipstick. It is always a pinkish coral, usually with some sparkle. I was shocked when I saw a photo of her in college with RED lipstick!
My mom is still slender like Nanny was and her skin is amazing, thanks to Aunt Jean’s rule of staying out of the sun. She’s not much of a singer, but she taught me the Lindy Hop when I was in junior high and it has come in very handy!
WELLNESS LESSON #1:
WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO MAKE YOURSELF LOOK UNATTRACTIVE?
Oh, boy, the first time I heard this I was so upset. Of course, she must mean I was unattractive! In high school at the time, I had been experimenting, copying clothing looks from magazines. I was so hurt to think she didn’t like my outfits. This “battle” over how I should dress carried through college. I confess, when I was out of school, I had a special section of “clothes Mom would like” in my closet to wear whenever I would visit my parents.
One day, I realized what was going on. The natural look of my youth, leather surfer sandals, bell bottoms and tank tops, was simple, and let my looks shine over the clothes. That’s what my mother meant! Ahhh. And particularly interesting since that “surfer” look is what seems to look best on me now, not the expensive designer clothes hanging in my closet.
I find myself repeating my mother’s words frequently, and particularly when watching awards shows where wealthy, talented women let dresses wear them. They allow a stylist tell them what to wear - to their detriment. Yuck. I love to tell a woman who is simply and attractively dressed how beautiful she looks!
WELLNESS LESSON #2:
NATURAL IS BEST
I remember sneaking mascara to school and hoping I got all of it off before I got home, because I was the last of my friends allowed to wear any kind of makeup. In high school, I was allowed to experiment with eye shadow; my mom bought me one of those giant samplers that was a “gift with purchase” at the department store. My little sister would sneak some whenever she could.
Flash forward to my first job out of college….and my first “makeover." Wow. I had no idea there were so many products you could put on your face. Foundation, blush, under-eye concealer, eyeshadow primer, eyebrow gel……..I bought all of it! Pink lipstick, lavender eyeshadow, Lancome was my new best friend. My mom was curiously silent when she saw my new look.
I was so sensitive. I assumed she didn’t like how I looked. Years later, I looked back and thought differently. Things my mom said came popping into my brain. “Your skin is so pretty, why cover it with foundation?” “Your eyes are so blue, you don’t need colored eyeshadow” “I prefer your natural (curly) hair”. And of course, “you look better with a touch of lipstick.”
All of these statements made me realize my mother was complimenting my natural look, not criticizing it. I ended up saving lots of money and time resisting magazine articles and ads and sticking with the makeup basics. And while getting my curly hair straight was easy in the dry air of Los Angeles, I have finally given up here in the South. After 11 years of battling humidity, I am happy with my wavy, curly mop of hair.
So as Mother’s Day approaches, spend a few minutes remembering the wonderful things you learned from your female relatives, and if it helps, try some of the wellness lessons from my family.
And Mom, since I know you read my column, I love you and thank you for being such a wonderful Mom.