A previous version of this piece was first published on TODAY Show’s Parenting Team in 2015. I’m sharing here now, years later, because it’s still one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written about my mom… xo
The other day my adorable almost-5 year old wandered into the kitchen (as I was writing a blogpost, ha) and started crying about how she couldn’t find her babydoll Mila. I knew for a fact that Mila was laying on top of her bed in a pile of naked Barbies, tackled by mermaids and fuzzy bears. I knew this because I’d just seen Mila relaxing there in that mosh pit just 5 minutes ago when I did a panty-change on my potty-training 3 year old.
“Go look for her…” I told my big girl with a smile. “I bet you can find her. Check your bed.”
“Noooo!!!!!! ” (whining continuing) “I can’t find her. Come find her. You need to do it.”
There was no way I was going to shlep myself to her bedroom to find a babydoll when I knew she’d see it the second she walked back in there.
“Go find her,” I repeated (sounding like a rude absent mother now). “Look for her. She’s there. HANDLE IT.”
And there it was: The “H” word. Handle it. A timeless phrase ingrained in my since my youth. From my mom’s mouth back then and now out of mine.
I flashed back to when I was 21 and was competing for the title of Miss California [Miss America]. I remembered rehearsing and immediately crying after the big talent category dress rehearsal. You see, I sang my song and didn’t feel like I did it ‘good enough’ and it was, like, THE most important thing in the world to me to ace that talent category because talent was ‘my thing’… so naturally a call to my mom would make all things better forever and ever amen.
I remember dialing the brick of a block cell phone (this was 1999, people) from the theater lobby with my local pageant director at my side… wanting my mommy’s golden therapy. I sobbed like a baby on the phone “I just didn’t feel like I did it good enough… I could’ve done it better… what if I’m not good when I sing it tonight [in competition]…” I whined on and on.
Her most appropriate words: “Jill — HANDLE IT. Because if you can’t handle this competition, then I am going to drive myself down to the theater right now and you’re going to quit RIGHT NOW. You are good enough. You wanted to do this, so suck it up and HANDLE IT.” Then she asked to talk to my pageant director, Russ. I handed him the phone. Thanks to 1999 cell phone technology, I could hear her voice blasting through from 3 feet away. “If she cries one more time, you call me and I am coming to pick her up,” she told him. Russ’ face was serious like I’d never seen before. All he did was nod. “Tell her to stop the tears now and HANDLE IT,” my mom’s final words to him on that call. They hung up.
And I knew she was serious. So I did what she said — I sang and handled it. I won the talent competition that night. (And finished as 2nd Runner Up for Miss CA 1999…. this close to making it to the Miss America Pageant that year.)
Handle it. The best words my mom has ever said to me. (And she’s said them a lot.) Aside from her constant friendship, most incredible pep talks, practical discipline and unmeasurable support over my lifetime, my mom maintained a most consistent and motivating message with my sister and I: We could handle anything that life throws us. Including talent competitions in beauty pageants.
Don’t expect sympathy, don’t expect honey-darling-oh-how-can-I-fix-this-for-you, don’t expect anything that won’t kick you in the butt in the most inspiring way.
Mom! How am I supposed to cook dinner when I have a newborn? Handle it. (Translation: You can.)
Mom! How am I supposed to submit this application [for a job] when I don’t even have time to open my mail with my two toddlers running amuck? Handle it. (Translation: You can.)
Mom! How am I supposed to… [fill-in-the-blank here]?
You get my point.
The most practical, life-changing, greatest gift my mom has given my sister and I is the ability to think ahead, figure things out and help ourselves. We are capable. We are smart. We can handle it. Because she told us we could… and still tells us we can.
And, even though they’re still very young, so can my girls… I just have to remind them.
(And yes, my preschooler did find her doll. Right where I knew it was.)
In late 2017, my mom lost her 7 year fight with cancer. Her legendary “Handle it” philosophy have lived on… they were the words that supported, encouraged and lifted me through losing her. I continue to use her motto to raise my girls to be capable and confident, to live life through what continues to be the deepest loss in our lives. Miss you, Mom.