The Workaday World

(The first part of this was originally posted on my other blog, Training Wheels. I would just link you to that post but the website doesn’t give me such an option, so I have to repost the entire thing here. Skip ahead if you’ve already read it....)

The other day I herded the boys outside toward the car, and like usual Kostyn took a detour into the side yard while I was strapping Evan into his car seat. He picked up a stick and started tapping things with it.

When I finished wrestling his little brother’s limbs into submission, I motioned for Kostyn to head over to his side of the car.

“OK, Kostyn, your turn!” I called. He ignored my request and continued beating things with the stick. Tap, tap, tap.

“Come on, Kostyn! Let’s go!” I urged. This time he addressed me but didn’t look up from what he was doing.

“I’m working, Mommy. You have to wait,” he said, targeting a random patch of grass. Tap, tap, tap.

In an instant, I was the child and he was the parent. I stood there, silent, watching.

“I just have a little bit of work to do. You have to wait,” he said again. He moved toward a row of rocks. Tap, tap, tap.

Then he whirled around to a low-hanging branch. Tap, tap, tap. The leaves shook. Evan sucked his thumb and watched his brother out the open car door. I remained silent, thinking of how nonsensical and pointless it must look to him when I am tap, tap, tapping on the laptop keyboard.

“No, honey, I can’t play a game with you right now.” Tap, tap, tap.

“Yes, I will read that book to you in just a few minutes. Mommy’s almost done working.” Tap, tap, tap.

I try hard to save my work for when the boys are sleeping, be that in the afternoon or late at night. But there are days when phone interviews overlap with the end of nap time, or no nap is taken but deadline nears. It is a blessing for me to be able to work from home. But unfortunately, that sometimes means I have to work, at home.

When their father kisses their foreheads and heads out the door in the morning, there is no whining or carrying on. Only a happy “Bye, Daddy!” as we continue to read books or talk about what’s for breakfast. Working is what Daddy does, it’s something that has been associated with him in their little minds from the beginning. Daddy goes to work every day, then he comes home and plays with us.

But Mommy is here all the time. She’s the one who’s supposed to drop everything to read the book they bring, the one who is supposed to jump up to play Hide-and-Seek as soon as it is proposed. My lap is supposed to be for them, not for my laptop.

Priorities are complicated, and that is a hard lesson for all of us. Sometimes it seems like nobody wins. They don’t understand that the alternative to me working from home is me working AWAY from home, which I’m willing to bet would make them far less happy than the occasional “Shhhh, Mommy’s on the phone!”

So I stood there in the driveway and watched Kostyn tap, tap, tap his way around the yard for a few minutes. I wanted to demonstrate the same patience and quiet I ask of them on those occasions when I am tap, tap, tapping away. Eventually I asked if he wanted to bring his “work” with him and he gleefully skipped over to the car and climbed in with stick in hand. At first I was worried he might use it to hurt his brother or insist on bringing it inside the store. But once we started driving and talking, it was dropped to his feet and forgotten. I made sure to do the same with my “stick” later that day.

As if my child hadn’t given me a healthy enough dose of perspective, I got another heap of it on Friday when I actually had to get up and out the door for work. I had two separate business appointments for a freelance project, one on a Wednesday afternoon and the other on a Friday morning. That meant I had to find child care for two different days. It also meant I had to find two decent outfits in my closet that were considerably more professional than my usual playground attire. The second challenge proved to be much more difficult than the first.

Even more challenging, though, was actually getting ready and leaving the house on time without making my kids feel like I was shoving them aside in favor of five minutes in the mirror with my makeup bag. Which, in actuality, I was. It was difficult to be in both work mode and mom mode, to know that people outside the house were counting on me and waiting for me, but to not want to brush off my son’s request for one more hug or my baby’s need for another cup of milk. I got a newfound respect for my husband, and for every other working parent out there who has to rush out the door each day, leaving behind waving, smiling, sometimes crying little ones. And I can’t imagine having to do all that AND get the kids ready and out the door for day care or school at the same time, too.

In the end, I was on time to my business meeting and my kids had a fun morning with my sister and their cousins. It was nice to be wearing heels on a Friday morning, nice to chat with other grownups about grownup things, and it was super-nice to meet my husband for lunch without spending the hour tending to toddlers. (We hadn’t done that in over three years!) And it was extra-nice to leave work at the office and come home to my kids, without having the need to tap, tap, tap on the laptop that afternoon.

Well, until they took their naps....

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