“You know, that’s not a helpful thing to say, and I know I just said that, but let’s not say that anymore,” my husband said to my toddler, in a sheepish tone that was oh-so-familiar to me. Our toddler had just proffered the opinion that “we should light dat man on fiyah.” Now, where could she possibly have heard such a thing?
My husband recently started working from home, after working in newsrooms for over a decade, that’s where. From what I gather, lighting people on fire is a casual, friendly greeting in newsroom culture. What you do if you’re actually upset with someone is so unprintable, just typing it out would set my computer on fiyah.
So now my husband is working from home, and I’m enjoying it so much, because I like him and I like being with him. And also because, well, now he sees how it is! Now he knows what I’ve been up against for over 20 years, trying to get stuff done at home, the one place on earth that is designed in every detail to prevent you from getting stuff done.
I’ve already mentioned one thing he’s had to get used to: Hearing your words come out of the toddler’s rosy little lips. No better way to find out what you sound like then to be yourself around your little kids. Oh son, you learn to put a filter on pretty quick. If you don’t want kids to tell all their friends, their catechism teacher, and the nearest megaphone, then do not let it pass the gates of your teeth, ever, no matter how long past bedtime you think it is. They’re listening. Always listening.
What else? Speaking of mouths, there’s always food around at home, and you will need to cultivate the deliberate habit of not eating it, because food food is food you food when you’re at food. I mean home. When you’re home, it’s always time to get food, put away food, think about food, plan food, clean up after food, feed someone while they’re waiting for food, or just sit there staring at food and not being able to come up with a reason why it’s on the shelf and not in your mouth. Guess what? In the time it took you to read this paragraph, it got to be time to make more food. I know. You just fed someone. Do it again, food.
People simply do not take your work seriously if you’re not wearing a uniform or sitting in an office. They can see you there, flagrantly sitting at home like an enormous slug. Even though they intellectually know that you are earning a living, they just can’t get past the notion that, since you are at home, your entire reason for existing is to serve them; and when you have performed the required service, you probably back into a storage closet and power down like an off-duty robot until someone needs you to fix the Wii or find their math book or explain the Vietnam war or unclog the toilet. Or make some food. Not this food! Food we like better! Cut into triangles!
Catastrophic domestic entropy is a real thing, and it takes constant effort to keep it at bay. I’m just talking about maintaining a level of cleanliness that keeps your household barely legal. If you want it to be actually clean, you have to exert superhuman strength and be willing to forsake all other endeavors, including feeding and dressing yourself or any other human or animal. You will not have time or energy to form complete sentences, but will only know the language of the snarl and the whimper. Also, strange to say, you can’t make the house clean by shouting at people. It seems like this should work, but it does not.
TV is a fickle friend. It will keep the children off your back while you finish up this very important thing you need to do and they won’t let you do; but there is a point of diminishing returns, and it comes at you real fast. Real fast. Once you reach that fateful number of minutes of screen time, every second that passes will be paid back tenfold, the minute you switch the TV off, with a profound and impenetrable beastliness. Minute for minute, you will pay it back. So hold off as long as you can. Easy fixes always charge high interest rates.
Oh, what is that smell? What are all those smells?
Welcome home, man. I’m so glad you’re here, because I like you. And what are you making for dinner?