From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Of Mice, Men, and the New York Times

“You’re so lucky to work at home!” That was the refrain I heard so often in my life as a freelance writer–mom, especially when our daughters were young.

Yes, I was lucky. Sometimes.

But with that luck came a few challenges.

Case in point: Some years ago, when I was just starting to feel my oats as a fledgling journalist who had conquered community newspapers, then had gone on to magazines and regional publications, along came the big breakthrough— an assignment for the mighty New York Times’ Sunday New Jersey section.

Okay, I was nervous. This was, after all, the country’s newspaper of record. And I wanted to shine—absolutely dazzle my editor and all those readers.

The subject required heavy interviews. Lots of them. But the lynchpin—the central source—was a highly accomplished scientist with an international reputation, a man of spectacular credentials and a seventeen-page resume.

So, of course, I carefully scheduled the interview at a time when my three children, then all under the age of nine, would be out of the house. I felt triumphant. Things were falling right into place. That is, until I got a phone call from the scientist’s assistant on the morning of the interview announcing that we had to change the time to later in the day.

Seems that the scientist—a doctor and my interviewee— was behind schedule. He was also flying out of the country that very evening, so there was no other chance for our interview, except for that tumultuous hour just after the kids got home from school.

I called every friend I knew. And nobody could help out with my three little darlings that afternoon.

I ran through the list of babysitters with the same result.

I even called my mother and sister, who live an hour away, but they, too, were totally unavailable.

I can still remember the race to pick up our three daughters from their two schools that afternoon, and the lecture that began in the car: Mommy has a very, very important phone call to make. She needs your cooperation. She is counting on it.

No interruptions. No fighting. Just three little angels permitted, on this day of days, to watch lots of television in the family room, coupled with promises of special desserts for one and all.

My daughters listened earnestly, pledged their absolute cooperation in this high-level matter, and even conned me into a promise of staying up a bit later in view of the high stakes.

At precisely 4:00 PM the phone rang, and I was told that the doctor was ready for the interview. I was seated at my desk in the room we euphemistically called my home office, and my computer was at the ready.

I could exhale.

Until, out of that special place in a mother’s brain, I heard sounds I didn’t like. Sounds of stifled screams. Sounds of crisis.

I think I actually started praying as I pushed on. Just let me finish this interview, Lord, and I’ll never ask for anything else. . . .”

Seconds later, as the brainy scientist was getting to the precise core issue, the door opened and three little girls came bursting in. It would have been impossible for my subject not to hear their cries.

Seems that they had been in the kitchen for some extra snacks when they saw something small and gray dart from behind the refrigerator. That something was a mouse. And that mouse now had the run of the house.

There are no guidelines taught in journalism school for how to handle this sort of thing. There are no primers in Mouse Interruption 101.

Let me cut to the chase: I asked the famous scientist who had a plane to catch to please wait while I—ahem— settled a small problem.

I ran with my three daughters to the master bathroom, clutching my cordless phone as if it were the hidden treasure of the Sierra Madre.

With Jill, Amy, and Nancy shrieking, I slammed shut the door, and all four of us crowded into the bathtub. Yes, the bathtub. It felt safe.

It was from there that I resumed my interview, taking notes on the back of a magazine, and in the margins of its pages, all the while imagining what the New York Times assigning editor would make of my—ahem—professionalism.

The scientist couldn’t have been nicer. And, yes, I did explain the crisis to a man who turned out to have a delightful sense of humor—and the suggestion that mice love peanut butter, so we might try that in a trap.

I wrote the story and sent it in. It made it into print. And the mouse was never seen again, peanut butter traps aside.

I have never forgotten my mommy-in-the-bathtub caper. And I have been forever humbled by the grace of the mighty—in this case, a scientist who could not have been more understanding of a frantic journalist who was also a mommy.

And no matter how many interviews have followed that one, it will always be a reminder of this eternal verity: when it comes to mommies—and work—count on nothing predictable, and just go with the flow—even if it takes you into the bathtub.

Sally Friedman

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