The other day I raced home from her speech and physical therapy sessions for an hour of conference calls with my editor. We made it home with eight minutes to spare. In my head, I was fist bumping myself for my amazing juggling skills.
I got said four-year-old settled on the couch with a drink, a snack, and some entertainment so I could head to my office and take these calls. We had the “Mommy has to work for a bit, but then we’ll do something fun” talk. Do you know this talk? I’ve had it many times: A bargain I strike with a preschooler so I can be a work-at-home mom. She agreed, and I was the definition of Having It All in those eight minutes.
Then the first call started. It was a video call, and a few minutes in I noticed a small head pop up on my screen next to my right arm. I turned to look, and there was my child, stealthily creeping up on me while I tried to focus on my editor and the researcher on the call.
She refused my quiet requests to “go play.” She began to noisily protest that "Mommy can’t work right now," and at one point she noticed the faces on my computer screen and actually yelled at them. “Leave my mom alone! She not work now!”
I left teaching so I could freelance and be home for my daughter, managing her two weekly sessions of speech therapy, OT, PT, her preschool, the insurance, evaluations, appointments, and follow-ups. An interrupted phone call? Psssshhh, I’ve got this.
My sewing table was next to me, so I grabbed a spool of thread without dropping the work conversation. My kid loves thread, I have seen her spend half an hour unraveling it and dragging it around the house. I thought it would keep her busy long enough for me to finish my first call and get her re-situated before my second call started. I am working mother, hear me roar.
I put my headphones on in an attempt to drown out her play noises and refocus. My favorite headphones, a bright orange birthday present – and though it was working beautifully. And then my call went completely silent.
I looked, and there was my headphone wire, cut in half. There was my four-year-old, holding the scissors like she couldn't believe she really, actually did it. I couldn't believe she really, actually did it, either.
She knew almost immediately that she was in trouble and began to cry. I didn’t even have to give her The Look. I took off the dead headphones and tried to keep the call going while my daughter sobbed and wandered off into her room.
My wonderful editor had no idea what was going on, she just knew there were tears and distractions and a small child, so she wrapped up the call quickly and gave me 10 minutes to try and get a handle on things before starting our second call.
I found my four-year-old and tried not to shoot lasers at her from my eyeballs while I calmly (but sternly) told her to never, ever do anything like that ever again. I told her that cutting wires is very dangerous. I told her that Mommy has to work sometimes, and that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean she isn’t still my favorite small person. She’s already sorry, I know she’s sorry.
She cried a little harder until she got the last of it out of her system, and I did not lose it. I’m pretty proud of that last bit, because in the moment, on that phone call, I was fairly positive that I would.
Again with maybe eight minutes to spare, I calmed her down, get her settled in our bed with a snack, a drink, and entertainment. I promised her that after the phone call we would do something fun and tried to explain that her future happiness and privileges depended on her not interrupting this second phone call. Thirty minutes, that’s all I was asking.
When I logged back in, only my editor was there. I was actually early! I showed my editor the headphone wire, explained what happened, and we shared a wide-eyed moment of astonishment and begrudging respect for this child who made it known in no uncertain terms that sometimes my juggling doesn’t work for her. The call went on, the work got done, my daughter and I went and did something fun.
I pushed away any guilt I may have felt for simultaneously working and mothering. I texted my husband a photo of the cut wire, and I told my writing group of moms. There was a lot of sympathy, but mostly there was laughter. She went there, she really went there.
The four-year-old may think I’ve got some nerve, but she is four. By the end of that second phone call she’d forgotten all about it. And by the next day, she was grabbing one of my notebooks and pretending to be a writer. And in a few years, hopefully she’ll understand that it is perfectly alright for a mom to be something else sometimes, even just for an hour. And I think, I have got this.
Besides, I can replace the headphone wire, and her occupational therapist would have really loved her scissor grip.