I am a work-at-home-mother who was once delusional enough to believe I could simultaneously work and parent without the assistance of child care. I soon came to understand why all other mothers laughed in my face when I told them of my grand plan but, now that my daughter is 16 months old, I am still clinging to this system. There are two reasons for this:
1. I am cheap.
2. I watch too many crime procedurals and don't trust other humans.
Whatever the reasons, I'm making it work. Still, as a writer and editor, I manage an editorial committee of professionals and moderate regular conference calls with them. And I interview an average of 10 people every month, either via phone or Skype. This requires that I regularly convey a sense of professionalism. This is hard.
Even with the best of intentions and advance planning, things can—and often do—go completely awry. Still, this is how I approach this particular conundrum, with varying degrees of success:
1. While trying to negotiate people's work schedules and time zones, I also attempt to plan all phone and Skype calls around my daughter's nap and meal times. For example, nap time is a prime time to conduct interviews, despite the fact that nap time is a prime time to get anything done and, by choosing the interview, I'm forgoing everything else in the world. Meal time, on the other hand, is a terrible time to interview someone, as I always have to have at least one hand on my daughter's plate for that point in the meal when she decides she's done and flips it. So this is what I'm working with here. And eventually, I just have to acknowledge that finding a good time is impossible.
2. I try do conduct as many interviews as possible via email, when appropriate. Barring that, I prefer the phone to Skype. Because inevitably my interviewee and I connect on Skype and then I see she has her video feed on and then I have to pretend it was not a deliberate choice on my part to not have my video feed on and then I have to turn it on and then she sees me with post-shower rat's nest hair and yoga apparel. Though I do like how toned my shoulders and arms look in my yoga top, so there's that.
3. I use headphones plugged into either my phone or my computer so that my hands are free to either type notes or stop my daughter from chewing on the ends of wires. Though when my daughter eventually whines for me to pull her up into my lap, it becomes impossible for me to type and also she wants to rip off my headphones.
4. I try to power through as quickly as possible, avoiding unrelated tangents and other conversational meanderings.
Because this is what can happen in the space of just 45 minutes:
"Just to warn you," I will say, "my one-year-old is crawling around, so you might hear her making noise. I apologize in advance."
"Oh. That's your daughter. I thought it was a parrot," is something someone actually once said to me.
After trying to process this comment (or any others), I will proceed, at first ignoring the clattering sound coming from the other room, assuming it is the sound of her playing with the contents of her toy shopping cart or stove top. Upon realizing the sound is actually coming from the dining room, I will excuse myself and run into the other room to discover she has opened a box of plastic utensils and flung them everywhere, and is waving around forks and knives like a maniac.
"Emily!" I will shout, fully within hearing distance of the person on the phone. "No! Please no! Please stop... No!" And then I will throw all of the utensils back into their box, wrestling a final few from her tiny but strong hands, and run back into my office.
"You were saying..." I will say.
Then later, when running into the other room to grab something, I will catch sight of my daughter, again in the dining room, covered in chocolate because she has found a chocolate eyeball someone brought to our most recent party and gotten into it. I will try to clean her up as quickly as possible, using a single wipe, as she crawls around gleefully, leaving a trail of chocolate across the hardwood floors (and all over her tutu). This will take some time, and I will eventually realize that I have to just dunk her in the sink and be done with it. This entire process will make me sweat and hyperventilate, and I will be shouting at her the entire time to, for the love of God, stop crawling away.
Later, while my call still soldiers on, Em's energy will flag and she will beg me to pick her up and put her on my lap. While there, she will repeatedly fling herself backward toward the hardwood floors because she loves hanging upside down. Typing notes will become impossible. My interviewee will pretend nothing is amiss, or perhaps she will suggest that we chat at a time that's easier for me. I will laugh, my voice filled with bitterness and despair, because there is no such thing.
5. I breathe a sigh of relief when the call is over. Later, I will look at my notes and they will be complete gibberish.