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On the Other End of the Phone

© 1998, by Lisa M. Roberts

My two and a half year old has been pushing the envelope for two and a half years now. It feels like I have just about reached my limit lately. No sooner do I sweep the floor (for instance) -- shaking off the crumbs and dried mud off the dust pan into the pail -- when I turn around and another trail of crumbs and dried mud is making its way into the living room. No sooner do I pick up every last crayon (for instance) -- whole, broken; wrapped, unwrapped -- when I turn around and the children's books -- whole, torn; covered, coverless -- are piling up on the playroom rug.

Mind you, this is my fourth toddler. My fourth jumping bean, bouncing and dancing along the wood floor like a little elf casting a spell of cheerfulness -- and chaos -- everywhere he goes. Believe me, my husband and I have tried every trick we could think of to keep our house in some semblance of order. Just a year ago, my husband put down a floor and built shelves in the attic so we can keep much of our "stuff," including a trillion toys, out of the walkways of everyday life. It hasn't helped much. At day's end, we're still tripping over toy cars, wayward legos, and little plastic people.

It's been eleven years and frankly, I'm tired. I'm drained. I'm worn out. Can't do this anymore. And just the other day, just as I'm praying for some patience, tolerance, humor, whatever it'll take to keep my sanity for one more day, the phone rings.

"Hello, is this the Entrepreneurial Parent?" a woman's voice asks me, with sounds of an office (and civilization!) in the background.

I hesitate before I answer her. I'm not feeling very entrepreneurial at the moment.

"Yes, can I help you?" My son sees the phone at my ear, and dashes (with excitement) for the refrigerator.

"Well, I'm reading about you in Fortune Magazine," (Fortune Mag?? I'm shocked -- when did EP get mentioned in there??), "and I'd like to know how can I work at home? I just came back to work, just had my baby, and don't want to do this anymore. Can you help me?"

Don't want to do this anymore, I repeat to myself. I think I know the feeling. I glance at my son. He is having a field day with the refrigerator door wide open. Pulling out the margerine sticks from their wrapper, putting three on the butter dish at once. There are margerine smears on the door, and gold wrappers in between mayonaisse and jelly jars...

"I'd like to be able to help," I say, "but need to know more about your situation. Where are you working now? "

As the voice on the other end of the phone begins to tell me about her job, her home in Florida, her three children, her frustration and exasperation about being a full-time working parent, I am pouring orange juice in a tippy cup, getting together a plate of crackers and cheese, and rescuing my printed-out email from greasy cherub fingers. I get put on hold. When she comes back on, I tell this fellow tired mom the truth.

I explain that it's possible to work at home, that many parents are doing it and doing it well, but that the income stream doesn't happen overnight. It's not like getting a traditional job, where you're "hired" and a paycheck gets handed to you at the end of a week's work. It takes time to make the transition, and the best way to do it for someone in her situation is to build a business on the side. Don't turn in your resignation, I tell her, until you have carefully evaluated your household income and budget and know you and your family can make it through the transition okay.

Crumbs are slipping out of my son's mouth, through his fingers, onto the floor. I also tell the voice on the other end of the phone that working at home is not for everyone. It can get isolating, just like it can for other stay-at-home parents, and it can get overwhelming, just like it can for other working parents.

She thanks me and answers *my* next question (no, EP wasn't mentioned in Fortune Magazine, but another site that had a link to EP was). We wish each other luck, and hang up our ends of the phone.

Afterwards, as I shake the cracker crumbs off the dust pan into the pail, I picture this woman reading business magazines, surfing the Internet and researching ways to quit her job while she sits at her office desk. I am reminded of all the hours I have spent reading career magazines, surfing the Internet and researching ways to return to the traditional workforce while sitting at my kitchen table. Even though our outside lives were so different, inside weren't we very much the same? Just two more moms indulging in our pipe dreams -- the "other" lives we could be living -- the fantasy lives we turn to whenever we feel we've reached our limit?

The next day, a new day, the phone rings again. This time it's a business contact on the other end, a former host of a cable show who interviewed me twice about my book in the recent past. He wants to know if he can pass my name on to another producer who is putting together a segment on home business next week for a new cable show. "Yes!" I answer (feeling quite entrepreneurial at that moment!).

Afterwards, I look at my calendar and note that the TV show is scheduled the night before I am to deliver a workshop at a job market conference for women. And the conference is the day before I have plans to get together with some friends. It's a social week next week (yes!), and will call for serious, reliable childcare support. So I call my mother, who was planning to visit anyway, and everything is set.

Now my toddler pulls at my sleeve and says, "Mommy, no go owside, is raining owside." I smile (without effort) and nod. "Mommy," he says, "go in attic, get a toy!" His face lights up as he begins to jump in his elf-like way, reaching out his arms wide open. I fling them around my neck, and together we climb lots of stairs until we're in toyland.

In toyland, we both throw order, civilization and sanity to the wind. In toyland, my son casts his spell on me, and pipe dreams become silly and mundane. In toyland, my son and I are both on the same end, and, without question, happy to be there.

Lisa Roberts is the mother of four, owner of The Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for purchase at EP and through Amazon.

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