Sunday, January 16, 2011

So, you work from home?

No, frankly, I just pretend to. Really, all I do is answer the doorbell. Answer the doorbell to the cook, who, being trained in the offense-is-the-best-defense school of culinary arts, blasts me immediately for the lack of key ingredients.

Then I answer the doorbell to various couriers — for me, for husband, for neighbour and neighbour’s relative. Answer the doorbell to someone who wants to sell me multiplex coupons. Followed by someone, allegedly from the electric board, who wants to sell me an appliance which will halve my power bills. When the Art of Living guys ring, promising to bring calm into my life, I start foaming at the mouth. All I want to do is rip out their innards.

Finally, I plop down on my ‘office’ — the divan in the hall, a parking zone for crayons, earrings, kid’s underpants, notebooks and novels, left-over food and teacups. When you work from home, ‘official’ space and time are ill-defined. Inexplicably, you end up working longer hours and getting paid less.

For instance, while reviewing a long, serious book recently, I carefully wrote on notelets and stuck them in. I normally find sticky notes too wasteful, but this lot were an irresistible leaf-green and plum in colour (in a freelancer’s lonely life, things like nice stationery matter). So I really couldn’t blame my daughter when she opened the book which was lying around and spent a blissful 15 minutes taking out each note, admiring it, and using it to form a long green-and-plum snake. I mean, she’s six. She doesn’t recognise boundaries which are not physical. Colours are irresistible to her. Deep sigh. That’s four hours of my life I’m never getting back, and one needlessly late night to make good.

While working from home, your time is pretty much cut up and tossed all over the place like dhania in the bhel puri. It’s not fair on the kid either, because to a small child it’s inexplicable that mom/dad can be home, but not be available. Nothing says ‘I’m here, but just not for you’ better than looking into a laptop and typing busily while your child is saying something.

I should know — I’ve done it often enough. After six years of accepting my distracted parenting, my daughter finally said the other day, “You don’t spend time with me.” I started to protest and tell her about the hours I have spent shoveling food into her mouth. With the wisdom of her kind, she cut in, “And feeding me lunch is not spending time with me, ok?” For the record, if I didn’t have a chronic health problem, I’d be out there running for the VT fast every single day.

Because kids are small animals, they know it when you’re with them 100% and when you’re somewhere else in your head. When office-going parents come home tired, children, worshipful and huggy, are like balm to their weary souls. To us work-from-home types, kids are just another kind of doorbell. Cute, but still very much in the way.

Eight years back I read that Enid Blyton’s younger daughter had had an unhappy childhood because, apparently, Ma Blyton was more than a little neglectful of her own offspring. She was entirely focussed on creating magic for other people’s kids and on what we would today call ‘building her brand’. Then, my lips had curled in disgust at her cruelty. Now — except for the talent, the success and the wealth — I’ve begun to remind me just a little bit of her.

This article appeared in the DNA of Oct 24, 2010


mandar talvekar said...

"kids are just another kind of doorbell" -- how true.
Recently i spent a few weeks trying to work at home on something and my 20-month old nephew look bewildered (and often angry) each time i shut him out of my room. As you sed, he couldn't fathom why his big soft toy was at home and yet unavailable.

hansa said...


Anita and Amit Vachharajani said...

mandy, :D 'his big soft toy'! like! maybe you should be doing an avuncular column too ;)
henza, where r u?

Eni said...

In fact Enid Blyton satarized her "unhappy childhood" in The Six Bad Boys. I too read a lot of Enid Blyton books as a child. thus, my affection for Enid Blyton and her books led me in writing and publishing a book on her, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye

Roopa Banerjee said...

" a freelancer’s lonely life, things like nice stationery matter."

I could really relate to that.That was totally spot on. Loved your post. I work from home as well and struggle to get focussed time and space, always unsuccessfully. It helps to know I am not alone and that there are others on the same journey:)

Roopa Banerjee

dipali said...

And when you are alone at home, the doorbells find the most inopportune times to ring, sometimes simultaneously with land line and mobile phone, sometimes when Nature is urgently beckoning.

The caterpillar must have been a pretty one, though:)