Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bacon, deadlines, and work-life harmony

A few years ago, when I was working full-time in the corporate sector, there was plenty of compartmentalization in my life. Very few elements of home and family seeped into my work arena. And vice versa. I kept a small framed photo of the kids on my desk, but I did not talk to them on the phone while I was at work, I didn’t leave early to pick them up, I didn’t tell many stories about them to my colleagues. Because Rick was working from home during those years, I almost never even stayed home from work for a child’s sick day or snow day. At the same time, I seldom brought work home; my work life stayed at the office, just as my family life remained at home.

It’s a lot different now that I’m a self-employed writer. On one level, the overlap between work and home is literal: my office itself is within my house, and I spend the workday at home. But the nature of my work has changed as well: a lot of my writing involves either my immediate family or our community. And since I’m working for myself, I don’t mind admitting it when an editor calls and catches me at the school plaza at pickup time rather than at my computer.

Yesterday, the commingling was a bit extreme even by my standards, though. The kids had an early release day of school, which meant I had to fit my usual seven-hour work day into about half that time. By 12:30, Tim and his friend Will were in our kitchen and wanting lunch despite the fact I was on deadline for three or four different stories. For a Globe article, I needed to interview two local kids who are planning a service project in Guatemala; the only time one of the parents could bring them over to talk with me was five minutes before Holly’s bus was due at the bus stop. So rather than interviewing them from the comfort of my desk, I met up with them at the end of the driveway. They piled into my car, where I posed questions and scribbled answers. Holly’s bus arrived before I was done; Holly too squeezed into the car with me, the two other kids, and the other mom, and waited patiently until the interview was over, then asked me to drive home quickly as she urgently needed to go to the bathroom.

But the mom in the group still had more details about the trip to share with me, so she said she’d follow us back home and talk to us there. Which was fine except that I needed to make lunch for Holly. When we got home, Tim and his friend Will were finishing their own sandwiches, which I’d made before heading out to the bus stop. On early release days, which come only once a month, it’s a tradition that I make the kids bacon. Holly asked for chocolate milk; I figured that was a quick and easy way to satisfy her hunger temporarily while I finished taking notes for the story, and tried not to cringe at the fact that another mom as well as four middle schoolers observed me giving my eight-year-old the not-so-nutritious lunch of bacon and chocolate milk.

Then the doorbell rang; it was my friend Anne Marie, who wanted to buy a signed copy of my book. With her was her son, home from his first semester of college. So they came in, and I needed to find a good pen for signing, and the other mom I was interviewing wanted to hear how Anne Marie’s son liked Northwestern, and Tim and Will wanted to know what they could have for dessert, and just then my sister called to ask about gift possibilities for the kids. I answered her quickly, hung up, and then the phone rang again and it was a Globe editor asking for some clarifications on an item I’d submitted earlier in the day about next year’s school budget.

An hour later, everything was a lot calmer. All our guests had left. Tim and Will were playing a game upstairs, and Holly was in her room talking quietly with invisible people, which is a typical activity for her when she gets home from school. I cleaned up the kitchen, filed a story, and confirmed the budget details the editor had asked about.

Compartmentalized, I was not, but it was fun in a chaotic sort of way. “Bring-your-kids-to-work” day isn’t an operative concept when you work from home; but “Bring-your-life-to-work” day is just as good a substitute. Between bacon and deadlines, I managed to satisfy everyone’s requests, at least for a few hours, plus I signed and sold a book. It’ s a good way to work, and to live, and yesterday life-work balance wasn’t a problem for me: it was all one big vibrant pulsing mix, and I was enjoying every minute of it.

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