On Reflection

My mother, Cynthia

Cynthia Marlene Sealy

My background is not one of affluence, or what one could in any way term a cushioned life. That said, with all the challenges my siblings and I faced growing up, mum never allowed us to dwell in our misery or focus too much on the negative. And you know sometimes how you just want to kvetch, bitch, whine, or rail, even just for a moment? My mother would not have it. There were days you wanted to cry out: “For Pete’s sake, when on earth can I be depressed or miserable about something? Is this bad enough? Or this?”

But my mother would have none of it.

You could be in the gutter, face down and not a penny to your name and my mother could still find someone worse off than you! Even now. My mother ‘walks in faith’ and truly believes that God does not give us more than we can bear. I have needed her belief in recent years as I struggle to find my place in the world after the death of Bronnie.

What’s in a name?

Incidentally, I must stop calling my mother, well, ‘mother’ or ‘mum’. It does not ring true and for that explanation we need to go back to my growing up days for a moment.

I don’t think it would be giving away any family secrets to say that my father was a ‘challenging personality’, but now is not the time to try and unravel that particular ball of knotted string. Suffice it to say for the sake of this anecdote, that my father was the sole instrument as to why my ‘mother’ lost that moniker.

My father came home from work one day and chanced hearing me call my mother ‘Cyn’ (short for Cynthia). In deriding both of us, he declared: “I don’t know who the child is and who the parent in this house.” Had he left my silly, childish insurrection go unremarked, I probably would not have ceased upon yet another opportunity to rebel. As it was, I started calling mum ‘Cyn’ in secret – more accurately when my father was not in earshot. It was ‘Cyn’ this and ‘Cyn’ that to the point where my siblings caught on and starting doing the same thing. To the further point where future grandchildren were to know their grandmother affectionately and only as ‘Granny Cyn!’

An inspiration

Cyn is the most inspirational woman I know, and years of hardship have not embittered or diminished her. I finally learnt that her insistence on not focussing on the negative means we can focus on the way ahead; that the light at the end of the tunnel will come closer if only we constantly move towards it.

And, unlike her children, my mother is not a business woman. Certainly not in the sense corporate animals might understand that term, but my mother has made the most business sense and inspired me more than many I have encountered throughout my professional life.

As a good for instance, Cyn does not advocate that we keep pounding on the door of an unwilling customer, but asserts quietly: “Since that person is clearly not your customer, wouldn’t it be better to spend your time finding someone who is?” And it didn’t take diplomas, numerous brainstorming sessions or a team build of 50+ in an exotic location for her to arrive at this simple wisdom.

The other ‘business’ skill I learnt from Cyn was to strip away the bullshit and see what remains. And what remains is usually just people, acting like people, doing the things that people do. I therefore learnt to relate to people and not management theories. This was a particular skill my husband, Bronnie, also had and is one of the many reasons Cyn adored him and he her.

A willing advisor

I learnt fairly late in life that I could tell Cyn anything. I was secretive and guarded where ‘my life’ was concerned. Like most young people, I took off into the world with the arrogant belief that I was the sole orchestrator of that life. My foolish self believed that I had arrived at my life single handedly. I did not call as often as I should have done from lofty plains, nor did I confide the many pitfalls I found myself in. Cyn only became a true confidante when I, inevitably perhaps, hit bottom and instinctively reached up for the hand I knew would be there.

These were the times when I expected (and deserved) recrimination, but Cyn kept still, listened and advised. Yes, advised. I have learnt from Cyn that you do not watch your children plunge headlong on a dangerous path in the interests of ‘progressive parenting’. Although she was not immune to the occasional tetchy: “Since everyone around here is grown and knows everything, I’ll take my leave.” But Cyn never took her leave. Whether I was aware of it or not, she was always there.

Expecting the best

I learnt from my mother to be the disciplined rock for my own children when my time came. I grew up with the innate understanding that children do not rule the world, and the adult illumination because they do not yet have the experience to do so. That you do not need a ‘family conference’ to discuss and explore why a child has been asked to sweep the kitchen floor. That it is enough to ask a child to do something around the house not least because they have been asked to do it.

I was often asked at the school where I worked why the students always obeyed me without question and the answer was always the same – “Because I expect it.” Cyn always expected the best of me no matter what evidence I gave her to the contrary.

Parenting style

My parents had different parenting styles. My father favoured the laying on of hands, while Cyn offered up a conversation. Not a loud or dramatic conversation, but a quiet questioning about my motives and lack of thought as to how my actions would affect not just me but her and others in the family. Frankly, I would have preferred a clout. That understood contract where a kid does wrong, gets a whipping for it and the slate is wiped clean – ready to make the same mistake all over again. I learnt from Cyn that children remember the quiet conversation long after a sore backside has cooled down.

While I may have run from those conversations, it is heartening that my own children seek out their grandmother’s counsel willingly. Either to get her world view on a situation or to discuss their own mother’s unreasonable behaviour! Cyn gives them a fair hearing, non-judgement and an open door to keep coming back.

A question of morals

The proud and overly-confident mother knows for sure that a well-taught child will always take the right road – always make the right and moral decision. Conversely, I learnt from Cyn that everyone has an unguarded moment. That we will not always make the right decision; that we do not always follow the path we were trained for; but that a bad action does not necessarily make a bad person. The trick in her book was to watch out for these moments and resolve to do better – the real tragedy being to persevere on a path we know to be wrong.

My mother as philosopher

I manage today because of Cyn’s teachings, and what she continues to try and teach me, and I have over the years paraphrased her greatest teaching thus:

“Do not let adversity be your excuse to fail; instead, let it be the reason you succeed.”

It is because of you, Cyn, I continue to try.