Deena’s Book of Common Sense

Disclaimer: The following excerpt is taken from a book of memoir-based short stories written as part of a Communications Capstone Project entitled Tall Tales: Real Tall Stories from a Real Tall Girl.  This particular story focuses on the act of learning, renewing, and bettering oneself throughout life with the help of my mom, which corresponds to this month’s Spring theme.  I hope, from reading this excerpt, you are inspired to strive for your fullest potential in life, love, and happiness. To read the story and its entirety, don’t forget to attend Arcadia University Thesis Day on April 27th

“The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.” –Mortimer Alder

Some people have strict parents. Others have parents who are a little more liberal with their parenting techniques.  Growing up, I had friends with parents all over the spectrum—from single mothers who let their children dye their hair one thousand different colors to first-generation Americans who considered an A-minus a cardinal sin.  Although, I admit that most parents I met weren’t nearly this extreme.  Judging from my own life experiences and how I turned out, I think it’s safe to say that my own mom falls somewhere in the middle.  Her parenting methods are relatively simple and can be summed down to one thing:

Use common sense and your life will be easier.

I’ve never met a single person who believed in anything more.  I’m sure if she could shout it from the rooftops, she would.  I guess it’s fair to say she is naturally wise and observant, although if past lives are real, my money would be on her being a philosopher or sorts.

For years she joked about writing a book compiling everything a person needs to know about life, love, loss, and happiness.  In other words, a list of things that prevent people from making stupid life decisions. A book so good it would make the world a better place for everybody; a book to spring people into becoming better versions of themselves.

“I’m going to call it: ‘Deena’s Book of Common Sense!’” she has said a countless number of times.  “I could totally publish a book. I just need to get someone to write it down for me while I say everything.”

Maybe it’s because she is our mom and we were brainwashed at a very young age to believe anything she says, but my siblings and I, along with anybody who really knows her, can attest that the book would definitely sell millions.  I don’t think the book would ever be complete, though.  There might have to be multiple volumes—perhaps of encyclopedic proportions—from all of the things that inspire her on a daily basis.

Her inspiration seems to come to her from the most random and arbitrary places.  Picking up milk at the grocery store.  Running on the treadmill every morning.  Eating breakfast for dinner.  But I’d have to say her most favorite source of wisdom comes from driving the family car.

It must be something about the tires on the pavement that speaks to her, or maybe it’s the fact that she likes to analyze everything we drive past, people especially.  Think about it as a younger, less-dramatic, all-female version of Tuesdays with Morrie that takes place in a car.  Easy enough to imagine, right?  Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have come while sitting in the passenger seat.

For years, regardless of where I was being dropped off or who was in the car with me, my mom always left me with a short series of rules that became the mantra associated with my teenage years.

“No drinking, no smoking, no drugs, no sex.  Call me.  I love you.”

As a pissy teenager, it embarrassed me, especially if my friends were in the car.  I’m pretty sure I snapped at her about it on more than one occasion.  That didn’t stop her, though.  My mom liked to play therapist.  She would ask my friends a million and one questions while offering them words of wisdom.

“So Caite, what’s your favorite food?”

“Well, I really like cotton candy.”

“Me too.  Let me give you some advice.  Do not lick your fingers while eating cotton candy. Never, never, never. If you keep your fingers dry, you’ll stay clean.  But, if you lick ‘em in the middle, everything goes to hell.”

I was mortified.  My friends loved it.

“Your mom is really cool.”

“Really? You think so?”

“Yeah, totally.  I used to be afraid of her, but she’s actually really nice.  I wouldn’t wanna get on her bad side, though.”

You and me both, sister.

But even if I did manage to get on her bad side, my mom made it very clear to me one night in the car that it would be okay.  It was one of the first lessons I can remember about love and tolerance.  I was in high school.

We were driving home from something one night, maybe work or a grocery run, and we were sitting quietly.  I wasn’t sure why the radio was off, but in retrospect, it was pretty awkwardly silent ride.  Suddenly, my mom turned very serious and stoic.  She tightened her grip on the steering wheel.  She kept her eyes glued to the pavement disappearing under the car as we drove along.  She spoke. If I wasn’t the only other person in the car, I wouldn’t have known who she was talking to.

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you, too, Mom,” I replied, but in my head I was trying to figure out what was going on.

“You know I’ll always love you no matter what, right? I’m your mom.”

“Uh, I—I guess.  Thank you?”  My heart quickened a little bit.  It always made me nervous when she talked like that.  Like she was about to give me some kind of bad news.  What was it? Did someone die? Oh God, what if she found out about the time I snuck out of the house to be with my friends? What if…what if I’m adopted?  I always had a strange feeling…

She started to become larger and more passionate in her expressions.

“I mean, I will love you no matter what!” Insert pause for effect. “Even if you turn out to be a lesbian.”

“Huh? Mom, I’m not a lesbian.”  I was no longer worried, just plain confused.

“I know you’re not.  I’m just giving you an example.  I would love you even if you get in trouble with drugs.  Hailey, even if you were freaking axe murderer, I would still love you and be there for you the best I can!  That’s my job as your mom.”

To this day I still don’t know what sparked that conversation, and yet it still lives on so vividly in my mind.  Maybe that was her strategy.  Make such an impact that I would have no choice but to remember the conversation.  Even if I do end up being a meth-addicted lesbian axe murderer, at least I know my mom will have my back.  As I found out a couple years later, she has my back in more than one way, granted I live by the few rules she has laid down for me.

You see, going to college offered a new and exciting arena of dating, worlds away from my small hometown where you had to proceed with caution unless you wanted to accidentally end up dating your cousin.  Judging from the curious dating tastes I acquired in high school, my mom knew I’d end up finding some interesting men in college.  My mom was very supportive of me experimenting with these new relationships to help me figure out the qualities I look for in a significant other.  In fact, she was very lenient, leaving me with only two rules.

“One: under no circumstances will I let you to date someone with dreadlocks.”
“Why dreadlocks?” I couldn’t help but laugh.

“They’re dirty and they gross me out.  Unless you’re homeless and have no access to running water, I don’t see a reason for anyone to have them.  I mean, why would you do that to your hair anyway? What did your hair ever do to you?”

“Okay, I get it.” So far it made enough sense.  “And the second rule?”

“He’s not allowed to be in a cult.”

“A cult.”

“Yes, a cult.  No devil-worshipping, end of story.”

“So what if one day I call you up and tell you I’ve fallen head over heels for a wonderful dreadlocked man named Charles Manson?”

Mom laughed.

“I’d probably have to fly all the way to Pennsylvania and drag your ass back home.”

“Well, luckily I don’t think you have much to worry about on that one.”

“Honestly though, I don’t care if your man is fat or skinny, white or black, tall or short.  As long as he treats you well and makes you happy, that is all I can ask for.”

“Aww. Thanks, Mom.”

“Unless he’s a millionaire. You gotta snag that no matter what.”

I knew she was joking about the millionaire part, but I could tell she was serious about the other two.  I was okay with that.  Her sense of humor aided in making her words so memorable, which is something I always admired about her.  It made it easy for me to talk with her.  It’s probably part of the reason we got along so well after I left for college.  Although not every piece of advice she gave me held the same amount of humor, I respected what she had to say and continued to learn from her despite our distance apart.


  • Taylor Bobek says:

    This short story was excellent. Since it is only an excerpt of her actual book, it truly did inspire me to go out and read the rest of it. I also enjoyed it because I feel as though I can relate to the author and vividly imagine the scene while reading. Overall, this is wonderful and inspiring.

  • Michael says:

    This is really lovely, Hailey. Well done.

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