I don’t know whether it’s a definite element of my illness or just a natural personal quirk, but I have always struggled with a touch of social anxiety. It’s not that I mind actually being with people. I like people. But when an element of obligation enters into social situations, I start to struggle. Going places is no problem, but having to go somewhere, having to do something, having to be with people has always thrown me for a definite loop. Because of this aversion, working at home has always seemed like my ultimate dream job. No driving involved. No boss to call when Penelope has pink eye. No rules; no socks. In my work-at-home fantasies, I always pictured myself sleeping in, leisurely wandering downstairs and starting my work day with a steaming cup of hot cocoa.
That dream has now actually become a reality – a reality that is more toddler-based and less like a commercial for French-Vanilla Coffee Mate than I had imagined – and while I do avoid the sickening feeling of dread I used to experience on Sunday evenings, I find myself pigheadedly longing to go somewhere physical for work again. Balancing a writing career with all the duties of a full-time stay-at-home mom is daunting, to say the least. My dream mornings were peaceful and productive, like a excerpt from Walden’s Pond. My real mornings are more like this:
6:45-8:00 AM: Try to ignore the sound of “Maaaama! Maaaama!” repeated ad naseum in a sing-song voice.
8:00-8:20 AM: Wheedle and bargain with Penelope so that she will allow me to remove her soaking, smelly pajamas.
8:20-8:25 AM: Change a poopy diaper. Placate rashy, weepy daughter with promises of liberal amounts of diaper cream and Elmo’s World.
8:25-8:35 AM: Renege on promise of Elmo’s World and instead turn on PBS, which is easier to access. Put Penelope in her high chair with a bowl of cheerios. Forget what I’m doing and give her an adult spoon. Field more weeping. Take adult spoon back to the kitchen and replace it with plastic yellow toddler spoon.
8:35-9:40 AM: Sit at my work laptop with a bowl of generic Coco Puffs. Check my Facebook account. Check my work email. Check my non-work email. Check Dustin’s non-work email. Dink around on the internet. Shoot a dirty look at the TV, which is playing the Elvis-inspired Dinosaur Train theme song. Consider how much I hate Elvis. Register the fact that Penelope has been asking for more Cheerios for the last five minutes and pour her another bowl. Try to start my work – researching a new software – but instead stare blankly at a computer generated Pteranodon and her adopted brother, who is a T-Rex. Wonder why Buddy doesn’t try to eat Tiny and their other siblings, Shiny and Don. Feel vaguely guilty that my daughter has been watching TV for over an hour.
9:40-10:00 AM: Clean yogurt and cheerios off Penelope’s shirt. Empty the dishwasher. Check my Facebook account again. Watch two minutes of a video tutorial about the software I’m currently researching. Contemplate the merits of a hot shower.
10:00-11:18 AM: Walk aimlessly throughout the house, looking for something productive to do. Fold laundry. Sing Old MacDonald 13 times. Put Penelope into her crib with a mountain of toys and a sippy cup of cold milk. Breath a sigh of relief.
11:18-11:59 AM: Eat a hurried lunch and watch an episode of Sister Wives that I have already re-watched. More than once.
12:00-3:00 PM: Sit down at the computer and desperately try to catch up on all the work I should have accomplished already. Feel tired and cranky and rushed. Attempt (unsuccessfully) to keep Dustin on the line as long as I can when he calls from work, because the only adult I have interacted with thus far has been Mrs. Pteranodon.
I think it’s human nature to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Why, we’ve even come up with a great idiom to explain that concept: namely, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
I like my writing job and I like being a mom, but sometimes I feel that, in trying to do the jobs simultaneously, I’m failing at both. I don’t feel good about the fact that Penelope, at two years of age, has already developed the vocabulary to say “Mama get off the computer!” I also don’t feel good about writing reviews while half my mind is wondering what was that crash upstairs and should I stop this momentum I have finally built to go investigate?
There is something to be said for leading a compartmentalized life, where work stuff stays at work and home stuff stays at home and nary the twain shall meet. But I struggle with enough feelings of guilt – draining the family resources with my medical issues, dragging down Dustin and Penelope with my dark moods, not contributing, blah, blah, blah – without adding a crushing burden of guilt about the path I have chosen. I’m a writer. I should be writing. A sense of contribution to the world is a good way to stay mentally healthy. I am also a mother. I am a good mother (well, the jury’s still out on that, I guess, but I do my best). I’ve wasted enough of my life wishing for things to be different. I thought I would be happier when I got married. I thought I would be happier when I had a baby. I thought working from home would finally make everything wrong in my life magically right. I’m starting to realize that circumstances alone can’t make me happy (I know, how original and profound. I should have been a philosopher).
Working from home is not a perfect solution, but I genuinely don’t think that working at an office would be easy either. After all, I have worked at offices, and I was not happy. If I were at an office, I would not get to look up from my workstation and see my baby frowning in concentration as she engineers a block tower. I would not get to have spontaneous dance parties, either. And I would have to wear shoes and pants without an elastic waist. So…yeah, I am happy I get to do what I love and stay home at the same time. It may not be perfect, but working from home (as a sweet old Japanese lady cheerfully says of single parenthood in a memorable episode of King of the Hill) “has provided me many opportunities for hardship.”
Hardship, certainly. But also opportunities!