A barking cough echoed over the baby monitor at 5:00 a.m. My eyes hadn’t even opened and in a hoarse morning voice I asked my husband, “You heard that too, right?” Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. But he agreed and I groaned, knowing what my day, already planned to the hour, would now look like. My husband is a teacher with a hefty commute and not always a lot of flexibility, so things like sick kids, vet appointments and oil changes usually fall to me. While I’m thankful for a job that essentially allows me to work anywhere— like car dealership waiting areas, my kitchen table or even waiting in line at the grocery store (thanks, email app!)— I still flinch at any disruption from my usual schedule.
I knew the barking baby seal probably meant Croup and because my three-year-old had also been battling a nasty cough and cold, I made plans to take both kids to the doctor. Four hours of meetings scheduled? No problem. I’d make the kids appointments, change my in-person meetings to conference calls, get the kids comfortable with some PBS and pillows and get on with my day working from home.
Two doctors appointments, a breathing treatment (due to unforeseen wheezing) and a trip to the pharmacy later, the girls and I were back home. I had ten minutes to spare before a call with my manager. Barely breaking a sweat, I thought. Oh, the smug confidence.
I texted a quick update to my mom who’d asked how the girls were. Exasperated, my three-year-old began pacing in circles in the kitchen. She might have been sick, but somehow her energy never faltered. She gestured with frustration— her palms up and little fingers spread wide, “It’s not time for texting, Mommy. It’s time for lunch!”
Some people have the type of kids who get colds and melt into the couch for days. They sleep more than usual, they’re quieter and they are more than happy to zone out to a movie. I do not have such children.
But she was right. I apologized and sloppily slathered some peanut butter and honey on stale bread ends. Then added bread to the running grocery list.
Five minutes to spare.
As I served up a gourmet lunch, of PB&H and a juice box, I fumbled around to find the conference code when I heard the splat of baby barf hitting the floor— which it’s possible there is no worse sound.
“Mommy! Ew! She barfed!”
I made a mental note to talk to the toddler about using the word, ‘barf’.
My confident attitude about taking the day head on was now in a swift downward spiral. Sure, I could still join my meeting. I could half listen on mute and soothe the coughing baby with some gentle hip bouncing. But I’d likely have to answer a question and unmute myself, no doubt as the baby started crying again or the dog barked at a UPS truck. I could make it happen and later face my oldest asking why I’m always on the phone or always texting and never playing. Basically, I could make it work, but not work well.
So, here’s what I did.
I sent one final text to my manager that said, “Thought I could make today work, but can’t. Two sick kids. Need to reschedule.”
I then breathed a huge sigh of relief for making one decision and not trying to squeeze in 50 things. I was able to refocus my attention to the little people who actually needed me. My manager sympathetically— and genuinely— responded, mom job comes first.
My three-year-old doesn’t care that my inbox is full and my calendar is back-to-back. All she knows is when I’m home she wants to play. Just because I can work anywhere, doesn’t mean I should. I have to learn to stop making it work. Some days it just doesn’t work. I need the reminder to put the phone down. Close the laptop. Focus on what’s in front of me. Find a way to shut off the part of my brain that’s yelling and anxious about everything I need to do.
My career isn’t going to come to a screeching halt because I spent a few hours or even a few days with sick kids. But I’d like to think my kids will remember the times I spent snuggling and relaxing with them when they were sick. I’d rather they hold on to those memories than ones of me texting.