Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Working from Home

Almost three years ago I left a full-time job and took on a part-time role so I could focus on our family and farm. That required much better time management, prioritization, and record keeping. It was the best decision I ever made. 






With the onset of COVID-19, the local, farmer-owned cooperative (my part-time gig) has greatly utilized Microsoft Teams, a business-oriented communication and collaboration platform that utilizes video meetings. In-person meetings have been cut drastically and now we use video cameras to conduct business. 


Basically, we’ve taken conference calls to a whole new level. 


No longer are the days where I can put the business meeting on speakerphone, mute the chaos on my end, and cut waffles into 34 perfectly symmetrical pieces while listening to harvest projections and herbicide resistance issues. 


With Microsoft Teams, I join the video meeting from my dining room table (my office) and every person on the video call can see the chaos unfold around me in real-time.


It’s a PR nightmare. 


Our bathroom sits just off our dining room, which has always been annoying, but this layout has become super inconvenient while working from home. I was in a video meeting, trying to describe to a commercial printer the needs of an upcoming publication, when Caroline busted out of the bathroom and asked if washcloths could be flushed down the toilet? Turns out, she already knew the answer to this question. 


Last week I logged into a video conference that was scheduled for an hour. All morning I prepped the kids by telling them how important this call was, and how quiet they needed to be, and once I was on the video, I couldn’t step away to help with anything. I needed them to quietly entertain themselves for one hour. I asked if they understood and both nodded yes. This was a lie. 


Three minutes into the call, Caroline developed an intense need for the purple Play-Doh in Cyrus’ hands and asked him if she could have it. After several declines, she took matters – or, the purple Play-Doh – into her own hands. This did not go over well. There was screaming, crying and TOP OF HER LUNGS JUSTIFYING WHY BOYS DON’T PLAY WITH PURPLE PLAY-DOH! This, of course, was unfolding 12 inches from my laptop, as they were seated at the dining room table with me. With my microphone on mute, I put a smile on my face and through a clenched jaw demanded that Caroline return the Play-Doh to Cyrus and pick another color to use. 


The fact that I could have a pleasant smile on my face (for all my co-workers to see) and still firmly speak to my children in a “Mom absolutely means business” tone actually put the fear of God (or, Mom?) in them both. Cyrus quit crying instantly and without blinking, Caroline gave Cyrus the purple Play-Doh and quickly grabbed the blue container.    


An hour passed and we were only halfway through our meeting agenda. The kids’ patience was wearing thin. I allowed them to get down from the table and play in the living room.


At one hour and thirty minutes, the kids begged to go play in their bedroom upstairs. I told them that was fine. 


At one hour and thirty-seven minutes, the meeting was finally to the point where I was expected to present on marketing and digital communications. Just as I took the microphone off mute, Caroline starts screaming at the top of her lungs about Cyrus getting dollar bills out of my nightstand. 


“Mom!!! Moommm!!! Cyrus has your paper money and he won’t give it to me!! Mooommmm!!! CAN YOU HEAR ME?????” she yelled from upstairs. Then, I heard a loud thud. 


In my head, I responded by saying, “YES! Yes! I can hear you! This house is 200 square feet and I’m inches from the bottom of the stairwell! I can hear you, so can 8 other corporate leaders all across Indiana and Ohio! The WORLD can hear you! YOU ARE HEARD! Dollar bills can wait! This is Mom’s Time to ACT LIKE I HAVE MY LIFE TOGETHER!”


The people on my computer screen began laughing as they heard the debacle unfold. I quickly responded, “I’m sorry. There seems to be an issue upstairs and I just heard a loud thud,” I explained while smiling. “I’m going to put my microphone on mute for just a second…….”






“Which is longer?” Caroline responded gently from upstairs. “15 minutes or an hour? Because an hour is taking foooorever.”




I went on to present my portion of the meeting and apologize for any interruption in productivity. Strangely, the three-ring circus in our house didn’t seem to bother anyone, except me. 


I don’t know how much this pandemic has altered life as we know it, or even what things we may never see again. 


I do know I’ll never regret time with my kids. But there is a 100% chance that I’ll regret time with my kids and my virtual co-workers, rural internet, and farmhouses. There is a whole lot that could go wrong there. 


And I’m living that dream weekly. 





Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fireplace Mantle

Fireplace mantles were originally created to serve as a hood that projected over a fire grate to catch the smoke. Through generations they’ve served as a focal point of a room, proudly displaying family heirlooms, photos and artifacts. A time capsule of sorts, showing the world what is of value in a family.


Today, two sets of channel locks sit on ours. 


The mantle in our living room is one of the very few places our children, 2 and 4, cannot reach. There is no couch within short distance from which they can launch, no windowsill they can climb, no countertop they can access through sound footing like that of a reindeer on an icy roof.


Our mantle isn’t full of family photos, because there is no room for such items. Our mantle is full of things that must remain out of reach. 


Two years ago, Caroline received a toy racehorse with approximately 45 tiny accessories attached to it: a halter, saddle, saddle pad, breastplate, stirrups, bit, noseband, reins and beyond. It only took three days before we realized the choking hazard involved in such a gift.  45 tiny horse accessories: to the mantle.


In June, I was presenting in a virtual meeting when I was interrupted by a blood curling scream coming from the living room. The children had been playing with their channel locks (hey, they may not be able to read, but at least they’ll be handy) and Cyrus struck Caroline on top of the head when she would not let him park his combine in her horse barn. Channel locks: to the mantle. 


In July, Cyrus ripped a page out of a book that had an illustration of Jesus reading to children. He tore it in such a way that Jesus’ body was cut in two. There is just something about throwing away a picture of Jesus that doesn’t sit well with me. So, He got taped back together. Tiny torn Jesus: to the mantle. 


On Monday Cody busted through the kitchen door:


“Hey. I ordered a replacement American Angus Association membership card a few weeks ago and it should have been here by now. Have you seen it?”


“Yes. Caroline spotted it on the kitchen counter and was using it as a play credit card. Last I heard, she charged $700 worth of Teddy Grahams and horse movies to it,” I remarked without missing a beat.


He wasn’t overly amused. 


“Oh no! What did you do with it?” he asked. 


“What do you think I did with it? It’s on the mantle between the knife you brought home from Argentina and the 2019 tax returns we caught Cyrus stuffing into his lunchbox.”


I suppose in twenty years the kids will be in homes of their own and I’ll reclaim the mantle for my own use. Perhaps then I’ll display pictures of them at this age when almost nothing could escape the reach of their sticky sugar hands and constant curiosity, except those artifacts of this stage in life where I feel as though I’m constantly operating in survival mode. 


I think I dread the day.