I remember coming back from school one day tired and stressed out. I went into
the kitchen to see what was for lunch. I lifted the food cover and saw a few
dull dishes. I stared at them and sighed. "Mum, why
do you cook the same things week in and week out? I hate cabbage and I can't eat
My mother shot me a look that could have wilted the cabbage if it were
still uncooked. "Count your blessings, my dear. Be thankful that there's food on
the table waiting for you when you come home from school. Don't you know that
people in Ethiopia are starving?"
My mother was raised to believe that no matter how bad things were, someone,
somewhere, was in worse shape. My grandmother adopted her when her superstitious
parents believed a fortune teller who said that she would bring bad luck to the
family. This was how she had come to accept the trauma of being given away as a
child. She counted her blessings. Her adopted mother loved her. She had her own
bed to sleep in and there was enough food.
I grew up in a neighborhood where there were many children. I was never
lonely. However, when the mining industry collapsed, a lot of families had to
move to other cities in search of jobs. I lost many friends that year. I cried
when my best friend moved. My mother told me to count my blessings. My father
still had his job and we did not have to go hungry. My mother became my friend
for many lonely evenings. In fact, looking back, that was the time that I felt
closest to her. My friend's departure was a blessing in disguise indeed.
Later, when I got married, I continued to hear her refrain about counting
your blessings. When my mother-in-law came to stay with us, I added her to my
burdens. Convinced that she was out to get me, I went around trying to be the
perfect mother and wife while holding down a job. The more I cleaned and cooked,
the more I resented her. Finally, I burst out to my mother and she told me to
count my blessings. At that point, her advice infuriated me. How could I count
my blessings when my life was in ruins? She pointed out that my mother-in-law's
presence at home meant that I could go to work in peace, knowing that someone
was around to mind the children and keep an eye on things. With the extra income
comes more financial freedom. I could now afford to do things I was unable to do
before she came into my life. It was true. When my children were sick, I could
go to work knowing that she could be relied upon to see to their needs. Besides,
she knew more about herbs and alternative medicine than I did. So, I learned to
let her into my life and eventually surrendered my kitchen to her.
Another favorite piece of advice that my mother loved to impart was 'let go,
and let God'. In school, I could not cope with examination pressures and
whenever she saw me being so anxious, she would say, "Relax, my dear. Let go and
let God." She told me to stop worrying and do whatever I could. I could never
understand how my mother could be so much in control and calm. Perhaps it had
something to do with her faith in God.
Once, I was so frustrated with my immediate boss, I took a few days of leave
and visited her. She could tell I was in some sort of turmoil. After hearing my
complaints about my impossible-to-please boss, she told me to look for
possibilities instead of roadblocks. She was right. I was looking at all the
negative things about my boss and feeling so resentful, I did not even bother to
notice her good points.
After a week of rest and good soups, I went back to work, rejuvenated. I had
a heart-to-heart talk with my boss and things got better as I felt less
resentful. I began to watch for her positive traits. My more positive outlook
made me more approachable and that reduced the tension between us. When she
realised that I did not have any bad intentions, she relaxed and became a better
Throughout my life, my mother's advice has been my anchor for many difficult
situations that I have had to face. One thing for sure, you will be hearing the
same advice echoing throughout my children's lives.