As a young girl, my mother was already building her inner pillar of strength. The eldest daughter of two hardworking parents in a township with no resources, she had to step up and take care of her five younger siblings. To this day, they still have the deepest respect for her, and make no decisions without first consulting “Our Sis.”
When she was only eleven-years-old, the youngest of her siblings was badly burnt across most of his neck and back as a toddler. She nursed him back to health and took him for all his follow-up treatments. Forty-seven years later, she was the one holding his hand as he took his last breath. With quiet strength, she consoled and comforted him whispering, “Don’t worry I am here, I’m not going anywhere, you have nothing to fear, leave everything to me.” Her presence calmed the whole house, allowing him to leave this earth peacefully.
As a qualified teacher, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom, she always helped me passionately and creatively with my school projects. In Grade 1, our teacher wanted the class to create a table display illustrating hygiene. All my classmates brought along empty soap packets and old face cloths, which in my mind did not depict cleanliness.
With my mom involved, we were able to create a far more realistic depiction of hygiene. Filling a toothpaste tube with water so that it appeared unused was just one of the tricks up my mom’s sleeve. This was so convincing that my teacher called me aside explaining that the idea of the table was to display used items, but I managed to convince my teacher that the realistic display was much better. This is one of the many memories of my mom teaching me to go the extra mile and to stand my ground.
Growing up, there were many challenges. My dad was retrenched twice and I saw the disappointment and despair on dad’s face, but my mother’s positivity never wavered. She was ready for anything, and even when things looked hopeless, she would show us how we would make things work. For mom, it was an opportunity, not only to weather the storm but also to thrive and grow from it. That is exactly what we did.
Through every hardship our family faced, she kept us together. She strategised and saved ensuring both her daughters graduated with postgraduate degrees. The graduation ceremonies were a tribute to her and in part were her graduation ceremonies, because all her hard work had paid off.
Even during illness, her inner pillar stood strong. I will never forget the day she called to tell me she had suffered a stroke. I was sitting in the library with my sister and my mom’s usual cheery voice on the other end of the line jarred with her devastating news, “I don’t want you to worry. Everything is fine, I just had a little stroke, but I’m fine now.” A few days later, she was discharged from hospital and returned home. Although, she could not walk or talk properly, and she could not use the left side of her body effectively, she remained strong and determined. It was heartbreaking seeing the effort on her face as she tried to put a shoe on without her foot moving an inch. Recovery was tough, but she was tougher. It has been seven years now, and one would never know she ever suffered a stroke.
As always, she never misses a beat and views everything as a lesson. Although she was grateful to have a family to comfort and support her, she is more grateful knowing that in order to survive she had to rely on herself. She refused to give up and to depend on anyone else. She believed nothing would be better than doing it herself. She kept repeating to the doctors and nurses, “I know my own body. I know what’s right for me.” My mother has always been a pillar of strength, teaching and inspiring me to be the same and always to take a stand. She taught me never to let other people declare themselves an expert on my existence, “You decide who you are. You decide where you want to go, never listen to the naysayers. If you work hard through the challenges people throw at you, you will succeed.” I am proud to call her mom. I am happy to know that despite a difficult life, she loves life and continues to appreciate her achievements and achieve more every day.
Miltoinette Cupido is a human development advisor for South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in the Western Cape. She writes in her personal capacity. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, special series on celebrating Phenomenal Women, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.