Handle with care

The pains (and pleasures) of working from home while bringing up baby

A growing child requires constant attention and answers to million questions, making it close to impossible to carve time out for work. But there are compensations...

Way past my bedtime, I will myself to write this despite a sleeping child's hypnotically rhythmic snores for company. The soft glow from the table lamp stays awake with me. Even that is awake way beyond its scheduled hour, burning the midnight filament and all that. I will go to sleep as soon as I write the skeleton, I tell myself. But I also know that given the rare occasion when the entire household is asleep and with so much peace and quiet I should ideally start and finish the next great American novel.

As someone working from home for a little over three years now, I feel like I have tried, tested and mastered every trick in the book. Just before my now three year old was born, I remember being at work and promising my boss that as soon as I have the baby I will jump right back in. After all a baby sleeps for most of the day, right? Right. But also so very wrong! There I was blissfully unaware of whether I was coming or going, whether it was morning, noon or night. I only remember plates of food being handed to me at regular intervals and long, never ending rounds of feeding my son. The cycle seemed to go on and on. Even though my baby slept through the night, I didn't. I was under a cloud, dark, heavy and utterly crushing. I was all consumed by this tiny being lying next to me and work was really the last thing on my mind.

But three months into being a new mother, things started looking up. My baby began to smile and I could feel the world brightening. He slept for a few hours, every few hours and that gave me some time. Work found me and saved my mind from turning into baby mush. I started small. Contributed snippets, answered a few calls and suddenly I began to feel important.

Home office blues

My son, Kabir has always seen me work from home. He has never seen me get all dressed up and go to work. He is very familiar with mom curled up on the sofa, typing furiously away on a laptop while still in her pyjamas. Dad on the other hand, wears his office clothes every morning and heads out to work, sometimes even travels for business. Outside office for Dad and home office for Mom.

I remember working on a project when Kabir was a year old. We would first go to his weekly Gymboree class, play for an hour. Tired and spent, he would eat his lunch in the car and as soon as I started driving, promptly fall asleep. We would then drive into the city to my office, attend a weekly meeting all while he slept blissfully in a stroller, parked beside me. The drive back home would wake him up and we would listen to his favourite music and sing along as he watched big cars pass us by.

As someone who works from home, I need to stock up on tools in my arsenal. My favourite and most sacrosanct being nap time. Never compromise on naps! The two hour afternoon nap is your time to answer emails, return calls and catch up on any pending work. I have been lucky and am grateful to work with people who understand that I work only for a few hours in the day. That I need to go offline during morning rush hour, or sign out as soon as I hear my son wake up from his nap. They graciously ignore my dog's persistent barking as it punctuates our conference call and even enquire if he caught the squirrel he was chasing.

As Kabir grows older and requires constant attention in the form of answers to his million questions, carving time out to work when he is around or awake has become close to impossible. So this past week I tried something new. I gave him a stray keyboard and told him to work next to me. "Let's both send emails." I said.

He thought for a moment and then asked.

"Are we working for the same company Mamma?"

I nodded without looking away from my computer.

From the corner of my eye I could see him furiously tapping away at the keys. A few minutes later, he picked up my phone. I stopped working and asked him why he needed it.

"Sshh!" He gestured. "Be quiet, I'm on a call."

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