Sunday 18 February 2018

We're winning summer... but it's not much fun working from home

Kids may love their long break, says Emily Hourican, but for those of us who work from home, it's not so much fun

Emily Hourican.
Emily Hourican.

Donald Trump may be bent on 'winning' America; for me, it's just about surviving the summer. The kids have been off for several weeks now, and I am wondering about squeezing in more camps. Early morning camps, afternoon camps, evening camps, to fit in around the regular 9am-2pm camps they are already booked in for.

I gave them two weeks at home after school finished, on the basis that it was a long year and they deserved a rest, a chance to just hang around, relaxing, before Camptown started.

Well, that was a mistake. The thing is, I mostly work from home. Working from home and having children around, 'relaxing', are mutually antagonistic propositions. Even when they have sworn blind to leave me alone for 20 minutes, half an hour, whatever, while I make a phone call or finish a piece of writing, they can't do it. They will pop their little heads around the door to ask questions, tell tales, check I'm still alive. I think they actually can't help themselves; it's in their nature, as that fable about the frog and the scorpion goes. By which, I mean the need to irritate is in their nature. It's metaphysical; if they aren't annoying me, am I still there?

The middle one is obsessed with my computer. Every time I stand up from my seat, to go to the loo, get a glass of water, aid the thought process by putting on a wash, he shoots into my chair, shuts everything I've been working on, and opens up YouTube. If I don't get up from my seat, he puts his head around the door and asks, accusingly, "When are you going to be off that?" Quite as if he were me, and I he. It's infuriating. Actually, the 'nipping into my seat' thing reminds me of the old flophouse system, whereby the night-shift guy would get up to go to work, and the day-shift guy would get into the still-warm bed.

Even when there is another responsible adult in the house to 'mind' them, they still make so much noise and disrupt the very quality of the air, that concentration is difficult.

So what, bar a heavy rotation of camps, is the solution? Well, for a while I took to heading out, laptop under arm, to the hotel across the road, ordering coffee and getting stuck into work. But the last time I did that, I got so distracted by the conversation of the two men nearest me that I ended up doing no work at all. One was telling the other about his properties, and what banks they were 'with'. There were so many - properties and banks - that I was consumed with a need to know more, and typed gibberish in order to give myself the cover of busyness, while listening furiously.

Back at the ranch, the eldest - nearly 13 - thinks he's too old for camp, and has decided to manage his own existence for these months between junior and senior school. This means making expensive plans with his friends - cinema, bowling, Quasar - and disappearing off for most of the day with the airy injunction - "Ring me. I don't have any credit".

When he does come back, he is rarely alone. Instead, his friends troop into the house and immediately ask, 'What's the Wi-Fi code?' Then they all sit on the sofa, in a most sprawled and untidy fashion, on their phones. Trying to be nice, and catch a glimpse of what they are looking at, I wander in and say, "Is anyone hungry?"

Total silence.

I ask again. Still silence. In the end, I make a joke - undoubtedly a pathetic 'mom' joke - about do I have to be small and flat with a screen in order to get their attention? "Text me," says one of them, with a wave of his hand.

Later, their parents text them to say they are outside, and the boys leave. The old days of a nice bit of chat with parents on the doorstep, where we could compare notes on what the kids were doing, is clearly over. Luckily, we have phones too. "They just asked me for a sleepover. I said no. They on way to you now," I texted one mother. Forewarned is forearmed.

Looks like we are winning summer, after all.

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