Thursday, August 20, 2015

Work-at-Home Mom ... Blessed or Cursed?

My son at three, helping me to wash and organize my clay stamps. He has never broken one.

Imagine: working as a server at a restaurant with a toddler tugging on your apron as you presented the wine samples, sticking their fingers into customers' desserts, needing to go potty just as you start to cash out somebody's check.

Imagine: working in an office with your child yelling, "MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY! I GOTTA GO POTTY!" in the background while you're on the phone with a business supplier or major customer. And finding dribbles of jam and crayon drawings all over a vital contract.

These scenarios are completely bizarre and horrible. They feature often in movies and sitcoms because it's a parent's worst nightmare to have these things going on while they are trying to maintain a mature and professional demeanor at work.

I live with this every day as I work from home. Whenever I sit down to answer customer emails, my son is yanking at my arm begging me to get off the computer. He pulls my office chair so that I will turn to look at him instead of the computer, and ever since he turned four he has the strength to physically pull my chair away from my desk with me in it.

When I call my clay supplier or the company that sells slip molds, my kid is in the background; my being on the phone doesn't deter him, all it does is make the volume go up higher.

I've come back to my desk once or twice to find that hours of work has been squished and destroyed by curious and experimental little fingers.

Mind you, my son is not a badly behaved child in general. He's intelligent, curious, energetic, and extroverted. He loves people and he loves me, and since I'm the one home with him he wants my attention 97% of the time. Something about my focus being elsewhere flips a switch in his head and makes him go nuts trying to get it back. 

Of course (of course!) I don't arrange for child care, because I'm home. The fact that I'm working and that my work takes at least the same amount of focus as other jobs I had before I was a mother who ran a home business does not register with me ... or with society. If I qualified for state preschool, I would be ineligible working at home, because child care is not perceived as a "need" if you are able to be at home while you earn money.

When my son was seven months old I attempted to start my Etsy business for the first time. I found that it was not possible for me to sit for hours and work while also caring for a small baby, and my shop never made it off the ground. My second try started when my son was nearly three, and since then I have cobbled together a steady supplemental income out of dizzy late night shipping episodes, weekend clay messes, and often guiltily letting my son watch more than an hour a day of Netflix cartoons (Educational! Educational! as a sop to my conscience).

The other day I was working, feeling guilty, as usual, trying to tune out Curious George, when suddenly I had a vision of my husband working in his office, where he is project manager to an executive, with the Man in the Yellow Hat teaching George a valuable lesson in the background. I pictured him describing a business development project to his boss with my loudly expressive son constantly posturing for attention. The picture in my head was so funny that I laughed out loud ... but it was kind of horrible at the same time because I often face a similar situation and nobody questions that I should be able to do it. I've even been told that I have it easy.

First I thought, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done."

Then I thought, "But raising my kid is the most important thing I've ever done."

And finally I realized, "I'm not put upon. I'm not taken advantage of. I'm the fortunate one. I do get the hardest stuff but I also get all the best stuff."

In the mornings, every single day, my son wakes up and crawls under the covers with me to cuddle and talk about his dreams, and his thoughts, and what he wants to do today. We play every morning for at least half an hour before we do anything else. And I can take that time to play Spider Fingers and Hungry Monsters with my kid because I make my own schedule.

After that, we race to see who can get dressed the fastest. It's a game to keep him from running around for an hour wearing nothing but his left sock, not a desperate attempt to be at work on time. We go for a walk around the neighborhood and on the way back we pretend that evil fighter jets are chasing us and we shriek and run and scare the neighbor's Rottweiler out of his tiny mind.

One of my first projects on my own was to make a little set
of slab-built sandwich plates stamped with animals and
letters. He uses them at every meal. 

I make breakfast while he often "helps" and we sit down to eat eggs and toast, or oatmeal, or sometimes we have egg tacos which my son likes with extra spicy salsa.  Every day he saves the last bite for the friendly cat from next door, who is "our" cat in the daytime because her family is gone all day. After breakfast he plays with the cat, digs for bugs, or works on his "construction" projects. And I can go to see what he's doing and hug and kiss him anytime I want to even in the middle of working because I'm home.

Sometimes I ask him, "What should I make today?"
The answer is always different.
But it's always some kind of animal with teeth or spikes. 

Around noon some days we head out into my pottery studio where he has a set of toys he only plays with there. Occasionally he will make clay snakes or play on the wheel, and after a while he usually plays Angry Birds or watches the Magic School Bus for awhile, often bringing me the tablet to replay an exciting moment (usually featuring a scary animal with teeth or spikes). If I worked in an office, it wouldn't be an option to have my little boy play in the corner as I filed papers. Sometimes the constant stops for snacks, potty, boo-boos and inspection of everything he finds interesting is frustrating; but how much would I miss it if I worked alone all the time in my silent and empty studio? And honestly, how much did I hate every job I had that involved filing paperwork? (Answer: a lot.)

His presence in my life and in my work has also changed what I make and how I make it. For one thing, I've discovered that I absolutely love making special little things for children. For another, I don't have the luxury of uninterrupted days to work so I carefully schedule any focused work (like wheel throwing) to fit in the few hours of kid-free studio time I have two nights a week when my husband takes care of bedtime. Even then, I often sneak back in to read him a bedtime story if I'm not too covered in clay.

Working with my son may be a challenge, but my business would not exist if I hadn't been searching for a way to make an income while staying home with him. I would have kept my safe, stable job, and nobody would be tugging on me right now, asking me to please help them find the spider they lost in my bed.

Inline image 1
" R O A R !"
When I showed this to him and told
him what it said, first he roared very loudly as well.
Then he asked, "Is it for me?"
(It is.)
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