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Weird Things We Do Because Our Moms Did Them

Photograph by Twenty20

The first thing you see when you open my freezer is a fat can. That’s right, a fat can—a large can full of solidified fat drippings that I store in the freezer and toss when full. It’s disgusting, actually, but rooted in common sense, as pouring fat down drains is awful for pipes and sewers.

My mom taught me this and a cousin confirmed that my aunt does it, too, suggesting that we are most likely third-generation keepers of frozen fat cans. A friend told me that her mom taught her to use that same fat to cook popcorn on the stove top. Apparently, popcorn cooked in bacon drippings is to die for.

I got to thinking recently about things I do, without questioning, simply because I grew up watching my own mom do them. Habits are hard to break, it seems, especially those that we’ve been exposed to our whole lives. Some, like the fat can, are sound advice that actually help the environment. Others, well, not so much.

Another habit I practice, without any redeeming quality, is lining my broiler with aluminum foil. The cooking mess still gets everywhere, the foil protects nothing and everything ends up in a liquid-y mess in my garbage can. I still need to scrub that broiler pan, and now I’ve gone and added tin foil to a landfill unnecessarily. Thanks, Mom.

I reached out across my lady-friend networks to pose the question, “What things do you do simply because your mom did them?” The answers ranged from silly to brilliant to head-scratchingly odd. Here is a sampling that proves we are simply slaves to habit and familiarity:

Smell the milk before pouring it

  • Recycle tea bags for that second cup
  • Swear or curse only on Fridays
  • Store pajamas under the pillow
  • Keep used butter wrappers in the freezer for future pan greasing
  • Wear frosted lipstick
  • Not allowing any drinks at the dinner table until all the food has been eaten
  • Store batteries in the freezer
  • Store batteries in the fridge (Well, which is it, veteran moms?)
  • Keep butter on the counter so it’s always soft
  • Keep bread in the microwave
  • Keep bread in the fridge
  • Save overripe bananas in the freezer to make banana bread later
  • Keep cookies in the microwave (I am sensing a theme, here)
  • Lie on left side and tuck your knees in when your stomach hurts
  • Store unopened containers of liquid food upside down in fridge until opening them
  • Replace vanilla extract with Kahlua in all your baking recipes
  • Wash and dry kitchen sink after each and every use (WHA?)
  • Store pungent food trash in the freezer until trash day (WOW.)
  • Only use powdered creamer in order to keep your coffee hot
  • Put cracked egg shells back in the egg carton instead of the garbage
  • Save every remotely usable plastic food container (yogurt, cheese, sour cream, etc.)
  • Put your bra on upside down, then quickly flip it over (I don’t even get the logistics of this!)
  • Only eat ice cream out of a mug
  • Keep a drawer of greeting cards for all occasions (Brilliant!)
  • Warm dinner rolls in a brown paper bag
  • Only wrap sandwiches in wax paper with tight creases
  • Make bed the moment you get out of it (Efficiency at its finest!)
  • Never leave home with dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink
  • Whisk flour instead of sifting it
  • Oh, and never wash a flour sifter
  • If you have leftover cake, eat it for breakfast, but only in a bowl with milk on top
  • Always tuck a $20 bill in sympathy cards
  • That is some valuable wisdom there, hard-earned mother wisdom. I have no doubt that a lot of these habits carry down several generations, as well, just like my mother’s fat can. And it’s no surprise that so many of these focus on the kitchen, the traditional domain of motherhood.

They all make me wonder, too, just what oddities and idiosyncrasies I am handing down to my own little ones. Will it be the hoarding of discounted candy the day after a holiday? Or the intense brand loyalty to toilet paper? Maybe the hand-washing of all things plastic is the one. There are so many to choose from, I best start teaching.

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