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From My Mom's Pen To My Ears: Parenting Advice That Stands The Test Of Time

In 1981, before maternity blogs with snappy names like “Pregnant Chicken,” a young mom-to-be wrote a column for her local newspaper.

Reporter Mary Alice Collins loved crafting stories about Lamaze class, uninvited parenting advice and that magical day when baby made her way into the world. Thirty-two years later, our own Courtney Collins pores over her mom’s articles, looking for guidance and compassion as she prepares to welcome her first child in March.

Here are three things that make my mom memorable: She plays the zither. She’s a member of Mensa. And she read Stephen King’s “Misery” in a single sitting.

Here’s something about her I’ll never forget. I was an anxious seventh grader who didn’t have the nerve to try on cotillion outfits at the store with my friends. So my mom bought a dozen dresses and let me walk the runway of her master bathroom instead. I picked a dress and she returned the other 11.

Some people were meant to be parents; my mom’s one of them. But that doesn’t mean I made it easy on her, even as a 1-year-old.

“So the carrot cake story is, we’re visiting in the living room with friends or relatives, I can’t remember. And there’s a carrot cake on the counter in the kitchen and you take the drawers, very ingeniously, and pull the bottom one all the way out, and the second one half of the way out, and the third one a little bit of the way out, and you use the drawers like a ladder," my mom said. "And you climb up and sit next to the carrot cake and eat it with your hands."

"Waiting For Baby"

I have no recollection of the great carrot cake binge of 1983, nor much else from the toddler years. But my mom remembers every moment of my babyhood with painstaking detail, from her first month of pregnancy, onward. That’s thanks to a work assignment.

The first piece in the "Waiting for Baby" series

“I was 24 years old at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida. And my editor said, 'You know, now that you’re expecting, it would be awesome for you to write a series,'" she said. "'We could call it ‘Waiting For Baby’ and you could do one story each month, and talk about how it feels to be a new, expectant mother.'”

My mom was game, so for nine months, she put pen to paper. She wrote about the thrill that races up your spine when the nurse says “your results are positive.” And about nightly read-aloud sessions with my dad, both of them ankle deep in baby books.

But there was some stuff she didn’t write about. Remember, it was 1981.

“Well because it was back, you know, decades ago, I had to be a little careful. People weren’t as interested in the science of it,” she says. “So I tried to keep it sort of generic, more of the emotions of a brand new mom and dad to be.”

52 tiny pink dresses

And her readers loved every word. They were so enthralled with her journey to motherhood that once I arrived, they felt compelled to thank her with gifts.

“I got 52, tiny, newborn sized pink dresses on plastic hangers," she says. "And I hung every one of them in the closet and took a picture."

The article that ran shortly after Courtney's birth

The articles didn’t stop once the pregnancy was over. There was a big “Courtney’s first birthday” spread in January 1983. And, of course, a heartfelt piece that ran right after I was born.

Here’s how that one starts: Welcome to the world, Courtney Layne Collins! Just as you promised, the day we waited for finally came and when it was over, we felt blessed -- for we had witnessed a miracle. Do you know your Daddy got to hold your beautiful little body less than one minute after you were born? And, when he brought you to me, you cuddled up in an instant and allowed us to witness your first yawn?...

Getting to read the words of my then 24-year-old mom as I prepare to take on motherhood myself has been an extraordinary treat.

Play with your kids

It’s incredible to think that there once was a time she didn’t know how to French braid hair or size up a fever with one quick press of hand to forehead.

And when she was pregnant with me, she had more questions than answers. Just like I do now.

So I get to ask a real pro for her most profound nugget of parenting advice.

“I think that you should play with your kids every minute that you get the chance because you blink your eyes twice and they’re off to college, and then you don’t get to play with them every day,” she warns. “You know, really get into it, and enjoy it while you can. Because it’s gone just like that.”

That’s something I’ll take to heart, especially as the final weeks of my pregnancy blur by. My husband and I will definitely make mistakes. You can bet at least one diaper will be put on backward.

But we’ll give it all we’ve got. How could I not? My mom set the standard. It’s all there in black and white.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.