A Delicate Balance

A few weeks ago, for two long days, nothing got done. No laundry, no dishes, no cooking, no cleaning. The child got diapered, but only once she figured out how to bring the diapers to me, where I lay in a heap in the middle of the living room floor. At first, she rebelled against this sad state of affairs, and she tried to drag my body to a seated position by yanking fistfuls of hair. Then she screeched, which, apparently, was toddler-speak for “Get up!”

Suffering from a nasty stomach flu, I began to understand the delicate balance my life requires.

It’s interesting to see what happens when we fail to fill even one of our roles in a day. There has been an email making the rounds lately that tells the story of a man who comes home to see his house in shambles and his kids engaged in fistfights. He finds his wife in the tub upstairs. “What is going on?” he wants to know.

“You know how you ask me what I do all day?” she replies. “Well, today, I didn’t do it.”

Those two days, I didn’t do it either. The state of my living room would have been comical to anyone who didn’t actually have to live in it. Not one square inch of carpet was visible. Toys, crayons, markers, and cards from three different versions of Trivial Pursuit lay amid play-dough and sidewalk chalk. On day two of my illness, my 17-month old discovered that chalk writes on Mommy, too. My parenting philosophy had suddenly been reduced to: “If it won’t hurt her, she’s allowed to do it.”

Since those two days, the delicate balance has been upset repeatedly. Our family has endured a string of strange accidents, requiring more than one trip to the emergency room. The last time, my daughter emerged with two staples in the back of her head, which required a great deal of TLC and a good dose of Mommy Paranoia to ensure she didn’t bonk her noggin again.

The beauty in all this is that, though my house was a shambles and my appearance not suitable for even a run to the post office, my professional identity remained intact. My clients and colleagues never knew about the dark circles under my eyes, the makeshift bed in the center of my living room, or the lump of banana that got squished into the carpet. And while the entire family had to endure a couple of rotten days, I met all my deadlines, and I never had to call in sick.

The classic complaints about operating a home office certainly apply. The office never closes. The kiddo doesn’t always know which phone calls are the important ones. But I can grow as a professional while still enjoying every minute of my child’s life. I can steal a few minutes here and there as she’s banging pots in the kitchen to make notes, brainstorm ideas, check email, and make phone calls. 
Granted, I get a lot of help, and, sometimes, I miss a lot of sleep. Telecommuting has its own challenges, and I would be the first to tell you it’s not for every woman or for every family situation, but I encourage every mom who needs or wants to continue their professional career, to evaluate the option.