On special days like this one, I would usually go on Facebook and write a fairly long epistle to honour the one I’m celebrating. But this year, Facebook seems a limited audience for what I’m about to share. So I’m just going to use this platform, and I ask that you indulge me for a moment.
I know everyone in the world was born of a woman, and for sure, your mum, biological or otherwise, is the bestest mum in the whole universe. So we’re all grateful for mums everywhere who have sacrificed a portion or all of themselves for their children, biological and otherwise. Ever since I became a mother, I began to see life quite differently. Less of myself and more of some other person. The truth is, even though I should boast of such a love for my husband, I cannot deny that somewhere inside of me, the definition of ‘unconditional love’ can mostly be seen in the one I have for my children; and this statement comes without guilt and needs no more explanation to back it up: it just is. And it’s because of this realisation I now understand why my mum is still alive today.
Many people have experienced love in different forms. The one my parents shared was one I still try to wrap my head around. To say it was beautiful is to say the least of it. I remember those times I’ll hear them having a fight in their bedroom. Oh, pure love that fights to stay together. That was their love. So when an accident suddenly took my dad, it was like the sun had fallen from the sky. To be honest, I didn’t know how my mum was going to pull through. I vaguely remember expecting her to grieve so much that she would die from it. And it would have been okay, I would have understood that it was love that drew her to where he was. I never would have blamed her. But one day, this woman looked me in both eyes and said: “You and your brothers are the reason I’m still here”. Heart. Stop. I think I felt guilty. But then I didn’t understand. My guilt should have been gratitude instead. This was her saying she had given her life for us. Now it feels so deep to me.
My dad was an Engineer. Working for one of the popular oil and gas companies then in Nigeria meant he could afford the basic necessities life could offer. My mum, on the other hand, was a Guidance Counsellor in a Secondary School. A job she had been doing for so many years at the time my dad passed. If I were to compare their income, it would be like this: My dad earned some money, and my mum earned a tithe of what he earned. What shoes to fill. At night, I would hear her crying to God to give her the grace to maintain the standard my dad had set, that her children should only miss his presence but never the things he could give them. So besides her day job, my mum ran a catering business. She loved to cook; and cook she really can. With her cooking, she would rent out chairs and tents for parties and other events, and sold textile on the side, just in case the party wanted to look fancy too. In her struggle to make ends meet, she would be owed for months and months, by organisations and by individuals. Some. Still. Have. Not. Paid! But she never lost the will to continue.
The disciplinarian of life. My goodness. Growing up, my mum and I were never close because of how tough I thought she was. I remember there would be days that the only things I would say to her might be ‘Good morning mummy’, ‘Good afternoon mummy’, ‘Goodnight mummy’. And she wasn’t selfish. Her disciplinary skills were graciously applied to every child that crossed her path, hers or not. She was generous like that. This discipline made its way into her adult circle. I remember when someone might have lost her husband and women from church would go visit. Other women might sit and cry with the recent widow and try as much to sympathise with her. My mum would sit at the corner and watch all that was going on. She had experienced it too, so nothing was new. The only new thing that would happen that day is when she gets up to address the widow. It’ll go something like this:
“My sister, dry your eyes and look at me. You know I’ve been where you are right now, so I will tell you the truth. Now look around at all the people here sympathising with you. Give them at most a month, and there will be no one here. They’ll all go back to their lives and the world will keep on turning. But you will be here, and your world will still be standing still. Now look at those children. They are yours. They are all you have. The quicker you realise this, the better it will be for you. Because you are responsible for them and you must do all to make sure their lives don’t end because you gave up, or because you couldn’t fight. So get up, and while you are crying, because you will cry, look at these children you are responsible for, and fight on. Pick up what is left and carry on. God will help you as He has helped me. Don’t depend on any man. The Lord is all you have!”
Sometimes I would feel sorry for the people who joined her in the visit because they might feel she’s exposing their hearts, or maybe not. Maybe some of them might stay longer than a month, and keep their promises to help, who knows, but when I remember those who broke theirs to my mum, I give her advice a quick nod of approval, still in gratitude to those who stuck by her and still do.
This woman, my mum, has helped raise thousands of children who are doing something great with their lives. For over 30 years, she gave of herself in many ways than I can account for, to see children become who they really can be. She served her local church with so much vigour, I would tease her by calling her ‘senior prefect‘. Her service to God in her local church could have cost her her life. Yes, there were death threats. There was and still is constant persecution from some quarters and I shake my head at them. She’s the life of every gathering. Her smile lights up everywhere she goes. Her strong fighting spirit drives the fears of even those around her. Her faith has made her whole.
Oh, I wish I could write more. I want to. Just so this woman, while she still lives, could know how much she means to her world. And we won’t wait to write a eulogy. We celebrate her even NOW! I celebrate you, Mum!
Let her weaknesses speak for themselves, but for me, I choose to celebrate her strengths that shine through in the midst of every challenge she has faced and is still facing. So today, on her 62nd birthday, I write this piece to honour the one who pushed me, and three others, out of her womb but has mothered thousands, by the grace only her God could afford.
Sixty-two happy cheers!
Happy birthday woman of valour! If all the words on earth are exhausted, I’ll never lack words to celebrate you, Mrs Esther Atinuke Ajoke Osunlaja (Nee Fabamwo)