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Pajama party? Forget it
Juggling laptop and baby in the lap, conference call and ringing doorbell isn't the dream that it sounds. A flexi worker lists seven stages of her work-from-home life.
Of course there's a fantasy. In mine, I looked like Michele Pfeiffer. I'd be fixing lunch while on the weekly edit call, baby on a hip, Brahms in the background, dressed in my striped pajamas, hair askew but exuding a calm beauty overall. These fantasies are coloured in and detailed usually on the long commute back from work or the morning when you have to leave for office even though you've been up all night and the maid is missing.
I had returned to work full time in the daily newspaper where I was a reporter, four months after having a baby. A magazine editor called to ask if I'd be interested in working for her. A fortnightly deadline was far more mum-friendly than a daily one, so I immediately said yes. Then on a mad impulse, I asked her if I could work from home. She thought about it and said as long as I filed my stories on time she didn't care where I worked from. For the next two months, all my sentences began with, "you are not going to believe this..." and all my friends' responses began and ended with "you are so lucky. " It was unbelievable, I was lucky. There was nothing else to do but go buy myself some striped pajamas. So I did.
I fix lunch. The pajamas are comfortable. I take calls, sometimes while in the kitchen. Yet, somehow, it doesn't feel as Michele Pfieffery as it should. Sometimes it feels like it's all too much. I'm rocking the baby a bit too hard because I'm only halfway through the story and she needs to fall asleep fast. The broadband dies and I am told it will take a week to resume. The baby falls ill on the day the boss is in town and I have no idea how to construct the sentence that would justify why I can't come to office even for that one day. It's a bit confusing that lots of other details are filling up on that fantasy. There are porridge stains on the walls and my clothes, the "p" key on the laptop is missing because the baby plucked it out while she was on my lap.
THE GREAT UNRAVEL
It was a very important interview. A conference call involving five people in three time zones for a story I had begged the boss to extend the deadline on. I had the phone on one shoulder, scribbling furiously with the other hand, keeping it all as professional as was possible. Then the doorbell rang, the dog barked his head off, the pressure cooker whistled and the baby woke up screaming. I kept it together to ask the next question and then burst into tears. I couldn't believe that what was expected to be the best thing to happen to me had turned out like this. It was the worst thing to happen to anyone.
The doorbell-dog-cooker-baby day was my turning point. I decided I couldn't do this. Big changes were necessary, they involved a lot of organisation. I decided I would get out of home ideally two days a week, fix meetings in town, show my face around office, drag a colleague for lunch, pop into Fab India. If I had an important call I would take it outside the house, sitting in a quiet part of the building compound. I would call people until noon, take a nap in the afternoon, talk to the office in the evening and write my story after 10, when things were relatively quiet. I pulled my deadlines back to leave room for emergencies. I went for a run, everyday. I gave up any aspirations to exude calm beauty. I developed a lifelong hatred for Michele Pfieffer.
I manage to keep this together for two years and then a move to Delhi beckoned. Here we have a grandmother in residence and the baby is old enough for playschool. So I go back to an office. I get rid of the pajamas, I wear pants. What joy! Birthday cakes, team lunches, bitching about the boss by the stairwell, bitching about others with the boss at the cafeteria. Just to be surrounded by adults and not have the carpenter, plumber, electrician to be the most-dialed numbers in my phone is sheer happiness. But there's a four hour commute and the fact that I don't see the child awake from Monday to Friday. It's hard, but I hold on for a couple of years.
Then a book deal comes along and a minor health issue and the guilt of ignoring the child's pleas of spending time get overwhelming. So I find another editor willing to let me work from home and I realise I am not the sort of person who learns from her experience. I revert to pajamas. But, this time it's a little more fun. For one, the child is at school half the day. Second, every time the petrol price goes up I calculate how much money I am saving by not going to office and order books online accordingly. But after a while, it gets boring. I realise, I have gone a week without any non-work adult conversation. My friends tell me, "you are really active on Facebook, " and I gush, "well, it's because I don't have any colleagues and water cooler conversations. " They nod sympathetically and go back and un-friend me. So I hang around home for a while, then relapse and start going to office. Until I relapse again and work from home. And my life is a toss from stage 7 to stage 7, from pants to pajamas to pants to pajamas...
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