Unlike macaroni & cheese, Bert & Ernie or sunglasses & Stevie Wonder, not all good things mix well.
Before becoming a parent, I’d never imagined that balancing a crying infant on my shoulder safely out of reach from a screaming three-year-old who was brandishing a plastic doll with a murderous intent while attempted to climb my leg, would be considered relatively normal household affair.
But that was then and this was exactly what happened for twenty minutes one morning. Only this time, I’d forgotten something considerably important.
I would like to be able to take you back to whatever caused the children to Chernobyl, but the honest truth is that I don’t really know.
It could have been that my eldest wanted her 4-month-old brother to play dolls with her. He in turn – not having a concept of playing, time or distinguishing the difference between real people and frankly, a horribly disfigured doll with an eye missing and dents all over the skull – found this somewhat unpalatable.
It could also have been that he was bored, she was bored and blood curdling shrieking was a mutually appropriate course of action to take.
Either way I don’t know what the cause was, but I do know that only minutes before, when the world was at peace, I had suggested to my sleep-deprived wife to go and grab some rest for an hour.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
I closed my eyes and nodded in tandem, which is the universal indication that not only was I sure, but to let it be known that this was a truly selfless and generous gesture.
“Are you sure” I replayed her question in my mind. Her poor, poor, insomniac mind was obviously playing tricks on her. I was a parent of some years equipped with a whole host of experience and skills. I may not be able to nourish directly from my nipples, but as every credible parent knows, in case of emergency, turn on CBeebies.
I glanced around at the children: one was quietly cooing to himself in his playgym and the other was playing sweetly in the corner with her dolls.
“In fact,” I said casually, “why don’t you take a couple of hours instead of one?”
She shrugged and headed swiftly to bed.
So it was me. Just me. Just me and two out-of-control children.
“Jon’s probably on mute” said Greg suddenly. I jolted to attention at the mention of my name.
This is probably a good time to tell you about Greg.
Let me start by saying that I like Greg. Greg is a tremendously nice chap who is always friendly and approachable. He’s funny, sharp, usually right about most things and most importantly, was also one my colleagues attending the conference call I had been distracted from for the previous 20 minutes.
Now I’m one of those annoying people who actually quite like my work. I also very much like my home. But unlike macaroni and cheese, Bert and Ernie or sunglasses & Stevie Wonder, just because there’s two things you like, it doesn’t mean you need to put them together.
I stared at my IPhone on the table, willing it to burst into flames.
It turned out that Greg was right once again; I was on mute. And as the rigor mortis began to fade over the next few seconds, I realized I was still on mute. In fact, I was just standing there, glaring at my iPhone as the kids continued to do battle all over me.
My mind began to race. Now I would have to say something mundane and clichéd like ‘sorry guys I was chatting away to myself on mute there’. Several people, including Greg, would then have to fake a chuckle because despite hearing this line several times a day, it’s the law. But even then that would only buy me a couple of seconds and I’d still be expected to answer whatever it was they had asked me.
And what about the screaming kids? Another second or so passed as thought about strategically safe places I could put each of them. Which one gets to stand outside and which one gets the loo?
I had to say something.
Then, two fantastic things happened at once.
Firstly, the door to the living room swung open like a scene in a western saloon. Only instead of Clint Eastwood wearing a poncho and gripping a gun, in strode my wife wearing her PJs and clutching a dummy.
Within the space of seconds, my son had been scooped out of my arms and was happily sucking away, as my daughter was cheerfully being led by the hand to play with her mother in another room.
Secondly, as I scrambled and fumbled to unlock my phone I heard another John say “Hi, yeah…sorry guys, I was talking away to myself on mute there”.
I managed to unmute myself in time to join the others and offer a chuckle.
The biggest lesson I took away from this episode, was that as I wasn’t fully focused on parenting or working, I wasn’t actually doing either of them. So now, when I’m working from home, I make sure I’m actually working.
At this point, I’d normally look to give you my list of stuff that I find makes whatever I’m writing about easier. But given that I don’t need anything more than a laptop and a phone there really is only one product I can advise but is absolutely essential nonetheless.
Get yourself a decent Noise Cancelling Bluetooth headset. There are a bunch on the market, but the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2 is the best.
This model has consistently been rated highly and costs nearly half as much as comparable models from Bose, Sony or Sennheiser. Give it a try and you’ll be thanking me.