Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Searching for More Makes You Satisfied with Less

Last year I decided to do something that scared me and submit and essay to a magazine. It was sort of a bucket list item of mine and there happened to be a contest in one of my favorite publications so I figured, why not?!?

My entry was not selected, but I am still pretty proud of myself for trying and putting myself out there to be judged. It is so unlike me to do so.

So here it is, my story of how a small decision changed my life dramatically.

When Searching for More Makes You Satisfied with Less
By Annah Mary Summy

Sometimes the most dramatic change in your life doesn’t feel like the most dramatic at the time. It can take years before you can see its effect and how that road led you in such a different trajectory than you had planned. 

I grew up as the oldest child of a typical middle class family. My mom worked outside of the home for most of my life. I watched my mom through the years and it was clear that she never loved her job. No, she didn’t openly dislike what she did every day, and I am sure she always had a smile on her face around her coworkers. But when she came home at night she was always tired and defeated and I believe she wished she could just be at home doing the things that made her happy. Seeing her struggle with this made a significant impression on me. I decided, early in life, that I would do whatever it would take to find a job I loved, be successful, and enjoy going to work every day. That was the plan. Everything else would be gravy.

Luckily, while in college I met a man who completely supported my plan. He loved me and my big ideas for the future. I thought of myself a feminist back then, although this was based on nothing more than a desire to work out side the home, achieve my career goals, and earn as much respect (if not money) as my husband. Part of that deal meant sharing the household workload 50/50, which seemed to be a solid home economics plan. We split the laundry down the middle and took turns making dinner. But everything in your first year of marriage was more fun and romantic when you did it together, even the household chores. So we did it all together. We cooked together, exercised together, grocery shopped together, did laundry together, and dreamed big dreams together.  It was a simple way to approach marriage and it worked beautifully.

After grad school we moved to Memphis eager to begin our lives as official grown ups. Steve began his work in the medical device industry, while I began making my mark in the advertising community. I job-hopped for a few years before finally landing as an in-house designer in the corporate world of finance. I loved the unusual combo of creative design plus the corporate perks of a nice salary, decent benefits, and a fancy cubicle I pretended was “my office”.  My career was on track, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting more.

More was on the way. Less than 9 months later, our first daughter was born. And just like that, I was a mom. She was beautiful and healthy and I was terrified of her. How was I going to be a mother and manage everything else? After spending a life altering six weeks on maternity leave, I returned to work a sleep deprived, weepy mess. My new reality of juggling work and motherhood was the hardest thing I had ever done. 

Work became my personal oasis. It was a welcomed break from the constant crying, the spit up, and the dirty diapers. I felt guilty being away from her; but worse, I felt guilty for enjoying being away from her. I eventually got over the guilt and savored being back in a quiet office, wearing “real” clothes (albeit covered in spit up), and engaging in adult conversations, while Amelia spent her days with more qualified caregivers.

We found the holy grail of daycare centers. It was close to home and the hours were wonderful. The fact that they adored my chubby faced angel was just icing on the cake. People say that parenting “takes a village” and my village was First Baptist Day School. By the time she was 6 months old, we had settled comfortably into our new life. Our daily schedule began to run like a well-oiled machine again.

I have since learned that parents should never get too comfortable, because that is the moment things start unraveling. The next year was filled with ear infections, stomach viruses, and random childhood illnesses like Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. (Not to be confused with Hoof and Mouth disease. I learned that one the hard way.) I was quickly introduced to the daycare’s “24 hour fever free rule” that states “A child must be fever for 24 hours before returning to school.” While I appreciated the need for this rule, I also found it terribly inconvenient.

Amelia had close to ten ear infections during her first 2 years and ran significant fever with each one. As you can imagine, my sick/personal day bank was depleted very quickly. We were constantly shuffling around trying to find people to watch her until she passed the fever free test. Our well-oiled machine was breaking down and that’s when some serious discussions started taking place in the Summy household.

Our tidy arrangement was being challenged. He talked about his expectations for our family, and I realized they were completely different than my own. He liked the idea of our children growing up with their mom always around. I desperately wanted to do the work I loved AND be a mother. We had reached our first major marital roadblock. It was clear that compromises needed to be made; yet neither party was willing to sacrifice. After many loud debates, we finally agreed that I would continue to work; however, the responsibility of finding childcare would fall completely on me. He was washing his hands of this particular task, and  it was a trade-off I was willing to accept in order to succeed in my career. 

But something had started to change. There was a shift that had taken place in my head and, more importantly, my heart. Suddenly, I was less fulfilled by the daily grind. The view from my cubicle wasn’t quite as picturesque and I had trouble staying focused in meetings. The recognition from by boss that I once so desperately craved was no longer as meaningful. I still enjoyed the creative outlet, but I quickly became resentful of the time it took away from my family. I knew I was not excelling at either job and something had to be done.  

It took me a while to admit my feelings to Steve (or even to myself). When I finally let him in on my struggle, we spent the next several months praying and exhaustively pro/conning all of the options. Being married to an engineer means no significant decision in our life is resolved in less than six months. During this time of limbo, I was impossible to be around. My feelings were worn externally like accessories that could be seen from miles away. I agonized over giving up the career that I had chased since I was a teenager. I was mourning the loss of the “Me” I was striving to be. 

“What if I was bored by being mommy all day? 
“What if I resented my child for this sacrifice?”
“What if I lost my identity?” 
These shame filled questions became my private conversations with God. I had no other option but to pray over and over for God to bless this decision.

In January 2009, with much trepidation, I made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. I took a leap of faith having no idea what this new reality would look. I definitely didn’t expect it to dramatically change the way I viewed the world.

The days were hard at first. I had no schedule and no way to measure my progress. My boss was a 3 year old and she rarely gave me useful feedback. I ran test studies on how many days in a row I could wear an outfit before someone noticed. I began watching the Food Network religiously, until I was as confident a cook as Ina and Giada. Life soon became a fast paced whirlwind of babies and toddlers, preschool and carpool, and (for the love) potty training. Without realizing it, I developed a spirit of contentment in those everyday tasks of cooking, cleaning, nurturing, and encouraging my family. As a mother of three now, I can’t remember ever taking time to lament over the loss of my career. (Although I do miss the lunches and quiet time at my desk.) Slowly, my priorities and life goals changed. 

I’ve spent everyday of the last seven years trying to find my way as a mom. It has been a difficult and exciting journey. I don’t have the personality to successfully pull off the working mom’s life. Those mothers have such a special, God given gift to perform on a very high level every day. That is not my gift, and I know that now. I also know that this job that I so adamantly opposed is so much more than carpool and feeding hungry mouths. It is an opportunity to be the most prominent voice in my children’s heads. I get to fill them with all my best words, guide them with love, and then sit back and watch them grow. 

This is the “more” for which I had been searching. The decision to walk away from my dream to be at home has affected the way I approach every day of my life. I have found my niche in serving others through serving my kids and telling my story along the way. I get to live the mom life my mother wanted, and I am so proud to honor her in that way.  

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