Opinion

Working at home, one remembers what matters most | Humor

I commute to an office in town five days a week, but with a convincing excuse, my employer allows me to work from home, infrequently and irregularly.

I recently spent a day working from home and found that without the distractions of phone calls or gossiping coworkers, I can waste just as much time at home as I do at work, while taking much less time to get there.

I work in our library. The library is a quiet place for our family to do our homework, with ceiling-high pine bookshelves crammed with knowledge and several desktop PCs on two dull-gray schoolroom Formica tables amid the shambles of school papers, bills, bike parts, a hamster cage and broken computer equipment in drifted piles. We bought four impossibly hard, steam-formed plywood and welded-steel school chairs and moved a floral-print overstuffed recliner, suitable for reading women’s fiction, into a corner.

I had warned the kids that I must have quiet to think important business thoughts while I work from home. At 11 in the morning, dressed simply but effectively in my plaid bathrobe and my dad’s sheepskin slippers, I’ve been surfing the Costco website for lawn furniture for the past hour. Our oldest boy, who is supposed to be working on math problems in the chair next to me, is watching videos of grown men playing Minecraft; they suavely narrate a running play-by-play, chuckling confidently at regular intervals.

Our youngest boy asks to go on a bike ride with me, tapping my shoulder several times without answer. Exasperated, I offer to define the word “pester” for him; without waiting for a response, I barge ahead, describing pester as a verb that means to ask for something more than twice in less than five minutes. I try to impress on him that I’m working from home. I can’t just take off on a bike ride with him. I return to my study of Costco lawn furniture.

Shocked by the time, I hastily call in to a scheduled teleconference, greeting everyone on the phone with an abundance of empty cheer, while I cover the mouthpiece and mouth the words, “Quiet! I’m on the phone!” — adopting an expression that I hope to be menacing and just chilling enough to buy a full half-hour’s quiet.

We try to carry on the meeting over the sounds of my boys pummeling each other in the background like characters in a Kung-Fu movie.

Holding the phone tightly against my cheek, trying to explain an involved and hopelessly technical point while the kids work each other over, I make a break for the room across the hall with the door that shuts tightly, or failing that, the coat closet in the front hall. My wife Maria has actually tried the more spacious double closet in the library, but recently our youngest boy has been found hiding there, watching “A Pair of Kings” episodes on Netflix using Maria’s iPod Touch.

When I return to my computer, our youngest daughter has restarted it and is trying to log onto Webkinz. She painstakingly locates the letters of her password and taps each key as if plucking he-loves-me-not petals off of a daisy.

Her older brother, now bored with watching videos of Mr. Chuckles play Minecraft, has started some buggy and most likely virus-infected Miniclip game and his PC has blue-screened, dire warnings splayed across the screen.

For several months in a row I’ve promised to install some sort of CyberSitter software that will limit the websites our family can access, but for now the kids can still look up instructions for making atomic bombs in their lunch boxes out of parts from an old alarm clock or accidentally uncover one of several billion videos of cosmetically enhanced bodybuilders of rotating genders engaged in what appears to be sped-up games of Twister.

Lunchtime is an hour away, but everyone is hungry, possibly even weak from hunger depending on how attractive our plans for lunch might be. We pile in the minivan for submarine sandwiches, and on the way we mail a few packages, stop by Granny’s Attic, where we paw through clothes and toys and household items and pick up a couple of stainless-steel bolts for the lawn mower at the hardware store.

After we return from lunch, our youngest boy and I pack a bag of Goldfish and fill up water bottles for our bike ride. As we circle the gray-green harbor in the truth of the afternoon sun, I conclude that my work might still be there tomorrow, but this bike ride, and this day, comes only once.

 

— Kevin Pottinger lives with

his wife Marie and their four

children on Vashon.

 

 

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