Friday, May 9, 2014

Thank You, Mom, for this Extraordinary Life

When we lived in Michigan I worked for the American Red Cross as the Director of Volunteer Resources. I loved nearly all of my responsibilities, as well as the people with whom I spent my time, and because I knew my work made a difference in my community, I had absolutely no reservations about sending my kids to daycare three days a week so that I could spread my professional wings. As a working mom, I sought out magazine, newspaper, and online articles and stories offering "proof" that my decision to spend significant time away from Will and Hallie in order to further my career wouldn't leave them permanently scarred. I found plenty and breathed a sign of relief.

When we moved to Texas I walked away from my "office job" and, after a great deal of thought and prayer and multi-atribute utility theory calculations (I'm married to a super nerd), opted not to apply for a new position with the Red Cross...or any other organization, for that matter. I chose to stay connected to the Red Cross as a local volunteer and national contributor, and began to dedicate more time to my dream, long-shot, side, part-time, and/or work-from-home job as a freelance writer and blogger. And while I write for as many hours as my schedule allows each week, I am, for all intents and purposes, a stay-at-home mom; at this point in my life I can relate to parents who stay or work from home much more so than I can relate to parents who spend their days working in an office. I still search for magazine, newspaper, and online articles and stories to support my role, only now I look for material offering "proof" that my decision to spend significant amounts of time away from the full-time workforce in order to further my relationship with Will and Hallie won't leave my future career options permanently scarred. Unfortunately, there isn't much.

Interestingly, nearly everything I read indicates that while staying home with my kids is a completely legitimate (and for some parents, a necessary) choice, my decision to do so will greatly impact - and not in a good way - my ability to rejoin the full-time workforce in five or 10 years.

And to be honest, right now that "fact" doesn't bother me. I know that, at least for the time being, Tom and I have opted for the arrangement that makes the most sense for us.

Sometimes knowing in our hearts that we've chosen what's best for our families isn't enough, and we feel like we need to justify our decision - whether it be to work outside the home, stay home full-time, or something in between - to parents and non-parents alike. Recently, for example, I've heard a number of stay-at-home moms make comments (and I've made similar comments myself) like, "I'm raising our country's future leaders" and "little Jimmy will change the world when he grows up". I've heard myself and others justify our seemingly ordinary lives with the extraordinary lives our children will someday lead.

This started me thinking about my mom, and what she envisioned "adult Erin" accomplishing back when I spent most of my time playing with Barbies and running through the sprinkler in the backyard. Did she use these phrases to justify staying home* with me and my sister when we little, instead of working full-time? Did she proudly say to those who questioned her decision, "I'm raising our country's future leaders" or "little Erin is going to change the world"?

And now…now that I'm a stay-at-home mom and not a national leader or changing the world, is she disappointed? Have I failed her by choosing an what might appear to others as a terribly ordinary life over an extraordinary one?

I hope not.

I came across this poem a couple of months ago, and I hung onto it knowing that at some point I would share it here.

Make the Ordinary Come Alive

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.

- William Martin

I ask myself again…is she disappointed? Have I failed her?

I know not.

Why? Because this poem had to have been written about her. Perhaps a young William Martin watched her raise her two daughters and then captured the foundation on which she parented in poem form.

She taught - and showed - us that life is about the choices we make. She taught us that we can choose to work full-time, to stay home full-time, to work part-time, or to throw up the hail mary pass and pursue the careers we always wanted but thought we could never have. That we can choose how to best support and nurture our children. That we can choose who to love, how to worship, when to give, and when to walk away. That we can choose resilience, perseverance, generosity, and kindness as our guides. That we can choose to see beauty around us and find joy in the most fleeting of moments. That we can choose to be happy.

She taught me that if ordinary is what makes me happy, I can choose ordinary and make it extraordinary along the way.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thank you for this extraordinary life.

*My mom is a Registered Nurse and worked part-time throughout my childhood. In my eyes she was a stay-at-home mom, but I viewed her this way only because she created for herself a work schedule that allowed her to stay home with us most of the time and work weekends and nights when my dad could take care of us. I realize now how significant her sacrifice, and I have tremendous respect for her commitment to both her family and her life-saving career.

Note: Please don't think that I am not in any way pitting moms who work in different ways against one another. I have been on both sides of the fence and therefore know firsthand that each choice comes with its own set of positives and negatives. My goal in writing this post was simply to thank my own mother for giving me an extraordinary foundation on which to build my happily ordinary life.

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