Thursday, February 16, 2012
Freelancing and SAHM-ing (A Sticky Situation)
In this picture, my son aims a Valentine's Day lollipop at my laptop screen like a Home Guard soldier musketing deserters out of a mountain cave. (Don't you just love a random Civil War metaphor on a gloomy day?)
The deserter on this front would be me, however -- me trying to steal a moment to e-mail a local architect about an article when I clearly should have been in the bathroom guarding my little boy from the poisonous spiders he's convinced live there.
Before Beau was born, I was the arts & entertainment editor at a local newsweekly, a position I held for almost 10 years. When I became a stay-at-home mom, I inched gradually into the choppy waters of the freelance milieu. Today I write lifestyle features for regional publications, with the (very) occasional national assignment floating by to sharpen my stroke.
In the beginning, my work day was well-defined. I was blessed with a baby who took a solid four-hour nap every afternoon from the age of 12 months to 3 years. He went down at 1 and woke up at 5. And yes, bedtime was still at 8 pm and always went fine. Spiritually speaking, those were the ice-cream-and-unicorn days. I napped with my baby for the first hour or two, and worked for the last half of the Epic Sleep. And I bragged. Oh, how I bragged. I was insufferable. I feigned surprised that all babies weren't borderline narcoleptic cases like mine. What, you only get an hour's nap from yours? So sad.
Well, karma came calling like a virus requiring a helpline. During the golden era, Beau apparently stored up all the sleep he'd need for the next decade. Because he went cold turkey on his third birthday and never again took another nap (falling asleep in the car doesn't count, no matter what our mothers say). He doesn't sleep well at night, either, frequently rising at the unholy hour of 5 a.m.
So I lost the nap window for writing & editing time. (It didn't help that the economy entered quicksand territory around this time, sucking journalism down with it.) When he turned 3, B. was old enough for part-time preschool -- we shunned daycare from day one -- but neither he or I were emotionally ready for the separation. It finally happened when he was almost 4, and I gained a few half-days for my "other" work. But that preschool didn't click and when I found another I liked better, it was a program that only lasted until 11:30 a.m., more a "mother's morning out" deal than a preschool.
But he's still there, because he likes it and we like it and when all's said and done, he's still mostly at home. Which means I've had to get mighty creative to score the fewer and fewer freelance pennies I still bring in. I've held phone conversations with Japanese bonsai masters while my child smeared my arm with peanut butter. I've multitasked with a miserable lack of aplomb, shouting "I'll come wipe you in a minute!" without remembering to first put the A-list novelist I was interviewing on hold.
My favorite freelancing-while-mothering mishap occurred last summer, when I met with interior designers at a historic manor that was being staged for a high-dollar fundraising event. I was dropping by to snap some reference shots for later writing, and I had to bring Beau; I had no other choice. At one point, we were left alone in the dining room with a 100-year-old trompe l'oeil mural ... and he licked it.
I won't try to minimize how frustrating it can be balancing one's time so precariously. But the million-dollar-mural-licking moment? It was...well, you know what I'm going to say.
It was priceless.