DING! It’s hard to tell which notification just came through over my phone, above the noise of Monster Math Squad and the rat-a-tat of my fingernails on the keyboard. All I know for sure is that I have about six million more things to do today, and only have time for about three and a half before the evening bus runs, bringing home my 12 and 13 year olds. And then it will be on to homework and supper preparations, and then bath time and bed time, with more than a moderate amount of refereeing all the kids thrown in for good measure. If I’m lucky and determined enough, I might even squeeze in a bite to eat while it’s warm, and a hug or even a kiss from my husband when he comes home from work.
“Momma, do you need to check your emails?” sing-songs my adorable four-year-old with widened eyes. Bless him. He probably knows more about the notifications on an iPhone than any adult in my circle of acquaintance. He should; he hears them enough. Now if only he were capable of answering any of them.
I had thought when I decided to work from home that it was the best idea in the history of EVER. “What’s not to love?” I said to my oh-so-naive self, three years ago. I get to have a career that I love, bank a paycheck, stay home with my babies, set my own hours, be here when the kids need me, keep my resume from going stagnant while still not missing a moment of these precious years with the lights of my life…It’s the perfect solution!
I’ll pause right here and be really, really clear: Working from home is fairly fantastic, and I wouldn’t trade a second of it for all the salt in the ocean. I know that I am extremely lucky to be working from home. I love my kids, I love my job, and I love our life.
But let me explain to you why it’s not so perfect…
I work from home with a four year old. I could probably just stop right there, and if you have ever spent any quality time with toddlers or pre-schoolers while trying to complete a NON-child-related task, I’ve pretty much said all you need to hear.
Back in the early days, I tried to set up a home office in the spare bedroom. YES! I said to myself. I’ll set my stuff up in here, away from the TV, away from the kids, where I can have some peace and privacy, and get some REAL work done. That lasted about a month or so. No matter how much I wanted it to, I just couldn’t schedule myself a block longer than half an hour away from something that needed done, and I really can’t get anything meaningful accomplished in 30 minutes. I didn’t want my toddler unsupervised for ten minutes, let alone hour blocks! And so I thought to myself, I’ll just work while he’s napping or playing or watching TV. Newsflash: They don’t nap forever. They won’t play by themselves forever. And there’s only so much TV that I can conscientiously allow him to watch at a time. And so I resolved that I’d work sporadically during the day, while spending time with the little one and doing housework, and then quality time with the rest of the family in the evenings, and just get the bulk of real work done at night after everyone goes to bed.
And here we are. I haven’t had a date with my pillow before 2 or 3 am in over a year, and it’s usually closer to 4 am, although I have been known to still be up when the birds start singing. I subsist on caffeine and nicotine and Google Drive. I can’t remember the last time I spent any meaningful amount of time in bed, erm, doing laundry, because my husband has to get up early to go to a “real” job. We get sitters and we have date nights, but I really miss going to bed as a couple. Sleeping or not, there’s comfort in not bedding down alone every morning as the sun comes up while everyone else is getting ready to start their day.
Need I even mention the friends, family, and neighbors who think that working from home is synonymous with having loads of free time to do whatever, whenever you choose? Or these precious gems:
What do you DO all day?
Why do you stay up so late?
Can’t you just do that tomorrow?
If I were home all the time like you, my house would be immaculate!
I wish I got to sleep as late as I wanted!
I wish I got paid to sit at home all day!
Must be nice to get to work in your pajamas!
…Ok, I’ll give you that last one. That shit is pretty sweet. I have been asked by my kids why I’m putting on nice clothes and makeup, only to reply to them that Mom has a video conference for work and doesn’t really want her boss to see her looking like the ‘before’ picture in a makeover shoot.
Working from home is not some clever euphemism for lazing around at home with the cherubs while still drawing a salary. If you want to get paid, you have to churn out real work, just like at a “real” job. I work real work and I get paid real money and it takes real effort and real time to accomplish this real task. Just because I don’t have to drive across town to an office building and punch a time clock doesn’t mean that I’m not a productive member of working society. And just because my sleeping hours aren’t ‘normal’ sleeping hours doesn’t mean a damn thing either (Do people throw that at night shift workers? I just don’t get that, and never have. I work my work hours and I sleep my sleep hours just like anyone else; it just happens to be in a different time slot than the norm.).
I could probably go on and on, but the bottom line is that while it all seems like the best of every world, I still feel like I’m failing something somewhere, trying to do too much all at the same time. I can’t fully focus on my child as much as I think I should, because work needs to be done; I can’t fully focus on my work as much as I think I should, because my child needs my attention; and both need to take a time out when the dryer buzzes or we won’t have any clean towels at bath time! I’m just always on the clock. And, although I do feel like I’m always slighting something because of the hectic mess that is my life, I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. I thrive on chaos and wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I actually had any real downtime.
Oh, wait. Yes, I would. Sleep. It’s called sleep, if I remember correctly. It rhymes with “heaven” and tastes like cotton candy. I’m sure I’ll get around to that in time, but right now, it’s almost daylight- time to get everyone up for work and school and start breakfast and throw in some laundry before I call it a night. Err, morning. Whatever.