“Thank you Mummy, dearest. Bestest Mummy in the whole wide world!”

These are the words my 8 year old son recited to me as I held out the glass of squash I had made for him on Mother’s Day a few weeks ago.

Not grammatically correct I know, but this was a family tradition passed down to me from my Mum. Whenever I had forgotten to say thank you for something she had done for me she would ask, ‘What do you say?’ and I would have to say this response.

I smiled and my heart and thoughts turned to my Mum who was 420 miles (676km) away in a different country. I thought about how much I was grateful to have her as my Mum. Of how much I had to be grateful for in my life and just how much of it was down to the leadership (and life) lessons she had taught me growing up.

Greatness in Gratitude

My Mum didn’t have a superiority complex, nor was she trying to brainwash me into thinking she was the best mother in the world when she looked at me expectantly, smiling patiently and waited for it to dawn on me and chant the above phrase.

Her point being that it took little of your effort or time to express your gratitude for something done for you and for/to the person who did it for you. Furthermore, not saying it displays an attitude of taking people and things for granted – it’s a form of complacency and laziness.

Making me repeat this little refrain meant I consciously acknowledged other people’s self-less actions and recognized that they were not necessarily under any obligation to do so. It made me appreciate even the little things that people do you for you every day.

It reminded me that a simple thank you will make that person feel appreciated valued, boost their self-esteem and increase their self-worth. It made them feel the best, the greatest.

Parties Need Prep

When it came to throwing a party my Mum gave it her all and my goodness was she good at it!

She loved nothing more than settling on a theme for my birthday parties (usually fancy dress) and then go to town on creating the themed party invitations, assembling my costume, baking the birthday cake and decorating it accordingly. She would spend hours devising quizzes and writing rhyming couplets as clues for a treasure hunt.

She was no less enthusiastic about adult dinner parties, thinking of parlour games that could be played afterwards if the spirit took them. She chose the music, food & drink all very carefully and would take the time to ensure the room had the right set-up & décor to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

She would consider and prepare for many alternatives that could be quickly and easily adapted to the crowd. She showed me how being able to play the good host meant anticipating and attending to your guest’s needs and making sure each and every single person not only had a fun, individual but also collective experience. Planning and forethought was key to this.

My Mum would contemplate the people coming, their likes and dislikes and how to appeal to all of them yet make them all feel they had been given individual consideration and were special. She would uncover the things that would unite the guests but pay equal attention to the things that made them different.

Don’t get me wrong though – she wasn’t one of these people that would try to foist fun onto her guests, whether they liked it or not. She knew that you cannot force fun, you can only enable it. She was a master at reading the mood in the room and if a guest came up with an idea she would happily run with it.

Wisdom follows Wonder

My Mum loved her reference books.

When I asked a question she’d often say, ‘If you don’t know, look it up.’ And so this is how I’d spend hours reading her library of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Roget’s Thesaurus, Oxford dictionary, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, Manwatching by Desmond Morris and her medical encyclopaedia among others.

In short she made me realise that you should stop wondering and start seeking opinion and discourse from multiple, reputable sources. And don’t stop asking questions – only through wonder can one pursue wisdom.

Empathy without the ‘ah’ is Empty

‘Still cries easily’ is a one-liner my teacher wrote on my end-of-term report.

I was 7 years old but it’s been one my Mum has reminded me and the family of on numerous occasions. I don’t believe it’s because she was ashamed – I sense it was more out of pride than anything.

To be honest I believe I inherited this trait from her – we would watch things on TV (Lassie, The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, and the news) or read things in the newspaper and cry together, passing the tissues back and forth between us.

It wasn’t even because we were necessarily sad at the plight someone was facing – we’d cry for happy or frustrating events too; be that pride in another’s achievements (even that of a complete stranger), the birth of a baby, an act of kindness, a romantic moment, a bitter-sweet advert, an injustice being done in the world, or justice being served…the list could go on.

We would revel in all aspects of the human race’s endeavours – allowing ourselves to feel all these things so keenly – letting events that happened to us directly or indirectly and giving them permission to affect us.

My Mum taught me it was OK to do this – that there was no shame in tears, no matter what some teacher wrote in my report card.

She showed me that you must put yourself, not just in other people’s shoes but inside their heads – take on what you know of their history, their background, their culture, their personality – let it feed your sentiments. Let the emotions that surface from that process live in you. Feel how it affects your body, mind and thoughts.

This is the ‘ah’ that one must experience to go from ‘empty’ to ‘empathy’.

And now, I hope, I am passing on these same lessons to my two children as they seem to have served me well.

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