The scene: An enameled cast iron bathtub in a small farmhouse in New England.
The characters: An exhausted 34-year-old pregnant lady and her 2-year-old and 3-year-old daughters.
The time: 7:00 p.m.
The action: A phone rings.
“It’s probably Daddy,” I say, jumping out of the tub naked, water sloshing on the floor. If James had not been out of town, I would never have answered the phone.
I had just started working as a freelance writer and didn’t have a separate ring tone for work calls.
The voice on the other end was not James.
It was an editor-in-chief’s assistant at a glossy magazine in California, where it was only 4:00 p.m.
“Mommy, I want to talk to Daddy!” The 3-year-old cries.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy,” the 2-year-old shrieks.
“Could I, um, call you back in ten minutes?” I plead.
It’s hard to sound professional when you’re stark naked.
I bustle the girls out of the tub and leave them upstairs while I run downstairs to return the phone call. Ms magazine wants to assign me a story based on a pitch letter I sent them months before. Was I interested?
I bluffed my way through that phone call, insisting on my regular rate (I didn’t have one) and checking my busy schedule to verify if I could make the deadline (the calendar was empty). When two sets of pajama-clad feet appeared in the doorway of the kitchen (there was nowhere else in the house to talk), I hung up as quickly as I could, feeling both exhilarated and overwhelmed.
The bathtub incident was funny, even at the time, but I’m thinking of it today because—six years later with a new baby—I’m remembering all over again how hard it is to juggle work and family.
Now I make a living as a freelance writer, live in the Pacific time zone, own a house that has a home office with a door that closes, and use a separate ring tone for work calls.
I have a revision of an article due today, to an editor in New York City, who left work before I could finish. I’ve been typing emails with one hand while nursing the baby, my shoulder squeezing a cell phone to my ear to retrieve messages. There’s spit-up on my left sleeve, I’ve forgotten to eat lunch, and I need to advance the diapers in the laundry.
On a good day this juggling act seems like sit-com material.
On a bad day, like today, I feel inadequate: failing to meet deadlines, badly in need of the kind of high-quality dark chocolate we can’t afford, concerned I’m not paying enough attention to my children. I wanted this baby as much as I’ve ever wanted anything and I’m so glad to have her. I want to be a good mother to her, and to my older children, but I worry on days like today that I’m not doing a good enough job.
Take a break. Be kind to yourself. Rest when the baby’s resting. All of this is such good advice from well-meaning friends but there’s no such thing, really, as maternity leave when you’re self-employed in a country in a deep recession and the writing market has plummeted.
Clearly it’s time to take a bath.