The commute to my office is 968 miles. But it's not as bad as it sounds: I only do it once a month. I'm a telecommuter. I spend the majority of my working hours at home on a computer, My office and I send work back and forth via modem, fax, and overnight mail.
Yes, the UPS guy and I are quite familiar; he knows my schedule, I know his. My preschool daughter thinks that everyone who drives a big brown truck is named Jerry. I'm also on a first-name basis with the woman who owns the local printing shop, the Fedex guy, and the computer fix-it guy (too well, unfortunately). My bedroom is overrun with office equipment; we sleep to the hum of the computer and are occasionally awakened by 4 a.m. faxes from clients in different time zones.
My husband takes our son to day care three days a week. Our daughter stays at home with me until right after lunch, when it's time for preschool. She usually entertains herself for the first couple of hours, and then I let her watch "Sesame Street" when she starts getting antsy. Sometimes I sit with her for five minutes and let Bert and Ernie give me a break from geotechnical documents. I actually do get a full day's work in, between car-pooling trips, answering solicitors' phone calls, and ignoring the lure of the sunny back deck.
Like many women, I not only work for money, but I also work as a homemaker and mother. Working mothers, especially those who work at home, have to try to maintain two distinct worlds. We want to work (and some of us have to, financially) because it's stimulating and a nice change from listening to Raffi and changing diapers.
But our career selves and mother selves are never quite as separate as we would like. Sometimes when I need to concentrate on work, I can't because a child needs attention. And sometimes when I want to play with my children, my office phone intrudes.
I fly to my office in California for a week every month. Before I leave, I write out a detailed schedule of the kids' lives for my husband, reminding him who's going to pick up whom and when. And then there are all the other little details: gymnastics on Tuesday (practice her handstands), pack a lunch on Wednesday (no red juice), field trip to the goat farm on Thursday (wear hiking boots), no good clothes at day care (he gets too dirty). I hate to leave them, but I know my husband can take care of things, and it's good for him to get a chance to do so.
The afternoon I'm to leave, I swing with my kids in our backyard hammock and look out at the snow-capped Arapaho peaks. I don't want to get on the plane. But once I'm in the air and see the lights of Silicon Valley below me, I become a Californian again. I leave my snow boots and wool coat at home and come off the plane in shorts and sandals.
I feel I have a separate life there. At home, I'm a mother and wife first, a career woman second. In California, I'm a career woman first, with a family I call every night, just to check in. I work 60 hours the week I'm there, able to concentrate on projects with a directness I can't begin to match at home.
When I'm through and my bosses have what they need, I feel competent and satisfied. Working woman, just what I want to be.
WHEN I work from home, although I'm connected to my office by my computer and phone, it's just not the same as being there. Even though I've worked for the company for eight years, I tend to feel like an outsider. Sometimes I call in just to hear what's going on. The week that I work in California, I feel more integral to the office. I walk into a staff meeting and feel connected again.
When I'm through working at 7 or 8 at night, I walk down the street to my motel, past chic shops. Once I'm in my hotel room, I do things I never do at home. I lie on the bed and channel surf, something I absolutely hate when my husband does it. I watch scary movies and then worry about what's behind the closet door. And I wake up to country music on the alarm clock, which my husband would rather die than do.
At the end of the week, I'm ready to be a Coloradan again. I fly into Denver, where the plains stretch off toward Kansas and the Rockies rise sharply to the west.
I come home to a quiet house. Under my pillow, I find a paper doll and a note with "I missed you Mommy" written in four-year old scrawl. I check in my son's room and see his sweet baby feet tucked up against the bars of his crib, his curls in a sweaty tangle around his face. And I'm a working mom again, just what I want to be.