I’m on a conference call with my clients, discussing the production schedule for their exclusive, high-profile conference that is just weeks away. “We’ll be adding another speaker to Thursday,” the content producer is saying, when a sudden, high-pitched shriek pierces the conversation. A startled silence follows. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to drop out of this call,” I say quickly. “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
I jump up from my desk and sprint down the hall to find my daughter in the bathroom, hovering over the toilet, miserable and wailing and very, very sick. I clean her up, put her to bed, take her temperature, decide 102.6 doesn’t warrant a call to the doctor yet, bestow kisses and hugs and a plastic “just in case” bowl, clean up the bathroom, mentally add paper towels to the shopping list, start a load of laundry, and sit back down at my desk to draft a breezy yet apologetic email explaining my sudden departure from the phone call.
Mornings such as these can prompt a work-at-home parent to seriously question the wisdom of both having and eating this particular lifestyle cake. Sure, those who go to work at an actual workplace probably miss their kids during the day, but at least they don’t have to get barfed on during meetings. People who stay home to be full-time parents may long for conversations with other adults, but at least they have the time and space (and casual clothing) preferred by 4 out of 5 barfing children.
For those of us who work from home, however, the dividing line isn’t necessarily clear. The clothes get ruined, the phone calls interrupted, the kids’ brains vaporized by the TV, the meetings missed and the parent? The parent is stretched taffy-thin and feels that no matter how hard she tries, she can never give 100% to anything, because everything else is always clamoring for her simultaneous attention.
Of course all parents learn – if they haven’t already – how to multitask. In fact I think the first day we bring a child home we grow another set of arms as well as those proverbial eyes in the back of our heads. Yet there is something about the compartmentalization of work and family that is much harder to do without the geographic help of a separate workplace. Even if you can lock yourself in your home office (which, alas, I cannot – my desk is in the kitchen) and you have a babysitter watching the kids, there is clearly a universal law dictating the children hurl themselves repeatedly at your door demanding scissors and tape, or concuss themselves Evil Knieveling off the sofa, or convince the babysitter it really is ok to use the blender without a lid when said babysitter is afraid of heights, leaving you to climb the ladder and clean berry smoothie off the light fixtures.
None of which to say it can’t be done; not in the least. We do it every day, hundreds and thousands of us. (I myself am getting a Sharpie tattoo on my elbow from my charming two-year-old as I type these very words.) But it is a challenge. Sometimes we need bolstering, be it in the form of a stiff drink, a foot massage or a good guffaw over a fellow parent’s blog post.
So pass the pretzels, people, and tell me your Dickensian work-at-home woes. I am all tears.