Illustration by Kristen Kaiser
The manipulative mother in “Tangled”—Disney’s take on the Rapunzel story—represented the diabolical and determined dominion that is motherhood. In the same breath that moms can utter, “Stop the drama, stay with mama,” they can turn around and lament, “Go ahead and leave me, I deserve it. Let me die alone here, when it’s too late, you’ll see.”
Certainly not all mothers know best, but any one worth her salt is never in doubt that she does. As they say in psychological circles, your truth is your reality.
So, by default, as long as you are a mother’s child, her truth is your reality.
For those out there for whom a greeting card doesn’t always quite say enough, or gritting their teeth through a flower order doesn’t feel right, consider the recently released “Mother Knows Better: Sense and Nonsense from American Moms” by Patti Murphy, daughter of the late journalist Pat Murphy, and his wife Betty Murphy, of Ketchum.
This is the second book from Murphy, who heads Murphy Media Services from her Boise home. The first, “Mother Knows Best: Wit and Wisdom from Idaho Moms,” was released as a collection of silly sayings from Idahoans remembering their mothers. Published in time for Mother’s Day 2011, a portion of the proceeds of the project went to the Women’s and Children’s Alliance in honor of its 100th anniversary. The alliance provides safety, healing and freedom to the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Murphy paired up with publisher Elaine Ambrose again, extending the solicitation for submissions to the nation through channels beyond friends and family, using Facebook, and an online service called Help A Reporter Out, where journalists and people who want to be resources can connect and share information for a story. Within a year, she had “momisms” from nearly 40 states and Canada.
“Mother Knows Better” is available at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum and through Amazon. Contributors include: Sonia Pressman Fuentes, author and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW); Tanya Ryno, former writer/producer of “Saturday Night Live” (“Ambiguously Gay Duo” and others); Diane Radford M.D., a prominent breast cancer surgeon, St. Louis; George Kennedy, Academy Award-winning actor, Eagle, Idaho; Barbara Morgan, American astronaut, Boise; Nancy Schimmel, Berkeley, Calif., daughter of Malvina Reynolds (songwriter/activist, composer of “Little Boxes,” “What Have They Done to the Rain,” “Magic Penny” and “Morningtown Ride”; Adam West, TV’s original Batman, from Gimlet, and my mom, Martha Liebrum, a Texas writer/editor, cementing for her that she’s always one step ahead of me at all times.
Mother’s Day is here again, Sunday, May 12, for those of you hearing this for the first time. There are lots of choices out there for the day, and let’s face it, you can’t ignore her.
But maybe you can find some common ground, or, at least, some knowing nods and even giggles from within the pages of Murphy’s compilation.
She talked with me about the genesis of the books and reflects on their impact.
IME: Was there a particular saying that touched you?
Murphy: One quote that I thought was pretty profound came from a woman in Lafayette, Ind., whose mom used to tell her, “If I cut my finger and you cut off your arm, my finger still hurts.” She explained that when she was a teenager, this saying used to remind her that it was OK for her to feel her own personal heartaches, even if they were nothing compared to the suffering elsewhere in the world. I think that is a great perspective.
Another one that I really liked came from a man in Stone Mountain, Ga., whose mother used say, “Think about your purpose in somebody’s life.” What a beautiful lesson for a young person to learn.
Did you get any submissions that were kind of sketchy on the advice side?
I think the majority of “momisms” are meant to teach a lesson, create a behavior change or make a child think. Some are funny and goofy, some sound threatening, and others are encouraging and inspirational. But they all seem to have a purpose. For example, you can tell a kid to change their underwear every day, but how much more effective is it to tell them, “Make sure to wear decent underwear in case you get in an accident and have to go to the hospital.” That plays on the child’s sense of privacy and embarrassment, which can be way more useful in creating the desired behavior. You can tell a child not to swallow their gum, but it probably would make a bigger impact by saying, “If you swallow your gum, your butt cheeks will stick together.”
How has the success of the first book affected your writing career?
Publishing my first book did a few things, mostly on a personal level. First, it reminded me that I could do whatever I put my mind to, even if it’s scary or intimidating. When you follow your dreams and reach a goal, even on an itty bitty scale, it helps your self-confidence, which naturally spills over into other areas of your life. I was already a pretty successful magazine writer, but having a book and a publisher did add another dimension of credibility. I was no longer just a freelancer, I was an author, and that gradually helped validate my background and expand my connections.
You know, writing is a very solitary pursuit, one that I personally do with two dogs at my feet, and a cat on my lap in a home office. Writers don’t usually have a huge number of people cheering them on every day as they create, and so to have positive feedback and success for a book or a magazine article is the fuel that keeps our fire burning. It’s not hard for a writer to sometimes feel alone in their work and to get discouraged. That’s why a bit of success can make all the difference in the world.
Is there a fathers’ series on the horizon?
When I first started working on the “momism” books, I talked with my publisher about doing a whole series that would include the wit and wisdom of American dads, American cowboys and American veterans. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they have a good “dadism” they could share, so there seems to be interest in a fathers’ version. My own dad had a few sayings that have recently started popping out of my mouth. Lately I’ve caught myself blurting out his classic, “Holy Mackerel!” when I’m surprised or flustered.
Another one that he brought home from the Korean War was “wockadoodle chickanoodle koom bah wah.” It was just gibberish that he and his Army buddies concocted, but I remember him reciting it to me and my sister over and over like a rhyme, because it made us giggle.
When you were growing up, did you believe mother, or did it come later in life?
My mom and I have always been very close and I’ve always thought she was pretty wise, even during those teenage years when, like most kids, I thought I knew everything. Several of the things she told my sister and me as we were growing up still guide me. One of my favorites that I still live by today is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I remember as a kid, she would say that when I tried to cut corners or do something half way, and I would roll my eyes at her. But, like any good “momism,” it has stuck in my head and it still haunts me when I am doing a half-assed job on something.
Mother knows best, or, better, than you
“Go ahead, get trampled by a rhino. Go ahead, get mugged and left for dead. Me, I’m just your mother, what do I know? I only bathed you and changed you and nursed you.”
Rapunzel’s mother in “Tangled”