One of the most valuable lessons my mother taught me was buried in what later – much later than when Mom was saying it – became known as a sarcastic put-down.
My mother did a lot of teaching through Mom-isms. She talked; we listened. Like any child, I sometimes embraced what she said and sometimes rejected it.
“It’s not always about you, Sherri,” was one that usually fell in the middle. It was seldom something I wanted to hear but was often exactly what I needed to hear.
My mother probably used the phrase as much as she did with me because she was intent on raising a confident, self-sufficient girl. If that sounds contradictory, you haven’t had the “pleasure” of having a hard-headed, opinionated, confident daughter in your home!
Mother, widowed twice by age 36, knew all about moving forward in less than ideal circumstances. She knew about having to make decisions when the world was falling apart. She knew about portraying an air of confidence and self-sufficiency when your heart was beating too fast and your stomach was somersaulting. She was a lioness when it came to her children. It would have been very easy for those children to adopt an air of extreme self-importance.
And she wanted me to know that strength was my friend, that confidence would serve me well. She also wanted me to be kind and humble.
So, when I would whine about this or that or how some other person might react to an action I was taking, Mother broke it down to a basic belief: “Do what’s right in God’s eyes. It’s not always about you, Sherri.”
Realistically, the only way we have of looking at the world around us is through our own eyes. We see and react to things based on our nature, our own belief system, our past experiences. So to tell me that it’s “not about me” can seem to be discarding all that with a wave of the hand that indicates my view isn’t important.
That’s not what my mother was teaching me. Her lesson, when distilled down through maturity and a lot of living, was actually very freeing. She was reminding me that others mattered. She was also telling me that because we all “count,” I wasn’t the center of the universe. I wasn’t Atlas, holding up the world for everyone’s well-being except my own aching shoulders. By reminding me that I was just a cog in the wheel – albeit a confident one – I could turn at my own speed and not worry about what everyone else was doing or thinking.
It was a good lesson to learn, especially when coupled with all the other Mom-isms she taught me. Don’t go to the grocery store in curlers. Always wear lipstick. But, if you get caught in the grocery store in curlers and without lipstick, get over it. It’s not always about you.
Sherri Gardner Howell, a former features writer and manager at the News Sentinel and publisher at Blount Today, has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.