Monday, March 06, 2006

Work It.

In early January I was asked by a client to take on a design job for a major software company, whose name I won't mention here as I would hate for them to be associated with a site that can be found by Googling the words gagging crack whores. I will say that the owner of the company is an extremely wealthy man, so wealthy that I've heard his mansion overlooking Seattle is made of solid gold bricks and that he can often be found on his lawn raking $1000 bills into big piles for his children to jump into. These may be rumors and in no way influenced the sudden spike in my hourly design fee nor my uncharacteristic enthusiasm for earning a wage.

This whole recent job started off smoothly enough but soon evolved into a much more complicated project. As the deadline neared the time constraints became apparant and as usual I found myself struggling to figure out where my priorities lay and how to successfully manage my career and home. For instance, if the client is asking for a complete re-design of the piece I just sent out, do I have one margarita or two glasses of wine to dull the pain? These are the types of important questions that have plagued me in my quest to find a meaningful balance between a professional and personal life.

For the past ten years I have worked out of my home. Prior to that I had a studio downtown with several employees, but once I got pregnant with Kira I decided that it was the perfect time to scale down and set up a home office in order to spend time with her and the ten subsequent children I planned to give birth to. Although that number was reluctantly scaled down to two, I feel my decision to work at home was a good one. I'm grateful every day to be able to earn a living while avoiding human interaction with clients and vendors, an activity that used to put a serious crimp in my personal time. Call it sick, but there is something unmistakably subversive in being able to conduct business over the phone with the biggest software company on the planet while wearing only your pajama bottoms and a bra.

In the beginning of my work-at-home odyssey I struggled with the degree of professionalism I could manage to uphold. I felt that even though I spent entire days with my hair unbrushed and wearing a bathrobe stained with baby spittle, it was best not to disclose that to a client. I became accustomed to explaining the wailing in the background as 'some crazy neighbor's cat' and making scribbling noises on the diaper pad to simulate furious note-taking. I soon found, however, that attempting to discuss serious business while trying to hide the fact that a ten-pound human is suckling at your breast is inherently impossible and I decided to come clean. Anyone who couldn't handle the fact that I was a working mom was not anyone I would want to work with in the first place, I declared, pumping my fist in the air Norma Rae fashion. The three brave clients that remained were rewarded handsomely with riveting stories about sleep deprivation and musings about various hues of baby poop and their number coordinates on the Pantone color chart.

These days I still try and conduct business in the same manner I vowed to, although the subject matter has evolved over the years and I've gotten more selective about the details of my life I choose to disclose, especially with new clients. So when the job came in early this year from that company I made it a point to be a little more discreet. While I was still honest about the fact that our conference call would have to wait until I got back from my daughter's school orchestra performance, I stopped short of admitting that that night's cable showing of 'EuroTrip' would hinder my ability to get those layout revisions done overnight. I felt this allowed me to have some semblance of professionalism along with the appearance of involved parenting, while also concealing from these captains of industry my poor taste in television. It's a win-win situation.

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  1. Bravo! Good for you for walking the highwire of Motherhood vs. job, from the sounds of it, successfully. This post reminded me of why I got out of the corporate game a few years ago, but also gave me hope for when I try to start my own business soon enough. Thanks!

  2. Such a great post! My life is very similar. I work from home for an office based on the other coast, and freelance the rest of the time both in and out of the house. Nate's pushing for me to go back to work f/t in order to create more deliniation between home/work, and also because as a sahd, he wants to be able to blast Spoon without me yelling at him to turn that crazy rock n roll music DOWN. It's going to be the hardest choice I ever make and I fear regretting it...but I think it's just how it's going to be for now. Oy, now I'm depressed.

    Oh and my clients totally know I work from home. What they don't know is that once I said I was "watering the plants" on the phone, when what I was really doing was peeing.

  3. hehe "watering the plants"...
    sorry I get distracted easily.
    What i WAS going to say was- I should try to talk my boss into forwarding all calls to my home, there's never anyone in the office anyway, what's the point of even having the office? Save money, pay me while I answer the phone in my pj's!

  4. You write so, so well -- you nailed what it's like to have a child(ren), care for that child(ren) and balance work as well. Bravo.

  5. Wonderful, funny post! I suspect lots of people will be able to relate.

    Speaking of work, I must go tackle some. I'll be here for another ten hours anyway. *sigh*

  6. Great post, and you captured the professional/personal life dilemma perfectly.

    When you're working in your pajamas and bra, what do you do when the FedEx guy comes to the door?

  7. She says "Hey Baby - check this Package out!!" And does a booty dance.

  8. I'll go with both the Margarita and the wine. But that's just me.

  9. so there's something to be said for technology - a phone, a fax and a computer and you're good to go (more or less) and it's encourging - maybe I'll be fortunate enough to find myself in the same spot as you when that day comes when I have me some ankle biters.

    Out of curiosity- how many clients did you have before you "came clean" that you were at home w/ the kids? did it lose you much business?

  10. Mom101: Just think of all the adult conversation you'll be able to indulge in, not to mention being able to eat lunch out, instead of scarfing down last night's pizza in front of your computer. Of course, that's just me, Ms. Sunny Outlook.

    Anonymous: I have to admit, I did on one occasion forget what I was wearing and answered the door clad only in a sweatshirt and panties. This proved to be so traumatic for the driver that now my packages are merely left at the doorsstep without even so much as a knock at my door.

    Jen: I probably had around six or seven full-time clients at the time of my 'downsizing,' although it had been gradually declining over the years, due to my desire for a life change, related to, but not entirely due to my desire to have children. (whoa - was that a sentence?) I'm down to two clients now, mainly due to my bad attitude and desire to phase out of design and become a writer. Until that day, here I sit, bitter and clad in my pajamas.

  11. I did an interview naked once. Hey, the guy called when I jumped out of the shower and baby was gonna wakey very soon. A momma's gotta do what a momma's gotta do...

    I miss Seattle...

  12. What ARE the Pantone colors of baby poop, anyways?

  13. You evolved from bare breast to bra. You are going up girl! When you are in a turtleneck, you'll know that you made it!

  14. Thank you for the insight into the life of a work at home mom. What a juggling act. I've never actually worked from home at a job that paid me money, but I may be headed in that direction when my kids are a little older.

    I like the idea of "freedom" when you work at home, but I also like the idea of an office that you can leave at the end of the day. People and clean clothes are nice, too. Sometimes.


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