Monday, November 2, 2009

Somewhere Between Bigfoot and Donald Trump's Tears

I'm a schedule kind of guy. There's a lot going on in my life. I've got my own business. I've got a marriage. I've got three awesome but inevitably demanding children. And, with mid-November nearly upon us, I'll soon have North Carolina Tarheel basketball to watch. In short, there are a lot of demands on my time. To make things even more challenging, I usually work from home. On the surface that sounds like a great gig--and in many ways it is. But you'd be surprised how slow production goes when you're working within shouting distance of the fam. It's hard to stay on schedule when you're breaking up arguments over who gets the Incredible Hulk cup at breakfast, or trying to calm down a child you can't understand because they've burst into your office scralking (screaming, crying, and talking at the same time). Throw in the three or four times a morning my wife breaks my concentration with screams of "Calm down, your father is working!" or interrupts me with requests like "Can you take a break to help me with just one thing?" and you've got the potential for some mounting frustration.

The point is, when you've got a hectic life, routine helps. Daytimers can be like second Bibles. Scheduling well and sticking to a plan can be the all-important difference between accomplishing what must be completed in a day or finding yourself behind the eight ball because today's unfinished tasks have overflowed into tomorrow's already full plate. That's why, every morning after I get my daughter off to school and spend some time praying, I open up my daytimer and lay out a strategy for getting things done. I love getting it down on paper. On paper, my plan always works--I can fit everything in.

There's just one problem. When you're married with kids, unaltered plans rank somewhere between sightings of Bigfoot and Donald Trump crying on the list of rare occurrences. Jimmy Ray Jimbob's claim that a spaceship of aliens "come along and snatched me outta my deer stand cuz they said they was wantin' to study intelligent life on earth" is far more believable than any father claiming to work from home without familial disturbances.

Of course, I love my family more than work. Any writing project I'm involved in is not as important as my wife and kids. It's not that I don't want to be available to deal with all the situations or help with family demands that arise during the day. It's just that, last time I checked my direct deposits, my kids don't pay me very well. In fact, they're takers. My first-grade daughter has been living rent-free under my roof for over six years now. Except for a two-year phase in which she wanted to become a princess, she hasn't even offered to get a job and help with the family expenses. Her two younger brothers, William and Carson, seem content to simply play and watch Sesame Street. No ambition. No vision. No asking themselves, "What am I doing with my life?" Nope, they just want to have fun and bother their sister. Other than breaking the world's record for most questions a four-year-old can ask his father in a ten-hour period, William has no real goals. Carson, meanwhile, just wants to eat, hide half-eaten lollipops in clean laundry, and sit for as long as possible in poopy diapers. My wife works as much as she can, but she and I agree that we want her devoting most of her attention to being a mom (a role she's gifted at). That means that family income falls predominantly to me. I don't want to put work before my family, but I've grown accustomed to making sure we have electricity and enough food to eat too.

And so, flexibility becomes everything when you're a dad--especially if you work from home! At home, the snares and conflicts of family life can catch you even during the work day. You still have to meet all the demands of your job; you've just got to learn to be okay with the fact that it won't all go according to plan. That project you were going to be wrapping up by 6pm so that you could relax and watch the ballgame at eight, often has to become the task that you're still working on at 11pm because--well--daddyhood called somewhere during the day. Yep, as a father, you have to know ahead of time that, while your daytimer might make for a fun read, it still belongs in the fiction section next to Cinderella and Barak Obama's My Life as a Moderate.

If you're a work-at-home dad who sometimes deals with the frustrations of trying to run your business or please the boss while simultaneously answering the call of scralking little people and a wife who expects you to have time for "just one thing," then take heart! You're not alone! We're in this together, brother. Just take life where it's at. Pray for wisdom to pick your battles. Hopefully, you'll know when it's time to step out of the office to help with family matters and when it's time to lock the door and pretend you can't hear Armageddon occurring in the next room. And talk to your wife--A LOT! Meredith and I have drawn boundaries, only to cross them and have to talk and redraw them again. The key is communication. Keep sharing feelings and expectations, and make sure your wife feels free to do the same. Don't let the frustrations that often accompany the conflicting demands of work and parenthood spark arguments between you and your wife. Just keep trying. And who knows? Maybe one day you'll come across Bigfoot on a camping trip or find yourself passing a Kleenex to Donald Trump.

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