On any given day, someone where I work is reduced to tears. Outbursts are not uncommon, and occasionally a squealing person darts past my desk wearing no pants.
But I still consider myself the luckiest working mom on the planet.
For the past three months, I've been working part time from home, editing some of the stories in the Pasco Times while, quite literally, juggling my responsibilities as a mother of two.
Read a story. Feed the baby.
Read another story. Fix my toddler's tool bench.
Make bedtime. Make deadline.
The arrangement has been a boon for maintaining my breastfeeding schedule and bonding with Kaitlyn, now 6 months old. And it has given me extra time with my 21/2-year-old son, Toby, who has recently embraced potty training with great enthusiasm. At least the pants-off part of the ritual.
I felt like I was asking for the moon last year when I drew up my proposal for my second maternity leave in three years. I had been an editor for just over a year, and here I was asking for three months off work (using a mix of maternity leave and vacation time) followed by three months of working part time from home.
My bosses, being the progressive, family-friendly types, said: Sure.
They understood you don't get a second chance to spend these early years with your kids.
Still, I had no idea how challenging it would be to bring the newsroom home with me.
With just a few clicks of the mouse, I could get into the work system from my home computer. But I was still home: The kids didn't care what was on the computer screen. They expected me to handle their needs. Now.
My husband, Wayne, an English teacher at Sunlake High School in Land O'Lakes, took the reins of the home front around midafternoon, just in time for me to start editing.
But I still took breaks to feed Kaitlyn and put her to bed, and to visit with Toby.
His vocabulary is exploding these days, but Toby still doesn't understand one of the most important words in my profession: deadline. When I'd tell him I couldn't do something because I'm on deadline, he'd react like I was just being fickle and mean.
For a toddler that means throwing a tantrum. Just the kind of background noise I need while working under pressure.
Perhaps the hardest part of working at home was the kids always expected me to be there. When I came to work in the office one evening a few weeks ago, Kaitlyn went to bed hungry because she refused to take a bottle, and Toby cried at bedtime, upset that he couldn't say goodnight to me.
Talk about the guilt of the working mom.
But on the whole, it's been a great experience to have had these extra months at home. The traditional eight-week maternity leave would have landed me back in the office while Kaitlyn was in the throes of colic — a rough period when I couldn't bear leaving her in someone else's hands.
Instead, I was home to soothe her. And I got to stay home through a period of enormous transition: the addition of a new room to the house, Kaitlyn's move into that room and learning to fall asleep on her own, Toby's move from a crib to a bed, and the start of potty training. I can't help but feel that packing up in the middle of that to return to the office would have made things more stressful for everyone.
The home office had other countless perks: Afternoon breaks blowing bubbles with my son on the back porch. Extra snuggle time with the baby. And most evenings sharing dinner with my husband, a rarity for us once I became the night editor.
But this chapter is coming to a close. Today I return to my full-time job at the office. It will be a bittersweet moment, but I think the time is right. Life has settled into a comfortable rhythm at home, and we found a great nanny in Barbara Horr, an editorial assistant who retired from the Times last year. Seeing Toby light up when she arrives takes away much of my anxiety about leaving. (Seeing Kaitlyn embracing solid foods helps a lot, too.)
Since I work the night shift, I'll still have mornings with the kids. So there will be time for outings to the park and the library.
It will be good for me to get out of the house and back to the office. I miss the outside world and the irreverent banter of the newsroom. I miss talking to people about topics beyond Sesame Street and poop.
And I do need a little more quiet so I can work — and the newsroom, even with the chatter of police scanners and the ringing of phones and the buzzing of various conversations, looks pretty serene to me.
Bridget Hall Grumet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.