Updated: May 9, 2021
I must have been about 15 or 16 years old, and I approached my mother with what I thought was a very reasonable request to either do something or go somewhere. My easy expectation of consent, quickly changed when I was returned with “No!”. In obvious bewilderment I protested, “why not?” She dismissively responded, “so you want to hear ‘yes’ all the time!”. My face was a canvas of confusion because her words made absolutely no sense to my adolescent mind. She repeated herself, this time with a slight addition, “so you want to hear ‘yes’ all the time, learn to hear 'no' sometimes!”. It made no sense, absolutely none, as I couldn’t see past my present request, the reasonableness of same and what sounded like the mecca of all ridiculous ‘motherly responses’. It was so crazy, so infuriating and so unfair that I never forgot those words, and because I never forgot, when it finally made sense as an adult, I couldn’t help but treasure this profound life lesson. What she was saying, is that life will not always go as you want, plan, or expect and that you must learn to live with and move on, from a “No”. Not all decisions will be in your hands, you won’t always be able to do what you think is best. Disappointment, blockage and surprises will come in the form of “No’s” and you have to be okay with it. Well, I have certainly had my share of No’s … and that lesson has never departed. No matter how low the “no” took me, with the grace of God and this wise counsel from my mother I continue to rebound from and strive in spite of the “no’s”!
I was never a shy child. I was described as talkative, bold, pushy and some other adjectives, to which I quickly grew accustomed, because maybe they were largely true. It must have taken divine intervention in parenting, to help my mother teach me to use these traits which could be viewed negatively, to develop the character and personality that God predestined. She taught me to speak up and let my voice be heard. Her favourite quote was “use the English tongue in your head”. Because my mother molded and encouraged me to be brave, I have never been afraid to ask a question, to seek clarification or to defend injustice. I started law school in Birmingham, England as the only international student in my class and for the first week of in-class learning, the thick Birmingham accent of my lectures, prevented me from properly understanding them and if I didn’t speak up, I would have missed out. I said to myself that I did not venture thousands of miles away from home to this foreign land, emptying my parents' bank account, to sit in a class and not understand what was being taught. So, speak up I did, probably to the annoyance of my classmates, but that was the least of my concerns. My lecturers happily accommodated my requests to slow down or repeat a statement and to be honest, I also think my classmates were sympathetic. They too eventually needed to ask me to slow down and repeat myself when in the excitement of a conversation, my own thick Tobagonian twang escaped. I am so grateful that I was encouraged to use my God-given gift to be a voice for myself and for others.
Many young people today struggle with their self-worth and confidence, and I too may have fallen victim to that scourge, if my mother didn’t lift my head when others tried to break me down. We were always taught to be humble and to treat everyone equally, regardless of their status. I would never say that we were poor growing up, but by others’ standard, maybe in some respects we were and therefore, teasing and mocking were common. Nonetheless, my mother taught her children to hold our heads high and to know our self-worth, despite my parents’ modest financial status. Her refrain of choice to reinforce what she describes as the royal calibre of our lineage, was and still is, “you are as good as any, and better than many”. As a child, when I came home dejected because of the harsh words or actions of others, she would remind me that I was intelligent, beautiful, worthy, strong and fearfully and wonderfully made by God. Her lioness pounce were her sharp retorts to anyone who would dare demean her cubs. My mother's strength became my courage to repel damaging words from penetrating my heart, as her wisdom eclipsed every negative voice. My professional environment now, is dominated by elites and intellectuals, and I have walked into many rooms, sensed the esteem that permeated the air and immediately felt my inadequacy, which then beckoned anxiety and fear. In those instances, I have had to square my shoulders, lift my head, and repeat to myself that not only are you a child of the most-high God and that every door that He opens, He has equipped you to excel in that space, but at the back of my mind, is my mother’s sage advice, “you are as good as any”.
This article doesn’t have the space, nor do you the patience, for all the great spoken and unspoken lessons from my mother. She taught me little examination tricks like “don’t second guess yourself and go with your first instinct”. She taught me to love and cherish my family, to manage my finances, to think analytically and to consider the consequence, before I act. She was the best example of love for others, even when they treated her unfairly. By her actions, I know how to love my husband and keep my home. She worked hard and balanced her work and family obligations and above all she fiercely loves God. She gave me part of her name, has loved and supported me with her whole heart and she is half of a mighty parenting duo, who has been my life-long role model.
Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful mother and to all mothers who continue to be excellent mentors, wise counsellors and role models to their children!