From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

The Best of Both Worlds

“I work at home for my children’s sake!” I repeat this to myself until maybe I can believe it. Too often lately I feel like the worst parent on the planet. As a freelance writer, I make my own hours and can work at home with my kids. A good deal, right? Not always.

Some days I take four-year-old Hewson to the park. The older kids are at school, I’m staring at a deadline, but I’m eaten up with guilt because I’m not spending time with him. Then I think, Hey, I’m my own boss! We can go to the park! I can work while he plays—the best of both worlds. I grab my cell phone and my laptop, and pull into the park, thinking, Yes! You can have it all!

The next thing I know, I’m sitting on a park bench with my laptop balanced on my knees while in front of me three mommies push their preschoolers on swings, alternately giving my son a push and giving me that we-all-make-choices-we-have-to-live-with look. Or maybe I’m imagining it.

Then other days, like today, when I absolutely, positively, no-questions-asked have to get some writing done, three little people who just want their mama are on the other side of my office door. Seven-year-old Molly slips into the room. “Mom, will you get the water colors down for me?”

I close my eyes and pray for patience. I know I could stop working and get the paints down for her. It would take half a minute. But I also know that as soon as I set foot out of this room, I’ll hear “We want some ice cream!” “When can we go to the library?” “You said we’d go for a walk!” “When are you going to stop working, Mama?”

I take my hands off the keyboard, swivel my chair in her direction, take a deep breath, and begin the conversation I have had at least a dozen times a week. “Honey, what is Mommy’s job?” I’ve asked this question so many times that each of my children has a memorized answer.

Haley at age nine understands. “You’re a writer, Mom.”

Hewson at age four usually manages something like, “You work on the computer,” which he pronounces bu-cud-a.

Molly gets that here-we-go-again look and concedes. “You write stories.”

“That’s right. And where do I write stories?”

She groans. “At home so you can be with us.”

I launch into my treatise on how lots of mommies have to work away from their children, how it would break my heart to do that, how we’re lucky I can work at home and spend more time with them that way, but how, right now, I must work because this is something I have to finish today!

Now, in theory, Molly has no problem with letting me get my work done. But to children everything is immediate and right now, and right this second, Molly wants the water colors, and I realize this conversation is like verbal chewing gum. I can sit here chomping on it all day, and when I’m through she’ll want to know, “So, when are you getting the water colors, Mom?”

I get up, walk into the den, get the paints, and try a new tactic. “Okay, guys, now that I’m up, does anybody need anything else?” Silence. I stop and give each child a kiss, a hug, and tell them I love them. Then I announce that I’m getting into my car. I pantomime getting into an invisible car and make a sound like I’m starting it up. They stare at me slack-jawed. “Now I’m driving to my office.” I drive myself across the den, climb out of my imaginary car. “Now I’m at my office. I’m going to work, and I’ll see you all in one hour.” I step into the office and close the doors behind me. (Glass office doors may be part of my problem. If out of sight is out of mind, the opposite is certainly true.)

I slump back in my computer chair, stare at the words on the screen, and try to remember what in the world I was writing. This is hard! I tell myself it’s better than working away from them. I answer myself that it may be better but it certainly isn’t easier.

I brave a look through the office doors. Molly is hard at work on her painting, content for the time being. Haley and Hewson are on the couch, reading a book. They’re really great kids. I wasn’t kidding when I said it would break my heart to be away from them. In a little while, when I’m finished working, they’ll be on the other side of those doors waiting for me. There’s no time wasted commuting back to them, no office politics to work around. I’ve got the flexibility to be here when they need me, enough money to do the things we want to do when I’m not tied to the computer, the chance to scratch my creative itch, an extremely relaxed dress code, and all the peanut butter and gummi bears I care to eat. Now that I think about it, maybe this is the best of both worlds.

The door opens and there’s Haley. “Hey, Mom, when are we going to the library?”


Mimi Greenwood Knight

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