Friday, April 11, 2014
J is for Juggling Act
When I began working from home for a company across the country, I thought it was a dream come true. No more water cooler breaks listening to Howard drone on about his weekend. No more surprise visits from Dawn in accounting moaning about her mother-in-law. I could be super productive, simultaneously pitch in laundry, whip up a gourmet meal and hold a conference call.
Then I got pregnant. I could still be productive, prop my legs up on my desk with laptop and phone by my side. And puke in the privacy of my own home.
The baby was born. I was up all night, exhausted all day. Work took on new meaning. A part of me couldn’t wait to converse with adults again. Even Howard would be welcome. I hired a sitter. It was the best of both worlds. I could see my babe when I wanted yet not be interrupted when I was busy.
But that babe learned to walk, talk, and seek out Mommy’s attention no matter what the sitter did. I closed my office door and hoped no one on the other end of the phone could hear the little voice outside squeezing my heart when she cried “Mommy.”
Mostly I excelled at muting and unmuting calls, but every so often I would get confused and there’d be the embarrassing “Hello, are you there?” I knew they were thinking Mommy Track. I started taking calls in my bedroom, bathroom, even the shower stall.
I spent more time in my car. Until one day my neighbor warned me she’d called the police about a suspicious vehicle parked outside. “Someone’s in it all day,” she said. I didn’t need the license plate number.
I realized it was more than the logistics of working from home with kids that wasn’t working for me. I’d watch the show The Office and while my husband cracked up I’d grow melancholy. I missed having office friends. Bonds form when you work with someone everyday. It’s much harder to duplicate that over the phone. Whether it’s grabbing drinks, sharing office gossip, or comforting each other on a bad day, co-workers can make or break your job. If you hate the people you work with, I believe you will end up hating your job no matter how great it is. I’ve been lucky to work with some wonderful people. There were a few creative prima donnas or whiners in the mix, but that gave me something to talk about. Of course there were some jerks. Co-workers caught cheating on their spouses when they parked in front of the restaurant window where I was eating lunch. Management who got into a fistfight. A boss who drew unflattering cartoons of employees. There was office drama worthy of any reality show, but I missed the craziness and camaraderie.
In a way it seemed like a relief when the account I worked on resigned forcing me to do the same. I was pregnant with baby number three. I imagined blissful days enjoying my three children. No more hiding in the shower. No more mute button. No more competing with the job called ‘Mommy’.
And there were blissful days. And rotten ones. Kissing boo boos. Playing games. Dirty diapers. Tantrums. Lots and lots of laundry. Mom friends replaced office friends. Playdates replaced meetings. The toddlers turned into kids and headed to school. I felt a familiar pull to the professional world I’d left behind. Of course, the laundry pile was bigger. There were groceries to buy and activities to schlep kids to. Could I hit mute and step back into the workforce?
I met with my former boss about taking a position on a new account in the city. My heart raced as I took the elevator up to the 16th floor. Suddenly, I was back in the world of budgets, deadlines and office drama, but business as usual felt completely unusual. There was a different buzz in the air. Or was that just the noise of people working side by side at open cubicles, no office walls between them. I tried to picture myself among them, but I couldn’t. Not because of the lack of walls, but the long hours I knew I’d need to contribute, the time sucking commute home and the kids I’d barely get to see once I got there.
For now it’s back to a mish-mosh of opportunities. Taking freelance assignments. Volunteering. Plugging away at that novel. Each day continues to be a juggling act as I try to fit my own version of a professional world into my personal one. I believe I was very lucky to be able to work out of my home for so many years, to be there for my child’s first steps or sneak out to read to his class. I still have moments where going to an office seems far superior to sitting in front of a computer screen by myself, but I wouldn’t trade midday hugs for water cooler breaks any day.