funny facesThe sun is shining, the pools are crowded, laughter from kids of all ages fills the air.  There are beach trips, late nights playing in the neighborhood, impromptu cookouts, fireworks and all the popcorn, ice-cream and treats we don’t like our kids to have during the school year.  By all intents and purposes, it’s a child’s favorite season of the year… Summer. 

We love sleeping in a little more and enjoying less scheduled days. We take a pause from rushing our kids to and from school, to baseball, dance, piano or whatever five million extracurricular activities our over programmed kids have these days. Meltdowns over doing homework take a sabbatical.  Dinner times can be stretched later and acceptable bathing can come in the form of running through the sprinklers…at least a couple times a week. Summer is meant to be a carefree season, a time to just be and let go… so has been depicted by books, movies and my perceptions of others around me.

I haven’t written much (ok, literally not at all) during this “carefree season of more time and less stress” for a number of reasons of which I have spent the last month and a half trying pinpoint. So here it goes.. Summer has been especially hard for me this year. I feel guilty for even verbalizing that and this is why. 

I was raised in a house with two parents who worked full-time.  My mother, the first registered nurse midwife in West Virginia, has boasted a great career, advancing midwifery in the south, delivering four of her five grandchildren and teaching in the nursing school at UNC and Duke. She has always told my sister and I, that while being our mom was her most important job, she wouldn’t have been as fulfilled if it was her only job. 

For better or worse, I have inherited her sense of purpose.  I have always worked outside the home. And while I went through a new mommy meltdown (which I later discovered was super normal), when Charlie was born, thinking I wanted to stay home, I quickly recovered (ok… Michael, it was 6 months later). When the hormones settled, I returned to my passion, serving others through teaching.  

I have taught as both a classroom teacher and resource teacher, in high poverty schools and affluent schools, as well as at the local children’s hospital where I currently work.  I enjoyed the balance of being a mom and educator, giving my children the space to grow in a preschool environment, while I found fulfillment working with struggling readers, children and families in a hospital setting.  I was tired at the end of the workday, but re-energized when I came home to be a parent to Charlie and Ellie each afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always a perfect balance but the overall feeling of being useful outside the home generally compensated for the mom guilt we ALL (yes, you too!) place on ourselves.  And our kids, our family and I thrived in the way our lives were being led. 

Being a teacher, I had summers off. It was a break from one passion, with a chance to focus in on just being a parent. I looked forward to the end of the school year, for days where I could take the kids to the pool, stay in our pajamas all morning and go to afternoon movies… at least for the first few weeks.  But while I was thankful for the temporary schedule change and the extra time to spend with my children, I looked forward to returning to work when the time came. 

This year, I chose to take a break from teaching, to stay home with our newest baby and focus on growing the  Foundation. It was something that I never thought I would do, but felt right for our family. While this doesn’t qualify me as a stay at home mom, I have found that I’m less home and more on the road between meetings, naps, pick ups and drop offs.  My schedule is much less of a routine and more of a puzzle, whose pieces’ change daily. Each day is a new challenge on how to make it all work. And many days, it doesn’t work at all by my standards. I sometimes (often) wish I could sit at my desk and work eight hours straight, instead of waiting for Causby to nap or Ellie to have a playdate so I can focus on the Foundation for a few minutes.  

So here is where the guilt sets in…

When Summer hit this year, it didn’t feel like a relief for me, a time for rest and respite, but more of a burden of figuring out how to start a new puzzle, with more pieces and less time to finish.  I have felt frustrated and almost trapped by being a full-time parent. I miss writing, talking about projects and having discussions with adults over hunger, income generating activities and poverty.  I want to work and spend time researching and sharing the Foundation with others. I always looked forward to the summer, but this year it has been so different. I miss serving. 

Why can’t I just be grateful to have Ellie and Causby, to raise them and care for them,  especially since I no longer have the opportunity to do so with Charlie? I would give anything to have him back, to hold Charlie in my arms and spend time watching him grow and play.  So why does my grief not translate to fulfillment in simply caring for my other children? Why do I still crave more?

I have spent so much time thinking about this, getting angry for my inability to submit to this new role.  However, I have come to realize that just because I have experienced a great loss and continue to grieve Charlie, wanting him and missing him with every breath I take, doesn’t mean I am not still me. I am actually more me since Charlie died, than I ever allowed myself to be before.  Finding fulfillment and joy is of the utmost importance in this fragile life we live. 

Charlie’s death has taught me to love harder, fiercer and stronger by doing the things that make me the most happy.  And if I am being honest with myself, being a stay at home mom is not one of those things. It doesn’t mean I love Ellie or Causby any less. In fact, knowing who I am and what I need, helps me to be a better parent. It gives me the ability to love them even more.

Our family is the biggest piece in my puzzle and that will never change.  But in order for my puzzle to be complete, I have to be me, I have to do more.  I have to serve my community, help those around me and grow Charlie’s Heart Foundation.  And that’s ok. It’s ok to be me.