I’m still thinking about boundaries. A day with structure and boundaries feels productive; is productive. If this is work time and I’m only working on one job (and not reading email about another, answering calls about a third, thinking about a fourth and popping downstairs to empty the dishwasher), the job is likely to be done quickly and effectively. If this is ‘home’ time and I’m only chopping carrots then I can listen properly to the boy’s chatter, as well as being less likely to lose a finger or two.
But what about when an idea for my company website strikes when I’m chopping those carrots? Or I think of a great blog post in the middle of writing a funding application? How rigid do the boundaries need to be?
We need to allow for a bit of permeability. I don’t want to lose these creative ideas, or forget the important thing I’ve suddenly remembered, but I don’t want to let it sidetrack me either. (For all my commitment to keeping the boundaries, I am still extremely easy to sidetrack some days.) I need to capture the idea and keep it until it’s time to deal with it. So I make a quick note and go back to the task at hand.
It’s like collecting butterflies and keeping them in a jar to admire later.
In fact, I’m finding that focusing on one thing at a time actually allows the parts of my brain that aren’t needed now to wander off, admire the scenery and come back with some interesting butterflies, in the shape of ideas about often unrelated things. Cross-fertilisation between the separate compartments of our lives can be very useful. That’s why I love living and working at home. It means that the boundaries are flexible.
All this, of course, is excellent justification for my ever-growing and ever-changing collection of notebooks of all shapes and sizes. There is one by the cooker (stained and bent and accompanied by a very blunt but still functional pencil). There are several on my desk, one in my handbag, one by the kitchen table, a pile of scrap paper by the back door and post-its absolutely everywhere. As long as I remember to collect up the day’s (or the week’s) pile of notes, I’ve captured all the butterflies and can hold them and nurture them until it’s time to set them free and see where they’ll take me.
Focus, but watch for butterflies.
“When things get back to normal…”
When things are normal, everything will go as planned, everyone will be where they should be at the allotted time, and there will be no unusual happenings forcing changes of plan. We just need to get past this impossible deadline, or that thing that we weren’t expecting, then things will be different.
Hot water boilers break. Children are ill. Events are cancelled. Trains are late. New opportunities, or things that need to be done, arise suddenly. Children are ill again. (They are so generous, sharing their germs with one another constantly.) Clients or colleagues don’t keep their end of the bargain. Friends invite you out on the one day when you had other plans. Children have school holidays. Food you’d planned to cook with goes off. (Or you realise you forgot to buy it in the first place.) People have birthdays. It rains. Or snows.
These aren’t the things that get in the way of real life. They are real life.
I’m writing this while trying to ignore the film that the boy is watching on yet another sick day from school. (Without ignoring him or his requests for drinks and crackers – a fine balance!) It’s one of the many skills a home worker needs to cultivate.
I’ve decided to stop waiting for things to get back to normal. Normal is what happens every day. This is normal: the swings and roundabouts, the changing plans on the fly, the multi-tasking. We may not be able to plan for every eventuality but we can accept what comes and work with it. We can build in extra time when we estimate how long a job will take, to allow for illness and mishap. And we can keep the phone number of a good plumber to hand.
Some years I’m inspired by the glowing red globes of the tomato mountain spilling out of the greenhouse and into the kitchen, and I happily cook up pots of delicious tomato chilli jam. (Fantastic with sausages, cheese – pretty much anything, in fact.)
This year, despite the glowering and the threats from the tomatoes every time I walk into the kitchen, the cupboard remains bare of any tomato-related preserves, and I’m refusing to feel guilty. Everything is seasonal, and I’m sure my kitchen goddess persona (ha ha) will return another day, another season. For now, she’s frolicking in other pastures. Or something.
A friend told me recently that she’d been inspired by my blog. Delighted as I was, I laughed out loud when she said she’d been inspired to not work at home! She’d had her season of doing that and now she needed to go out to work and leave the domestic stuff behind. And I completely understand that. While I’ll not be leaving my haven of domesticity, I’ll let the preserve-making slide and enjoy the late sunshine instead. This season won’t last forever.
I look out at the abundant harvest waiting in the garden: French beans, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, and more.
I walk to the freezer drawer and take out fish fingers, frozen peas, frozen sweetcorn, and frozen bread (home made, but not by me).
Some days we can’t even look up at our ideals, let alone reach for them.
And that’s ok. Tomorrow is another day.
Besides, nobody complains about fish fingers with the same ferocity as they complain about beetroot.
One minute you’re enjoying the downtime, making the most of the quiet work season to make all kinds of business plans and lists, and dream up new business ideas, new blog posts, new everything.
Next minute you’re stuck in a hotel room in a strange town for a week, desperately worried about a poorly child, sleeping not at all and unable to think beyond the present moment, let alone plan an exciting future.
Wasn’t it John Lennon who said “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans”? Quite literally true, in this case!
So excuse the recent radio silence. Normal service is, I hope, resumed.
Times like this reinforce how important living and working at home is to me. When the chips are down, living has to come before working, every time. When you combine the two, even the difficult times are a little easier because working can take a back seat until you regain some kind of normality.
It is 3am. Even now the temperature in the bedroom is between stifling and unbearable. A hot little body is jammed up against me, arms around my neck, snuffling slightly. A poorly boy.
Around 4am he finally falls back to sleep and I creep groggily back to my own bed. It’s already beginning to get light outside. I side in and out of a stuffy doze until 5:45 when he is back, clutching a cuddly toy and looking unwell but unfortunately wide awake. No rest for the wicked. We get up.
This is where home and work really collide, but today is an easy one. There are no meetings to rearrange, no complex negotiations with the husband about who can do what part of the nursemaid duty. Today – as most days – I have a day of writing fundraising applications ahead of me, and that is a flexible thing. A sick day for an eight-year-old boy, at least in this house, generally involves a lot of lying on the sofa watching too much Star Wars and How to Train Your Dragon, interspersed with short-lived bursts of energy and possibly occasional sleeping. (Though not, unfortunately, for me, despite the disturbed night.) I bring the laptop downstairs to keep him company and hope the phone doesn’t ring.
Having long ago mastered the art of tuning out the sound of lightsaber duels and dragon racing, it becomes almost just another day in the office. In fact, it’s lovely to have tea breaks replaced by cuddle breaks and breaks to administer drinks of water and any delicacies the invalid can stomach. (Although when the requests for sweeties begin I know it’s back to school tomorrow!) My conscience forces me to take a decent lunch break to spend time with the boy before he develops square eyes. We can play a little if he’s up to it.
The working day actually feels longer and more luxurious when it’s not squashed between school runs. I wouldn’t want it this way every day, for his sake and mine, but it’s a quiet change to the routine and comforting to know that I can easily be there when he needs me.