The work-from-home juggle
Once upon a time, “working from home” sounded like a dream come true. Who wouldn’t want to tackle daily tasks in their pajamas, “Good Morning America” playing softly in the background? No one to notice the slight ketchup stain on your slacks or hastily-done makeup. No one to silently question your second (third?) breakfast biscuit of the morning. In fact: full access to your fridge and pantry, home to all your tastiest snacks! Less time spent packing lunches, more time actually enjoying them.
What I never took into account was how working from home means you are . . . working. From home. Home, which is strewn with your toddler son’s belong- ings, creating obstacles at every turn. Home, with its mounds of laundry and dirty dishes (more of which you’re creating) and sales flyers in stacks on every surface.
When you’re working in the mess, there’s no escaping the mess. In fact, it becomes glaringly obvious in a way you can typically ignore when you’re all together for just a few hours in the evening — before you have to get up and do it all again.
There’s also no clear delinea- tion of work/personal time, so my normal eight-hour work day begins at 7 a.m. and doesn’t “end” until I’m getting ready for bed. My laptop is always open; email is always waiting to be read and answered. I don’t “clock out,” so tasks stack up until they’re all I notice.
I’m new at this, you see. You’d think I’d be better at it, given I have two excellent folks in my immediate circle to share their wisdom: my dad, a longtime sportswriter and freelancer, and my sister, a talented videogra- pher who also co-owns a compa- ny with Dad. Both set their own hours and find their own projects, which sounds great in theory . . . but also means they’re never not working, which I’ve always seen firsthand.
I’ve been spoiled by my 9-to-5. I enjoy the office life. The “water cooler” chatter, my personal desk with all its delightful clutter, the aroma of coffee permeating the newsroom. I look forward to grabbing breakfast, riding the elevator, greeting colleagues. Just my routine. A comforting one.
And I’m still living the office life, of course, but I’ve spent the week working from home — with a toddler, no less. With my son’s regular daycare provider on vacation, Oliver has been home with me while I try to stay organized and focused.
I’ve had help. Because of those same flexible hours, my sister has been an invaluable second set of hands. But there were still times I had to go it alone.
I haven’t spent this much time alone with Ollie since he was a few months old. It took me back to my hazy, bleary-eyed days as a new mom watching daytime television (and nighttime television, and boring 3 a.m. television) with a baby, just the two of us seques- tered in the house.
It’s much colder now than it was that May, so I actually feel less claustrophobic; no one wants to be out in this weather, anyway. But it’s been strange just . . . stay- ing in.
Yes, friends, “working from home” requires different skills. Like the ability to truly multitask. It’s nothing for me to have 10 tabs open in my web browser at the of- fice: email inboxes, research for stories, working documents for articles. And, well, Facebook and Twitter. For official purposes, of course. (Of course.)
But at home? “Multitasking” extends far beyond a computer screen. I have a toddler want- ing snacks and drinks, climbing into my lap, reaching for my cell phone, “helping” by tapping out a rhythm on the keyboard. He is al- ways my priority, but I have other commitments as well. Deadlines. And it’s stressful, all the juggling.
At the end of the day, I know just having the option to work from home — and juggle at all — is a privilege. But many needs pulling you in so many directions can still be tough to balance, and I can only hope I’m balancing it well.
Rather than seeing this week as a struggle, I’ve tried to focus on this unexpected bonus time with my son — and just before Christmas, too. Even when I began sniffling and coughing Monday and pulled a back muscle on Wednesday (!), likely from all the additional baby-lifting I’ve been doing, I tried to focus on the positive: having my son here, healthy and (reasonably) happy. A job that requires and encourages my creativity: a job I’m proud to give my all. Family nearby to help when I, um, manage to incapacitate myself. A husband who works hard to do lots of juggling himself.
Have I written a Hallmark card? Maybe. But I’m tr ying to focus on the successes, not the hardships.
The balancing is an art form. Not one I’ve mastered, not at all — but one I’m studying. Always working on.
I’ll get there. Especially more coffee. And Tylenol. with