“Sorry” I said as I stood at my friend’s garden gate, looking down, swiping, tapping. “I just need to check one e-mail then I’m here”. Tap, scroll, smile. E-mail sorted. “OK, That’s it. Work is over” I said, two hours after I left the office, as I crossed the threshold from footpath to garden and placed my work mobile into my bag. I took my place in the sun on the bench beside my friend. We chatted, drank coffee, doled out fruit and juice to the kids. All thoughts of work faded from my mind. At home I cooked a quick but entirely homemade dinner and we ate outside, a little later that unusual. I had a white wine and enjoyed the last bit of evening sun. Why not? Thursday is my Friday.
Back inside and with the boys packed off to bed, I baked and iced 24 buns for the school bake sale. I made a mental note to bring a flask of coffee with me to the bake sale. We mammies who help with selling always forget to bring a coffee for ourselves. 22:06 read the oven clock as I closed the lid on the container of buns and glanced around the reasonably tidy kitchen. Bed? I asked myself. Yes, why not get an early night for once.
At the foot of the stairs something made me stop and think of my work mobile, untouched for five hours and still in my bag. “Leave it. Go to bed” I thought as I reached for the bag. 6% battery. “So I’ll just bring it upstairs and plug it in”. Password squiggle, tap, swipe, stop. “Shit”. A problem.
A big problem. A work-from-home-on-my-day-off problem. A how-am-I-going-to-solve-this problem. A miss-out-on-the-bake-sale problem. A cancel-visiting-a -friend-problem. I plodded up the remainder of the stairs, glad I’d checked my phone and kicking myself I’d checked my phone.
Awake at 2.14 I reread the messages and finally drifted off to sleep to dream of phone calls with middle aged men in grey suits, of speculation on the content of Excel files, of escalations and discussions. During the many times I woke, my mind was in an internal discussion as to when the working day ends, when the responsibility is no longer mine and whether I should be giving up my private life like this.
What justifies disappointing a child who had hoped to buy a bun from his mother in the school break? What justifies sending a toddler to kindergarten early on a his mother’s day off? What justifies telling a son there won’t be time to bake the homemade pizza he specifically asked for for lunch and which, it was promised, would be in the oven when he came in from school?
I don’t have the answers. If I did I probably wouldn’t be in this situation. In fact I’d probably be rich and famous, selling books and holding lectures on the secret to work-life balance. Because at the end of the day, I’m not the only parent with these questions. I’m not the only mother who wants to have a decent job but do it in four days not five. I’m not the only parent who wants to finish work for the day.
But now it is Friday evening. The work problem is dealt with for now. The balance problem persists. Oh well, what can you do. Swipe, tap, off.