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Dangle your baby over the toilet, and other sage advice

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 2:52 p.m. CDT

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Remember “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers”? I never had to write either for advice. I had “dear Aunt Marion,” only she wrote to me with advice. Actually, she didn’t write. She sent newspaper and magazine clippings. Anonymously.

It started in the late 1950s when she dropped in on me, unannounced. As a new bride, I was rarely ready for company. Shortly after, the articles began arriving. As I recall, they included titles such as, “A spotless apartment is better than a grimy one,” (along with coupons for Mr. Clean), “Yellow is not a good color for white towels,” and “Dishes left in the sink can cause cholera.”

She typed the envelopes, but fooled no one. When at her house, I would flip through magazines and newspapers. All had cut-out sections.

When my first child arrived, I received clippings such as, “All babies need to be bathed twice daily, even if perfectly clean,” “Start potty training at two months by dangling your infant over the toilet,” or “You’re baby is three years old. It’s time to stop wearing maternity clothes.”

She never had children. Thankfully.

Stupidly, I whined to her about how my husband didn’t help with the baby even though I begged him to. I received the following excerpt from a book:

“. . . Nagging is a devastating emotional disease. If you are in doubt about having it, ask your husband. If he should tell you that you are a nag, don't react by violent denial – that only proves he is right." How to Help Your Husband Get Ahead by Mrs. Dale Carnegie.

After that, I no longer shared my troubles with her, nevertheless, the clippings continued. When my first son was three months old, she sent him one called, “A future in Bimolecular Engineering is the way to go.” I read it to him as I dangled him over the potty.

My daughter received the occasional article that relayed the message, “girls don’t have to be like their mothers.”

My younger son, the one who primarily ate Kraft Dinner, fish sticks and crayons for the first 18 years of his life, was the recipient of dozens of articles on nutrition. He no doubt ate them.

When I told my aunt that my husband and I were divorcing, I received an avalanche of articles on its effect on the children. I think it was more about the effect on her, as mine was the first divorce in the family. When she couldn’t convince me not to go through with it, I received an unsigned typed message stating, “It’s better to tell people you’re a widow.”

The day came when I was about to marry again, this time to someone of another faith. Of course she sent an article headlined, “A mixed blessing it is not.” I paid no attention, but continued to receive pieces on: how one should treat the elderly [her] nicer, how to get [my now] adult children to send thank you notes [to her], and how to [still] keep my house cleaner.

She died before the advent of emailing. I can only imagine the following forwarded message sent to me from mysteryaunt@aol.com, had she’d lived to see this present period of communication. It would have, without a doubt read, “Elderly woman leaves entire estate to pet poodle rather than ungrateful neice.”

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