98: What Do You Do?

98: What Do You Do?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

What Do You Do?

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another.

~James Matthew Barrie

“We think she has pneumonia again — you need to come get her,” said the day care provider.

“I’m on my way,” I assured her, and turned back to my computer screen. Staring back at me was an incomplete sales proposal I was preparing for an upcoming pitch. My first thought was, “Come on... how am I going to get this proposal done in time?”

I got in the car and tears rolled down my face when I realized how wrong I was. My eighteen-month-old daughter was sick again and she needed me. It was the second time she had pneumonia in two months, after six months of ear infections, high fevers and a persistent cough. She was ill and she needed her mother — how could I be thinking about anything but her? I began to cry that day and I scarcely stopped for two weeks. I soon realized it was a combination of postpartum depression, worry for my child and guilt about work that led to my mini-breakdown. Even then a part of me knew I had to give up the career I loved.

Our doctor recommended a short leave of absence from work to give me a chance to gain strength and help Zoey recover from pneumonia. After a few weeks, Zoey’s lung specialist said she was improving but there was some lung damage and the best way to get her healthy would be to keep her away from germs. That meant staying home. I knew what I had to do. My husband and I discussed our choices, reviewed our finances and I left my job.

I felt like I was walking off the edge of a cliff. I didn’t know who I was without my career. It had been such a huge part of my life for twenty years before I had a child. Who was I without the challenge, the adrenaline, the relationships and purpose? The answer seemed simple — I was Zoey’s mom — but I felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. My depression got worse. I cried every day, but my daughter did get healthy and thrived at home with me.

I didn’t fit in anywhere. My work friends didn’t know how to relate to me as a stay-at-home mom. They began to communicate with me differently — they stopped asking my opinion of business scenarios and I felt they no longer had respect for my opinion. I tried moms’ groups but they only wanted to talk about their children, diapers and the best place to buy groceries. I wanted stimulating conversation, challenging debates and something to keep my adrenaline pumping. I wasn’t getting what I needed anywhere.

I loved my daughter. Her very existence was a miracle. But I was raised to believe a woman could do it all and that was the life I wanted. The problem was finding a way to get what I wanted for myself while still giving my family what they needed. After several months of therapy and medication, my new life began to come into focus. I realized that I was so much more than my career.

I started by asking myself what I would do if money were no object. I would care for my family, write, travel, help people who needed it, and spend time with the people I loved. I began to review the journals I had always kept, especially during the tough times. I started to organize them into manuscripts. I wrote some short stories and made my first story submission to a publisher.

For two years I continued writing, did volunteer work in my community and for charities that had touched my life in some way. I had a second child. One day I received a call to do a project for a former colleague. The project took several weeks; I put my kids in day care part-time and was very stimulated. My kids loved having other children to play with at day care and my husband, once again, saw a smile on his wife’s face and a sparkle in her eye.

Today, I still struggle to achieve the right balance, as we all do, but I’m getting there. I care for my family. I walk my daughter to school and am home to help her with homework in the afternoon. I am home with my kids if they are sick and don’t feel guilty about a job I can’t get to. My friendships changed. Some adjusted, some went away and I found some new community friends who share more of my beliefs and interests. I volunteer at my daughter’s school and help a few charitable organizations. My husband and I have a weekly date night and we travel as much as we can. Most surprising of all, I published the one and only short story I ever submitted — and you can find it in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery. I continue to write and submit stories to publishers for consideration.

Before I left my career, people would ask me what I did and I would answer, “I run sales and marketing for a small software company.” When I first stayed home with Zoey the reply became, “I used to be a software executive but my daughter got sick and I am home getting her well.” Now the answer is, “I do lots of things; I care for my kids, love to travel, do volunteer work, I’m a business consultant, a wife, daughter, sister, friend, I love to write... should I go on?”

Here’s what I learned — what I do is more than the title on my business card. My gravestone will not say the kind of businessperson I was but how I lived my life. I want it to say “she lived it to the fullest,” and that is how I try to spend my days.

~Sheri Gammon Dewling

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