Submitted by Emily Wilson
“That one green.” She said, pointing to the stick figure I’d drawn on the paper.
“We already have green on this page. Let’s pick a different color.” I replied, picking up the rest of the colored pens, showing her the other options.
“No. That one green.” She repeated, pointing again to the stick figure, this time coming within millimeters of the paper, her tiny fingers smeared with pizza sauce.
“Whoa there, cutie.” I slid the paper out of her reach. “Please don’t touch Mama’s paper. I worked really hard on that and we don’t want dirty fingerprints on it.”
“That one green!” She reiterated, kicking her legs in her highchair. I put the paper under a towel on the counter, hoping she’d forget about it, and distracted her with another small slice of pizza.
For those of you who haven’t already recognized it, this is being a working parent, working at home, with a two year old.
There’s a lot of talk these days about how hard it is to work at home, especially since millions of us have recently found ourselves confined to working from our couches, basements, or, if we’re lucky, the home office we thought would be an amazing feature when we first moved into our houses but have since turned into a storage area for the clothes to be donated, the treadmill no one ever uses, and boxes of old school papers our mom dropped off during spring cleaning ten years ago.
As for me, I’ve been working from home for most of my professional career, first as a tech support lead, and now as an audiobook producer. (I got to produce the audiobook version of the Working Parent Stories book!) Those of us who worked from home before COVID-19 are slightly ahead of the curve. We’ve already figured out how to avoid snacking all day, how to set boundaries to cut down on interruptions, and how to keep from getting cabin fever. Of course, some of us are now juggling online school for our older kids, which adds a whole new level of complexity I can’t even begin to comprehend. And a few parents have to serve as guides for wide-eyed spouses gaining a new appreciation for how hard it is to do the things we’ve been doing for years.
What I’m trying to say to the work-from-home newbies is, “Welcome. To the left, please pick up your pair of logo-emblazoned sweatpants and the complimentary bag of extra patience that you’re not quite sure you have, but you’re definitely going to need.”
When I’m not wrangling a two year old, I’m huddled in my studio (read: closet) recording or hunched over my laptop in my office (read: living room), editing. Recently, though, I got it into my head that I would write a children's book (I Love You Enough) about the big changes we're experiencing due to coronavirus. It's my attempt to help kids feel less overwhelmed by all of the upheaval. I noticed how much my daughter connected with books (my husband and I are basically co-parenting with Jan and Stan Berenstain at this point), and I thought other parents might benefit from having a resource to use as a jumping off point for discussions about current events.
I had the story but needed the illustrations. Because I wanted to get the book out there as soon as possible, I knew I didn’t have time to try to connect with an artist. The book addresses social distancing, mask-wearing, distance learning, and other current issues, and waiting for an illustrator would mean that:
Which is why I ended up with a pile of stick figure drawings and a bundle of colored pens on the kitchen counter during lunchtime with my daughter. I had let her help me pick out colors for each character’s hair (thus the green). When she started to want every character to have green hair, I had to start telling her, “No.” (Not everyone in my imaginary world could have green hair, apparently.) It was then that I realized that she has played an unexpected and immeasurable role in my professional life.
Because she doesn’t yet go to school, we spend almost all day together. As a result, she has a surprising amount of influence on my work, not just in terms of when I can work, but also what I do for work. I wouldn’t be an audiobook producer if it weren’t for her. I would never have learned that I could do character voices if we hadn’t played with the same five stuffed animals all day and they had spontaneously developed their own personas and characters. I also would never have imagined writing and illustrating a children’s book if I hadn’t read the same ten books five thousand times and been asked to draw Grandma and Grandpa forty times every day. But here I am.
She doesn’t always get what she wants, and I don’t give her my full attention all day every day. Seeing me focus on something other than her gives her the space to learn how to entertain herself and also teaches her patience. I am confident that my continuing to work, albeit with a flexible schedule that still allows me to stay home with her, will instill in her an intrinsic understanding of the importance of building one’s own fulfillment.
I love being a parent, and I’m also glad that I’m still working. I’m very blessed to have a great family support system that helps me do that and a mother who showed me how it could be done.
You might be struggling to work from home and do all of the other things you’re suddenly required to do; know that you’re doing your best, keep up the good work, and it will end eventually. And even if your omnipresent family is driving you bonkers right now, they may also be teaching you things of which you don’t yet know the value.