The joys (ha!) of working at home

I wrote this piece years ago, when I was launching two careers: writer and mom. Both paid poorly and I had to share an office with someone who didn’t clean up after herself. Still I managed, even in the face of adversity, as this piece attests.

Image of brightly colored baby toys, from "The joys (ha!) of working at home," by Beth Mende ConnyI’m a mom who works at home. For those who think I’m being redundant — what mom doesn’t work at home? — let me be specific: I work for a living in my living room.

It’s not exactly an executive suite. There are blocks and rattles where leather chairs and oak filing cabinets should be. But it’s mine, at least a small corner of it, from which I write pieces like this one and others on parenting issues.

Working at home has its advantages. The dress is informal, it’s an easy commute, and there’s an eating establishment right round the corner (unfortunately). But it also has its drawbacks, especially if you have an infant around, as I do.

My daughter, as much as she loves me, has little respect for my work. For while she devours what I write — when I can’t get it out of her mouth — she’d rather I spend my time on other more important things, namely her.

To be able to spend time with her is why I decided to work at home in the first place. Before she was born, I envisioned myself floating effortlessly from writing table to changing table, producing wonderful tracts on motherhood while producing a wonderful child. I would work as she slept, or so the plan went. It never occurred to me that I would give birth to an insomniac, or that I’d be trading a 9-to-5 job for one that began at 6 a.m. and ended at midnight.

To work at home, I quickly discovered, is to work in snatches of time and to pray that you can pick up something as quickly as you’ve put it down.

To work at home — as a writer at least — is to be foolhardy. You’re always chancing that the legislator or educator you’ve called for a quote won’t call back at an inopportune moment (i.e. when you kid’s pretending her cereal is hair mousse or when she’s looking for just the right light socket to stick her finger into.)

But, inevitably, the phone does ring.

One evening several months ago, for example, I was wrapping presents on the living room floor when the physician I had been trying to reach called. Just as I picked up the receiver, I heard a loud gurgle coming from my daughter’s diaper. She had let loose a mudslide on the rug.

What to do? Hang up? Scream out that I’d call back later?

Unfortunately, if the doctor and I didn’t talk then, we couldn’t talk until after my deadline. So I went ahead with the interview, taking notes with my right hand, while wrapping my daughter’s backside in wrapping paper and tape with my left.

Luckily, things like this don’t happen often. Neither I nor my rug could take it. But that’s not to say that most other work days pass uneventfully or efficiently. Not when you’re playing working mom one moment and just plain mom the next.

Slowly, however, I’m getting used to feeling that I’ve got a split personality. And I’m getting used to the interruptions. I’ve even come to welcome them. After all, one of the greatest pleasures of work is goofing off from work. And what better way to goof off than to have a willing accomplice, one who can’t snitch because she can’t yet talk.

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