"Stop Playing In The Bathroom Sink!" and Other Tales of Working From Home

With the advent of technology, more and more people are able to work from home. In fact, I think the vast majority of writers work from home. Sure, some of us have day jobs that require putting on real pants and leaving the house, but all our writing generally occurs at home.

As you can imagine, working from home does have its perks (see above, about real pants), but it also has its challenges. A big one? Children.

I think we can all agree that children are wonderful blessings, but sometimes, especially in the early years, those wonderful blessings can alter our to-do lists somewhat. And by “alter,” I of course mean “put those to-do lists in a blender, forget the lid, and turn it on.” Sometimes they do this literally, especially if they’re anything like my kids.

For years, my dedicated writing time has been a couple hours in the early afternoon. When my children were little, I could sometimes (with quiet trumpet fanfares and a chorus of hallelujahs) get all three of them to nap at the same time. My boys, Yakko and Wakko, have long since outgrown their naps, but Dot still naps more days that not, so during the summer, if I want to get anything accomplished, we have to have Quiet Time.

During a recent bout of frustration, when my writing time was interrupted—yet again—by a fight over Minecraft, I was reminded of a particularly challenging day years ago, when Dot was a Certified Squishy Delicious Baby (she’s four now), so my boys were probably four and two. As is my wont, I documented this day, and was (miraculously) able to dig it out of my computer files.

If you’ve got young kids, or remember what it’s like to have them around, some of this will probably seem familiar. Editorial notes in italics.

 

12:20                     Put Dot in her crib for her nap. (Sigh. Sometimes I miss Squishy Delicious Baby Dot.)

12:30                     Finish feeding boys lunch.

12:35                     Read boys stories, put them in Quiet Time. (I cannot believe there was a time when this only took ten minutes.)

12:45                     Eat half my salad and answer one email while microwaving lunch. (Silly Past Amanda. You eat WHILE they’re eating. Don’t wait until after).

12:48                     The recently potty-trained Wakko announces a Need to Pee and heads for the bathroom.

12:51                     Check on Wakko, who is Quiet and In The Bathroom (never a good combination). The Need to Pee seems to have been a bit more dramatic than first assumed, and unfortunately it was not a Complete Success, if you get my drift.

12:52-12:57         Clean up, supervise hand-washing, etc.

12:58                     Dot wakes up and fusses well before her nap should be over.  (I do not miss this particular aspect of Squishy Delicious Baby Dot.) Leaving Wakko with instructions to finish washing his hands and return to his room, I go to Dot’s bedroom to perform the standard Rock and Comfort Ritual.

1:03                        Attempt to return Dot to her crib.  She voices her objection.  Sigh and repeat Rock and Comfort Ritual.

1:08                        Return Dot to bed without further objection.  Leave Dot’s room to discover Wakko in the bathroom playing in the sink.  Inform Wakko, for the eight billionth time, that this is not an Approved Quiet Time Activity, and that he should return to his room. (Dude. He still does this. Not even five minutes ago, I had to tell him to quit playing in the bathroom sink.)

1:09                        Sit down and have two bites of salad.

1:10                        Yakko announces, from the basement (where he used to spend Quiet Time), that there is also a Need to Pee. There is a bathroom in the basement, with a functional toilet and everything. When reminded of this fact, Yakko responds that there is a spider in said basement bathroom, so he absolutely will not use it. Faced with the choice between a Child Upstairs and more clean-up, I allow him to come upstairs. (This post was written, like, four years ago, and they STILL won’t use the basement bathroom. That was one very influential spider.)

1:11                        Yakko uses bathroom, washes hands, and returns to the basement.

1:13                        Dot fusses.  I decide to wait until she’s serious and start scarfing down the leftover pasta bake that is my lunch.

1: 15                       Wakko announces another Need to Pee. This time, I elect to supervise. Success! He returns to bedroom. Hearing blessed quiet from Dot’s room, I continue scarfing lunch.

1:21                        Finish eating lunch.  VICTORY IS MINE. Time for productivity. Attempt to engage Creative Juices.

1:24                        Hear an odd noise that I cannot immediately identify. On further investigation, I discover Wakko, pantsless and wearing a crown, jumping on his brother’s bed.  Remind him, for the eight billionth time, that jumping on the bed is also not an Approved Quiet Time Activity. 

1:26                        Creative Juices clogged by disruption. A few minutes of procrastination is necessary to re-start the flow. To the Internet!!

1:30                        Reading something funny online, I giggle.  Yakko, from the basement, hears the giggle and wants to know what’s funny. I attempt to explain, which results in more questions and more explanation and MORE questions and MORE explanation, after which Yakko informs me that it really wasn’t that funny in the first place.

1:33                        Wakko comes in needing help removing his sweater.

1:34                        Okay. Dot is quiet, boys are occupied. Time to Get Serious and Be Creative.

1:40                        Ominous Thud from the boys’ bedroom.  Activate House of Wen Ominous Thud Threat Detection Protocol, which states that if an Ominous Thud is not immediately followed by a scream, it can be ignored. (This protocol is still in effect).

1:41                        Another Ominous Thud.

1:43                        Hearing no scream, and no further Ominous Thuds, I resume Attempting to Create.

1:49                        Yakko asks if he can come upstairs and be done with Quiet Time and commences whining when the answer is no.

1:50-1:53            Attempt to Create.

1:54                        Ominous Thud #3.  I go to the boys’ room and inform Wakko that jumping OFF the bed is ALSO not an Appproved Quiet Time Activity.

1:55-2:02              Attempt to Create.

2:03                        Yakko asks, again, if he can come up.  Again, the answer is no.  I tell him he has 30 more minutes, but if he’s quiet, I’ll consider letting him come up early.

2:04-2:14              Attempt, once more, to Create.

2:14                        Dot fusses.  Creative juices finally flowing, I opt to wait a few minutes and see if she’s serious.

2:15                        Yakko asks if he’s been quiet enough to come up early.  I relent, thinking he’ll just play computer games, and if Dot’s not serious, I might still be able to get in a few minutes of Creating.

2:19                        She’s serious.  And thus endeth Quiet Time.

 

I think this is the part of the blog post where I’m supposed to say something Wise and Profound, but all I can come up with is, yeah. Having kids at home all the time is hard. Especially if you’re trying to accomplish something in addition to keeping them alive and fed and entertained and reasonably happy. But I don’t think that the fact that it’s hard necessarily means that one should stop trying to accomplish something over and above all the kid stuff. I know God calls some to set everything else aside during the Small Needy Kid Years, and if that’s what He’s calling you to do, then by all means, listen and do it.

But some, He calls to just keep going, and that’s what He did with me. My priorities got a serious adjustment when I had the kids, and every day it’s still a challenge to make time to write. Some days all I get done is a paragraph. Some days it’s just a single sentence.

But the cool thing about creativity and perseverance, especially when God is in it, is that He takes those paragraphs and sentences and snippets of time and blesses them. Because if you string together enough sentences and paragraphs, you have a book. And then, if you keep going, you have another one. And another one.

So whatever your calling is, whatever your life looks like right now, just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep doing the next thing. Keep proceeding through whatever doors God opens for you, and the ones He closes, rest in the assurance that whatever was behind those closed doors wasn’t His best for you.

And remember that kids aren’t this little and this needy forever. This, too, shall pass.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tell Wakko to stop playing in the bathroom sink.

What Medical Bills and a Broken Radio Taught Me About Forgiveness

A couple weeks before Christmas, my husband was hanging lights on our house when the ladder collapsed, taking him with it. He suffered a nasty gash on the back of his ankle, which—to make a very, very long story very, very short—got infected, went septic, and landed him in the hospital for nine days. 

As you can imagine, nine days in the hospital and all the associated doctor visits, surgery, and medications did not come cheap. To make matters worse, the insurance claim was denied. That meant that the entire $129,000 plus it cost to treat him would fall on us.

Most people don’t have a spare hundred and twenty-nine grand lying around, and we are no exception. This was a debt there was no way we could pay, and the idea of being under it was staggering. Obviously, the hospital would take this into account and give us something of a discount, but even so, we were looking at a debt of many, many thousands of dollars, with years of monthly payments, payments we would struggle to afford.

However, this past Monday, I received a notice in the mail from the hospital. They appealed our claim, and the insurance company decided to pay it.

In full.

Patient responsibility $0.00.

Just like that, our debt was erased. Canceled.

Let me tell you, that felt pretty awesome.

To make another long story extremely short, two weeks ago, my two boys disabled the radio in our car. Disabled as in “when turned on, it played no music, but instead emitted foul-smelling smoke.” To be fair, I expected my offspring to damage our car at some point, but I did not expect that point to be now, when they are eight and six.

The radio, unfortunately, could not be resurrected, and we had to buy a new one, to the tune about $129. This has irritated me to no end, as I don’t like spending money when stuff breaks on its own. When it is actively destroyed by one more more Wenlets, that goes beyond “dislike.”

Last night, I was haranguing the boys AGAIN about the radio, and my oldest (Yakko, for purposes of this blog; you’re welcome, Animaniacs fans) said, “Mom? Could you please not bring up the radio so often?”

It was at that point that God pricked my heart with a reminder: the parable of the wicked servant. Y’know, the guy who was forgiven a huge debt, one of millions and millions of dollars, one he had no hope of ever being able to repay? The guy who immediately ran into someone who owed him a few bucks and choked him, demanding to be repaid then and there?

That was me. I had just been forgiven a $129,000 debt, and I was angry about a $129 radio.

I had become the wicked servant.

It was not a good look for me.

In the parable of the wicked servant, the servant is brought back before the king and held accountable for how he treated the man who owed him money. The angry king rescinded the offer of forgiveness and ordered the man thrown into prison until his debts were paid. Jesus’ sobering warning is this: God will treat us this way if we do not forgive those who have wronged us.

Does this mean that those of us who are saved can lose our salvation if we—even unknowingly—hold a grudge against another person?

I don’t think so. Remember, salvation and cleansing from sin are free gifts. Jesus said, on the cross, "It is finished." He died once and for all. We forgive not to earn forgiveness, but as a demonstration that we understand how much God has forgiven us. 

John Piper puts it this way: "If the forgiveness that we received at the cost of the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is so ineffective in our hearts that we are bent on holding unforgiving grudges and bitterness against someone, we are not a good tree. We are not saved. We don’t cherish this forgiveness. We don’t trust in this forgiveness. We don’t embrace and treasure this forgiveness. We are hypocrites. We are just mouthing. We haven’t ever felt the piercing, joyful wonder that God paid the life of his Son." (http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/if-i-fail-to-forgive-others-will-god-not-forgive-me)

Piper goes on in the same interview to reassure those of us who struggle with the issue of forgiveness. "Struggling to forgive is not what destroys us. As long as we are in the flesh, we will do our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to cover those imperfections. What destroys us is the settled position that we are not going to forgive and we have no intention to forgive....If we think we can be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and not make war on that attitude, we are deluded." 

I realize that a hospital bill is not a perfect analogy. Our insurance company didn’t pay our bill out of the goodness of their hearts; they paid it because we have a contract with them and are faithful to pay our monthly premium. But cancellation of a debt is cancellation of a debt, and a lesson from God is a lesson from God.  If I’d been forgiven over a hundred grand, couldn’t I find it in my heart to not hold a hundred bucks over my sons’ heads?

I’m grateful for Yakko’s honesty with me, and the way God used him to gently remind me. So I told Yakko and his brother, Wakko, that yes, they were right, I had held a grudge against them, and they were officially forgiven for breaking the radio.

Will they be allowed to play in my car anytime soon? Not likely. 

Will they still suffer some consequences for the destruction of property in an effort to teach them to respect things that belong to someone else? Absolutely.

But will I hold that hundred-dollar radio over their heads anymore? Will I bring it up every time they displease me?

No. I won't.

I have been forgiven much more.

HospitalBill

 

Your turn: What debts, financial or otherwise, have been canceled for you recently? What debts have you canceled—or need to cancel—for others?

Writing When You Don't Have Time

Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by JackF/iStock / Getty Images

My children are home on summer break. This is both wonderful and not-so-wonderful.

It’s wonderful because they really are pretty awesome kids. And I enjoy having them around (most of the time). Perhaps even more than that, I enjoy the down time. I enjoy not having to spend my evenings drilling spelling words and listening to reading assignments and nagging them to practice. I enjoy letting them stay up a bit later. I like the lack of scheduled things and the generally more relaxed vibe that summertime brings.

Most of all, I enjoy lazy mornings when we can all roll out of bed a bit later. When nobody has to be anywhere right away. When I don’t have to spend my mornings yelling at people to get up and get dressed and no, you cannot wear your pajamas to school, today is not Pajama Day and are you KIDDING me a T-shirt and one sock does NOT constitute ‘getting dressed’ and eat breakfast and no, that is not breakfast and NO YOU MAY NOT JUST EAT A COUPLE SPOONFULS OF NUTELLA AND CALL IT BREAKFAST and what do you MEAN it’s due today and get your shoes on, the bus is coming and what do you MEAN you can’t find your shoes and well where were you when you took them off and YES YOUR SHOES HAVE TO MATCH and OKAY FINE they don’t have to MATCH, they just have to be for the right feet and NO, NOT LITERALLY THE RIGHT FEET, YOU MAY NOT WEAR TWO RIGHT SHOES TO SCHOOL and I don’t CARE that it doesn’t bother you, it bothers ME, so it SHOULD bother you, and you need your glasses and SERIOUSLY THE BUS IS COMING RIGHT NOW AIIIEEEEEEE.

I’m sure I am not alone.  

But for all these perks, there is one definite down side.

The children are home.

All three of them.

All the time.

This means that those blissful quiet hours in which I used to write are now filled with the following:

“Mo-om! HE HIT ME!” (I cannot EVEN with the two-syllable ‘mom.’ Where do they learn it? Is it taught in schools?)

“HE STARTED IT!”

“No, you may NOT have a snack, you just finished breakfast fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why is this wet?”

“WHO LEFT A HALF EATEN PIECE OF CHEESE ON THE COUCH?!?”

“In or out, guys. Shut the door.”

“MOM! THE iPAD’S DEAD!”

“MO-OMMMMM. HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“SHUT THE DOOR!”

“Can I have a snack?”

“Who ate all the Popsicles?”

“SERIOUSLY. WE DO NOT NEED TO AIR CONDITION THE OUTSIDE!”

“No, I am NOT running to Dillons just to buy Popsicles.”

“IF YOU ARE THE LAST PERSON TO FINISH AN ITEM OF FOOD, THROW THE EMPTY CONTAINER AWAY! DO NOT JUST PUT IT BACK IN THE CABINET!”

“HE HIT ME AGAIN!”

“But you just HAD a snack!”

And, of course, the dreaded “I’M BORRRRREEEEDDDD.”

All of this, naturally, cuts into both my writing time and my writing focus. Even during “quiet time,” which is when my daughter naps, I have two boys, who are older and who do not nap and who believe that “quiet time” means “fight about Minecraft at a volume level that is only two nanodecibels softer than the volume at which we usually fight.”

Again, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

But maybe it’s not kids for you. Maybe it’s something else entirely, like a time-consuming job, or a family crisis, or something else altogether that is sucking your writing time away from you. Perhaps it’s just for a season, or perhaps this is just the way your life looks right now. Here are a few survival tips I’ve come across during my years of trying to combine motherhood and writing:

1.       Schedule your writing time.

Maybe you’re a morning person and you do your best work before the sun comes up. Maybe you’re a night owl and your brain clicks most effectively after everyone else goes to bed. Maybe you’ve got a lunch break or, like me, a block of an hour or two when you’re home and things are somewhat quiet. Make the most of that. For the last three years or so, quiet time has been my writing time. Often, this is the only time I have to write in any given day. And yet, by dedicating this time, I was able to finish an 85,000-word manuscript in just over a year. Granted, this pace will not set any speed records, but I was still able to complete a book. I say that not to toot my own horn, but to encourage you. If I can do it, so can you.

 

2.       Be open to the ways life can contribute to your story.

Even when you’re not writing, if you keep your story’s tab open in your mental browser, you’ll find things that can help with your story. Maybe it’s a song on the radio that inspires a scene. Maybe it’s a coffee shop that would be a perfect setting for a chapter. Just today, I was having coffee with my critique partner in a coffee shop that’s a converted century-old farmhouse. Since my WIP involves a century-old farmhouse, I found myself distracted in conversation admiring the windowsills and the wooden staircase and other Old House Features.

When you find yourself with one of those awkward windows of time (waiting on a kid’s piano lesson, waiting at the doctor’s office, etc.), you can use this time in a multitude of ways. Read part of a book. Take advantage of wi-fi and research something. Or, put the phone away and people-watch. Daydream. Let your mind wander. You might be surprised at what it comes up with. Just be sure to carry with you a way to record any brilliant insights you might have.

 

3.       Touch the Story Every Day

I saved the best tip for last. Because some days are so insane, so off-the-wall busy, that even your dedicated writing time disappears. On those days, just touch the WIP. Open it up and work on a paragraph. Tweak a sentence. Change a single word. Even if that is all you do, your story is still in your mind. Your marvelous brain is still working on it. Slow momentum is better than no momentum.

This single tip is why I have a finished manuscript. Some days, I lacked either the time, the energy, or the motivation to write. I promised myself that I would touch the story, and then I could quit. Some days, that one word is all I wrote. But other days, the act of touching the story reawakened my interest in and passion for it, and I found myself catching a second wind and moving on well past that single word.

Your turn: I am, of course, always looking for new ways to squeeze in writing time. What are your favorite tricks? I’d love to hear them!