Joining the Family Business

Joining the Family Business

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Joining the Family Business

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically — to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside.

~Stephen Covey

Fifteen years ago, the most important story of my life was being written . . . but I was oblivious. It was a story overflowing with love, bleeding with sacrifice, and brimming with hope. It was my mother’s story – “Résumé of the Heart” — written for me, about me, and in spite of me. “Look!” said Mom one day with a hint of humble excitement as I returned home from school. I was a preoccupied preteen at the time, more concerned with boys and the color of my backpack. “One of my stories was just published in Chicken Soup for the Mother & Daughter Soul!”

I had to admit that I was pretty impressed. My mom was published in a real live book. I celebrated with her as any twelve-year-old with her head in the clouds would. I grinned at her name in print, showed off her copy of the book to friends, and quietly glowed with pride and excitement. But it has taken me fifteen years to understand the real moral of the story — that even as I read my dear mother’s words and failed to grasp their true significance, she was writing my own story, too.

I’d read the words, but didn’t realize how my mom’s heart continued to ache as she flashed her encouraging smiles that propelled me forward. She watched me grow through high school, giving me nudges now and then, and stayed strong as I spread my wings to soar toward every mother’s worst nightmare — the military. And my mom kept sacrificing, standing steady as my rock, as I soared through four strenuous years at West Point, the successful start to my Army career, my wedding, and the birth of my first child.

Mom was always there for me, no matter what I needed. When driving around hopelessly lost, I knew my mom would drop what she was doing to answer my phone call and help navigate from a distance. My dad joked that I’d never need OnStar; I had MomStar. She became Dial-a-Recipe when I wanted to master her special dishes, my greatest prayer buddy when I sent out pleas for prayer, and she had burned a path to the post office sending morning sickness remedies when I was pregnant.

Yet it was only as I looked into my beautiful newborn daughter’s eyes four years ago that my mother’s story really hit home for the first time. I finally began to understand her words — or rather, live them. I was a woman in the workforce suddenly losing my heart to the most fragile miracle I had ever encountered.

I’d come face to face with the disconnect between the world’s standard of a successful professional and my new role as a mother. My five-year military service contract guaranteed a comfortable salary and ample opportunity for advancement. I spent every day working among heroes. I answered to “Captain,” and my soldiers recognized me as a leader.

My résumé was nothing short of impressive. But as I returned to work, I realized that more than anything I wanted to turn right back around and stay home with my daughter — witnessing her first words, watching her first steps, responding to her every need. I ached for those things that my mother had written about. Her words were becoming my own, and as our family grew, they burned their way into my heart. Despite my extensive education and diverse opportunities, I longed for the tiniest increments of time with my children, when I could lend a helping hand, open a storybook, or share in the discovery of a moment. I began counting the days until my service commitment would end so I could finally be a stay-at-home mom — it seemed the day couldn’t come soon enough.

Thankfully, that day did come. I am blessed to spend each day with our three beautiful children. I answer to “Mommy” now. I am finally the one kissing boo-boos to make them better. I push aside my own dreams to encourage those of my children. But with my résumé buried at the bottom of the pile, my mother’s words ring truer than ever. When my daughter’s school registration form demands to know my profession, it’s difficult to ignore the inner twinge as I write “Homemaker” instead of “U.S. Army Officer.” I’m met with the humbling realization that the world doesn’t always understand the merits of my new job — one of the most important in the world.

No, I’ll never be featured as Time magazine’s person of the year, nor will my résumé boast any great accomplishments beyond the career I so quickly left behind. But I do know that I have gained my own “Résumé of the Heart” — the one, I am learning, that will count most in the long run. As my mother so eloquently put it fifteen years ago as she wrote our story:

“Mine is the kiss that melts away the pain of a scraped knee. Mine is the heart that swells while witnessing each new triumph. Mine is the smile that bravely encourages independence, while silently wrestling with the ache of letting go. After all, there’s nothing heroic about hugs — unless you’re on the receiving end.”

~Megan C. Hjelmstad

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