I’ve been identifying closely, a little too closely I’m afraid, with the funny pages these days. As we hurtle toward summer and I’m trying in vain to keep tabs on our exploding family calendar – attempting to remember the end-of-the-season soccer parties and gifts for the soccer coach, the end-of-the-year school concerts, the end-of-the-school-year parties, the last-minute school projects and . . . what’s that, Father’s Day is a week from Sunday (!) – it dawned on me that my quiet days of working and writing from home are numbered. And that’s not so funny.
Within a few weeks, my three kids – ages 12, 12 and 9 – will soon be home for the summer and my daily negotiating sessions will commence. I’ll be all, “Please let me do my work for a few hours then I’ll [take you to the pool, the library, buy you a pony, i.e. -- essentially bribe the offspring in ways that cost less than summer camp if they’ll just behave].” In the morning hours when I’m trying to meet deadlines and develop concepts about which to write, I’ll be fending off the repeated requests from my trio, most of the time to referee a dispute over the remote control or some other silly thing, maybe whose turn it is to take the dog on a walk or who left the milk on the counter and needs to put it back in the refrigerator. Then my polite “please” tone will be replaced by, “Don’t come fighting in here [meaning my office]! Work it out yourselves!” Or there’s the “I don’t care if you’re fighting! Only come to me if someone’s bleeding.” What can I say, I’m no Dr. Phil.
This is where Ohio’s Terri Libenson comes in with her comic The Pajama Diaries. Libenson is like my virtual work-from-home gal pal who gets it. Her comic strips, featuring work-from-home freelance graphic designer Jill Kaplan, a married mom of two, are a touchstone for me, a freelance writer and married mom with three kids with a home office.
Jill Kaplan is Terri Libenson’s doppelganger as Libenson, a mom of two who decided to become a work-from-home graphic artist but who also does part-time work for a greeting card company. “I usually work on the strip during most weekdays and I write the cards on weekends and weeknights,” Libenson wrote on her web site. “Somehow I manage to squeeze in a bit of family time, so my kids seem pretty well adjusted and not yet ready for intensive psychotherapy.” She described The Pajama Diaries, which started in 2006, as “a strip that echoed new family dynamics,” created when Libenson “was also reading a lot about the plight of modern, stressed-out mommies.” And stressed-out both the fictional Jill Kaplan, and the real life me, certainly are.
For example, this week’s strip has centered around the fact that Jill accidentally scheduled an important meeting with a client who was only going to be in town for one day — just for that meeting — on the same day her daughter is graduating from fifth grade. (Yes, fifth graders now have graduation ceremonies to be squeezed into packed parental work days.) Jill flipped out and tried to make it up to her daughter who said, and I quote, “I’ll never forgive you!” by promising the girl ice cream and sleepovers.
In another comic strip, Libenson depicted a typical day in the life of the work-from-home parent, something which I’ll face 24/7 in a matter of weeks when my kiddos are home for the summer. In panel one: A child burst into Jill’s home office demanding that Jill help her untie a knot in her shoelaces. Panel two: Jill told her daughter to pretend that Jill was working away at an office, someplace else, not in the house. “. . . I should only be interrupted for emergencies,” Jill pleaded. Panel three: “MOM! It’s an emergency! We’re out of goldfish crackers!”
But Libenson doesn’t corner the market on comic parental angst. Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup does a fantastic job of capturing the reactions that a widowed working mom with two girls (one teen, one tween) has to her kids’ insane requests and expectations, as well as depicting the life of her sister next door who’s a mom with a baby, a toddler and a teen nephew living at home, all of whom need her and her husband’s help in various ways, ways which inevitably wind up exhausting all the parents who are suffering from chronic sleep deprivation.
When Eliot, the Oregon mother of two grown daughters had a collection of her comic strips, This Might Not Be Pretty, published a few years back, I provided a glowing blurb for her as I thoroughly identified with the real life drama she sketched on a daily basis. “Jan Eliot has been spying on my family,’ I wrote. “There’s no other explanation why Stone Soup accurately captures the absurdly realistic yet painfully funny antics that go on in my house.”
Adam@Home by Brian Basset also contributes mightily to this genre of the put-upon work-from-home parent who is massively addicted to caffeine and is trying to just cope with the madness of modern child-rearing. In fact, I have two, yellowed Adam@Home comic strips hanging up my office, both which struck a chord with me. The first one – my personal favorite – features Adam sitting at his ancient, clunky computer and saying, “Parents who don’t work from home haven’t a clue as to what it’s really like. There’s the exhaustion . . . the isolation . . . deadlines . . . and of course . . . the guilt.” In the final panel, his two kids were wearing sandwich boards saying, “Work Comes Before Us” and “What Summer?” In the other one, Adam gave the kids a Power Point presentation trying to explain them that his work hours will run from 7:30-11:50 a.m. during the summer. His son offered a compromise: “Let us stay up past midnight every night and we’ll sleep ‘til noon.” Adam seriously considered it. (I would too, if it’d work, which it wouldn’t in my house.)
As the mercury creeps up the thermometer, before I am tempted to totally lose it because my kiddos continually interrupt the creation of masterful columns such as this because they want to know if I can “make” one of the other kids go outside and shoot hoops, I’m going to reach for my daily installment of The Pajama Diaries, Stone Soup and Adam@Home and hope that the camaraderie I feel with my fellow working and work-from-home parents will lessen the angst and provide the comfort that I’m not in this alone.