I’d like to think that the Universe has a sense of humor. If I didn’t think that, then I’d be forced to believe that it has quite a mean streak and no one likes it when I get all glum and pessimistic. What pull-the-chair-out-from-underneath-me trick has the Universe concocted this time? Just as I was about to launch my eight-month journey into volunteering as an avenue toward career bliss, my priority as a mother sent me on a two week (and counting) detour.
Now, this was no “one-shot” whammy. We are talking a trifecta of illness, injury, and temporary single parenthood. I am blessed to have three, otherwise healthy, boys. Unfortunately, the flu is a nasty beast ... as is strep ... as is gastroenteritis ... as is one concussion and a sprained foot (thank you, flag football). All three boys were down for the count. My middle son is currently sacked out on the couch with strep. He’s had nothing but water, one bowl of soup, antibiotics and Skittles for two days (hey, I’m not above a bribe and Joe’s right ... that medicine is disgusting). Between trips to the ER, urgent care and the pharmacy, I still had to help my oldest with his science fair project and shop for Halloween costumes. Come to think of it, I need more Halloween candy due to the whole medicine equals candy bribery scheme … but I digress.
Naturally, my husband had a business trip to Reno right smack dab in the midst of all the chaos. He made the cursory attempt at “... wish I could stay ... big presentation ... rather be home ...” I appreciated it, but knew that last month when the tables were turned and it was me heading out of town for a conference (and a few days of peace), I left skid marks in the driveway as I tore down the street toward the airport. As our two-year-old stood at the door and waved goodbye to his daddy, I watched out for a CDC quarantine team to descend upon our home.
I’d like to be able to say that I still managed to accomplish all my volunteer duties during these last few weeks. It would prove a point that I CAN have it all! I am able to juggle high fevers and save the world at the same time! But I didn’t. I dropped the ball. As I sat in the ER with my concussion-afflicted son last Monday, it dawned on me too late that I was at that very moment supposed to be taking the helm of a domestic violence survivors’ group. Fortunately, the previous group leader was there to call women and cancel the group. No matter; I still felt that dull weight of guilt for having let these women down. Sitting there in the hospital with my eleven-year-old, I had no doubt that I was where I needed to be, but it had me asking some big questions. Why am I to trying to change the world when there is always unlimited need within the walls of my own house? Will my boys wonder if I care about the woman and children I try to save from violence more than I care about them? And bigger yet ... am I running away? Am I running away from being a wife and mommy, from chicken rice casseroles and Costco, from diapers and checking homework?
You see, these questions were not just brought on by one missed therapy group and an onslaught of health mayhem. I had just days earlier eagerly accepted a pro bono position to work with an anti-trafficking organization. This will require intense work and a two-week humanitarian trip to Cambodia. It is literally a dream come true for me. I didn’t hesitate to say, “yes, yes, YES!” Now, here I was gulping down the means-to-an-end known as hospital coffee and wondering if there was something wrong with me that I didn’t feel guilty.
Call it justification, call it inspiration, or call it too much caffeine, but I finally came to a conclusion. Yes, I believe that being a good mother means holding my boys’ hands and nurturing their hurts and hearts. I also believe that being a good mother means letting go of their hands sometimes in order to use my own. I know there will be those who roll their eyes at my idealism, but I want my children to know that they can make a difference in the way our world works.
It doesn’t work just to tell them; I have to show them. I have to show them that the world is a giant place with enormous trouble, but that with our hands it is possible to craft solutions and smooth the world down to a smaller size. I want them to take on an adventure when that golden opportunity arises. I want them walk in the direction that they fear most, because often that’s the direction we are meant to go. I want them to believe that courage is not the absence of fear, but action in the presence of fear. I want them to know that love comes from family, but it also comes from community and service. I want them to resonate with the statement that “justice is what love looks like in public.”
So, whether I’m leading group therapy on the other side of town or training volunteers on the other side of the globe, I hope they know that although I’m not right there holding their hands, I am still holding their hearts.