“Dad, I hate to tell you this – and don’t get mad at me – but I think Sunny made a real bad mess upstairs,” Connie says with a worried-but-diligent look. Sunny’s our border collie/Australian shepherd puppy. She eats everything that’s not hers. Connie backs away as I get up from my home office computer. She follows just behind as I head up the stairs. She wants to see and hear every detail when DAD FINDS THE BIG MESS. As I near the top of the stairs, the phone rings. Yes, it’s probably work-related. But, heck, I want to see the big mess – I ignore the phone.
This is what you miss when you work in an office. When you drive off at 7:00, you leave the dog in the backyard and the only excitement the dog gets is when a baby bird falls into the yard from the tree above. I work from home, so when Sunny found the baby bird – after playing with it for an hour – she brought its limp-but-still-warm body into the living room and set it proudly down at my feet. She expected praise.
I’m not on deadline for a change as I get to the top of the stairs to see Sunny’s BIG MESS. I’m on kid and puppy duty. I’ve learned a few things in my years of working at home. For one, you schedule phone calls – when you can schedule phone calls – for the times when one or more of the kids is in summer ballet class or some other summer program. When the kids are home during the day, I’m not working.
That means I work while others sleep. I do most of my business communication by email. I do my research through Google. Most of my live calls are to the East or West Coast, which means early mornings or late afternoons. In between, I’m at the water park, the pool, the zoo, the aquarium, the natural history museum or Shrek 2. We spend part of each day at the park with the bad bad puppy.
In years past, I worked while the kids were around. I’d hire a teenager to yell at them so I could focus on projects. But it’s unpleasant hearing someone else yelling at your kids – I like to do the yelling myself. So I fired the teenager years ago. My son turns 16 this summer. My two daughters are 8 and 11. There aren’t that many years left to do the yelling. I shifted my work schedule to accommodate these long summer days. On my dying bed, instead of saying “I wish I had spent more time with my family,” I’ll be saying, “I think I would have lived longer if I spent more time at some office.”
Not all home business owners are able to shift work around to accommodate kids. It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken years. I developed my schedule slowly. I weeded out the clients that were not compatible with this lifestyle. When I was a kid, my dad took a job close by and came home for lunch every day. We always lived – by design – a block or two from school so the kids were home for lunch too. We were all together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dad worked a 40-hour week so he could spend time with us. His colleagues worked 60 hours and passed him by. His priorities seemed fine to me.
As I headed down the hall to the girls’ room, Sunny slinked by. Whatever BIG MESS she made, she certainly knew it was a NO NO. She had globs of some kind of pink and purple goo around her mouth. The phone quit ringing. I’m off all day to yell at puppies and kids. I’ll start work again after dinner. I’ll go to bed early and get up around 3:00. I’ll get most of eight hours in. It’s all about priorities and a few years' worth of juggling schedules till you get it right. By the way, does anybody know how to get sprinkle glue out of the carpet?