As a full-time newspaper editor turned part-time freelance journalist, I feel blessed to be able to do my job while I’m home with my kids. The problem is that means I frequently have to do my job while I’m home with my kids.
Attempting to do two jobs simultaneously — one that calls for no background noise, the other that is the very definition of background noise — is often frustrating and sometimes laughable.
Case in point: Last Friday I had a scheduled 10:30 a.m. phone interview with a world-renowned doctor in New Jersey. The man has dedicated his life to researching reproductive health and actually invented a diagnostic test to determine a woman’s reproductive capacity. It’s a revolutionary breakthrough in reproductive medicine and is now being used all over the globe. Needless to say, the guy’s kind of important and the subject matter is kind of technical: I really needed to focus.
Enter the 2-year-old and the 3-year-old.
It was a gorgeous Spring day and I decided to try my luck with letting them play in our very small, completely fenced-in yard while I sat with my laptop on the back porch steps. I imagined them playing quietly in the new sandbox their dad had just set up while I got all my questions answered and some great quotes to boot.
And I was right — for about five minutes. That’s when they started removing sand from the sandbox by the shovelful, dumping it on nearby deck chairs, their plastic slide and the sidewalk. I glanced at the pile of sand in the box and tried to calculate how long this could go on, as the game was wreaking havoc on our backyard but was also keeping them quiet. No matter, though, because dumping sand quickly led to throwing sand and that, of course, landed right in Evan’s face.
Kids cry loudly when sand is thrown in their eyes. Luckily I managed to race over and silently console him while the good doctor talked without faltering through the Bluetooth headset. (Yes!) But the move put me back on the boys’ radar, which means they followed me like gnats back to my base camp on the porch. (No!)
That’s where Kostyn noticed the snow shovel leaning against the wall behind me and wanted it. He knew I was on the phone and he was supposed to be quiet, so we engaged in a 45-second silent battle of wills that involved me looking wild-eyed, shaking my head violently and pointing my finger toward the yard. It involved him raising his voice incrementally until I handed over the shovel to keep him quiet. He proceeded to SCRAAAAAPE it along the sidewalk, which to someone on the other end of a phone probably sounded like a small aircraft landing in my yard without its landing gear.
Then they wanted a snack. I’d had the foresight to bring out a bag of Goldfish crackers but I hadn’t brought out plates or napkins, so I hastily dropped my jacket on the steps and dumped Goldfish on it. Evan immediately moved the Goldfish to the dirty sidewalk and ate them off the sand.
In the middle of their snack Kostyn started dancing around — you know, that dance, the one small children do right before they start whining, “Mommy I have to go poooop!”
Somehow, silently, I managed to get both boys and the dog to follow me inside while carrying my open laptop and my phone and continuing to “Uh-huh….” and “Oh wow…” the source as if he had my undivided attention. Once upstairs, though, Kostyn started crying that he needed help. “I can’t get my pants off! Mommy my shoe is stuck!” (Because for some reason he has to strip naked from the waist down to poop.)
At this point I was kind of losing my mind. The doctor was giving me awesome quotes, but I couldn’t type them because I was helping a 3-year-old out of his big boy underwear while praying for him to just be quiet already please! In the blink of an eye I got him undressed and on the potty, gave him a handheld game and headed downstairs with my laptop and phone and headset and Evan and the dog.
Any other time, Kostyn would have happily begun playing his little Mobigo game. This day, he started screaming that he didn’t want to be alone. It was the only time the doctor mentioned being able to hear any sort of background noise. “Well, it sounds like someone’s not happy,” he said as good-naturedly as he could muster. I was thinking “NO. I’M NOT.”
I suppose I could have given up then. Taken a rain check. Asked to follow up via email. But I was almost done with the interview. There were just two crucial questions I still had to ask, and I’m a professional, dammit! Kostyn was neither dying nor in pain; I knew he was fine. So I made an excuse for my son, an excuse that most certainly did not involve disclosing where he was sitting at the moment, and forged ahead with my follow-up question from my new makeshift office space in the kitchen.
The good doc started in on his answer and I had both hands typing notes but both eyes on Evan, who was climbing onto one of the kitchen stools. Maybe he’ll just sit there, I thought, still typing. Maybe I can finish this interview in the next two minutes before
“I WANT TO EEEEEAT.”
“I WANT TOAST!!”
“AND WATER! MOMMY, WATER!”
There was only one way to shut his sweet little trap, and that was to fill it with toast. So I stopped taking notes again. I fetched the toaster, the peanut butter, the paper plates. Then I took furious catch-up notes while making sure the toaster didn’t set off the smoke alarm, which happens every day. (No, really, every day.) Luckily it didn’t go off, but that’s really because my son didn’t actually have “toast” so much as “warm bread” for lunch that day.
And all the while, Kostyn continued to cry from his perch on the potty upstairs. He sobbed right up until he heard me say the word “Goodbye.” In the second it took for my headset to beep in my ear and my phone to go silent, I had one son happily playing a video game and another with his mouth stuck shut with peanut butter. The lack of background noise was deafening, and maddening. And laughable.