Lessons My Mother Taught Me
By: Deji Yesufu
Mother died today fifteen years ago and I remain grateful to God for some lessons she imparted in me early in life. I want to enumerate a few of them anecdotally and I hope they help you too, either in raising your children or in your day to day activity.
My mother taught me about home cleaning. I suspect it was a tradition she took from her own Egba mother – that Saturdays are earmarked for general sanitation in the house. When my siblings and I were growing up we did not have house helps. My mother’s four able bodied boys were all the help she needed. At the time, I just couldn’t understand why mother will not allow me to have my Saturday to myself. After going to school Monday to Friday, Saturday should naturally be a day to rest and unwind. Not for Madam Henrietta Ekua Temilola Yesufu. Saturday was a day to work. My mother had invented environmental sanitation long before Idiagbon made it popular in 1984.
One day mother asked me to clean the guest toilet. My elder brother must have handled the main toilet. Usually a smaller toilet facility, I was convinced it was not going to be a problem. I was done in about ten minutes. Mother came to inspect it and was not pleased. She commanded me to do it all over again – this time under her supervision. Grudgingly I began, only for me to have an abara on my back. “Is that how to wash the toilet…” At the end, I got on all fours, scrubbing under the toilet seat, sink and bath – with my bare hands. Then I mopped it all clean. While I was super stressed and pissed, there was that reward of seeing the toilet sparkling. I couldn’t have been older than nine at this time.
Mother taught me justice. Because we were all boys, we learnt quickly to cook for ourselves – except we wanted to starve before she returned from work. When you cook, my young mind taught me, your reward was that you got to serve the food and you serve yourself a good ration. Mother felt otherwise. There was no trouble cooking. The problem was in dishing out the food, so mother said: “whoever dishes out the food, will pick last”. Ha! You will not believe it, this rule ensured perfect rationing of food because you are the last to pick and you don’t want to be short changed. If our leaders who venture on foreign medical trips know this, they will fix our hospitals because mother’s rule will translate to their using the hospitals in their own country.
Mother taught my siblings and I to love. Very weird story though but I will tell it. I must have been eight years old. We were heartily chatting away in the sitting room and I don’t know how the suggestion got to that point but mother requested that all of us come over and kiss her. “Yock!” My brothers and I protested. But mummy will have none of it. Kiss o, you must kiss. Mother gave me my first full mouth kiss. There was nothing erotic about it. She just wanted to let us know she loved us She kissed all the four of us. (My sisters came in 1985 and 1990, so they missed out.) It was my first kiss and the only one I have had outside marriage. I remember it now with tears in my eyes. Mother saw the embarrassment in our eyes and let out her characteristic hearty laugh.
Mother taught me about marriage; albeit indirectly. Mother loved my father deeply, although she was not afraid to protest his lifestyle. She remained committed to her marriage until death. Mother never returned words at my father in our presence. She loved to eat with Daddy and will delay eating until he returns from work – even if that meant midnight. She respected my father. My sister told me that even as a school principal in the USA, earning solid money, mother will keep her title at the door steps of the house and often head to the kitchen to make dinner for Daddy after returning from work. When my parent spoke to me on the phone, mum will never interrupt Daddy. There was a particular day I was protesting Daddy’s behavior and mother told me straight up: “Deji, he is my husband…” Fifteen years after her death, and even though a Muslim, Daddy has been unable to remarry. He will often say: “…none of these ladies are like your mum.”
Mother gave me my first lesson on who God is. “God lives in the sky; high up there in heaven…”, she told me once when I was about seven. “God wants you to be a good boy. And his eyes are always watching what you do. Try to be a good boy, ok?” Those lessons on the omniscient attribute of God followed me to the University where I often felt God’s piercing eyes on all my actions. As a born again person today and schooled in scripture, I know a lot more about God. But nothing mother taught about God was untrue. Mother imparted a well rounded theism in my mind such that I can never be an atheist.
My mother left my brothers and I when I was eleven years old. She travelled to the USA for a Masters degree. It was supposed to last 2 years but after the program, she felt she should stay behind in the USA and create a home for us all to come to. We never did. She returned to Nigeria briefly in 2004 but at that time she was already ill. She passed away in 2006 at the age of 54.
I keep saying to myself that all my work ethics, morality and discipline were gotten from the first eleven years I spent with my mother. Mother imparted the multi dimensional work ethic of a woman in my brothers and I, and it is this that has helped us to survive Nigeria.
Thank you mother and continue to sleep well.