Here’s something I wrote for The Guardian on working from my parents’ home.
“What do you like on your pancakes?” Mum asks.
It’s our first day working from Mum’s house and she’s made morning tea. My kids’ preferred condiment is strawberry jam, and Mum’s face drops: “We’ve got none,” she says.
In my peripheral vision, I spy Dad lacing up his shoes and scurrying off to the local shops for some strawberry jam.
As Omicron numbers spiralled, my partner and I decided that that sending the kids to childcare was too much of a risk. Our relief at having made the decision to pull them out was tempered by the knowledge that we’d have to work from home with kids. Having scraped through the last two years of lockdowns – working till midnight and peering at spreadsheets through blood-shot eyes while trying to stop two small children from hurling themselves off a dining table – we braced ourselves for the next push.
Then my Mum suggested that we work from their home while she and my Dad looked after our children. We gratefully accepted the offer. What could go wrong with three generations going about their business under one roof?
As Dad onboarded us with the Wi-Fi password and Mum explained where the pens were, things were going swimmingly. The girls were capering about the garden looking for tomatoes and getting tennis lessons with their grandpa. Reflecting that this was the stuff of work-from-home dreams, I took a call.
Suddenly there came an almighty clanging. Peering into the kitchen, I saw Dad, in a powder blue floral apron, beating the heck out of the wok as he prepared lunch.
“What” [CLANG] “is that?!” [CLANG] my caller asked, alarmed.
“Oh, renovations next door,” I lied.
Having both retired some years back, Mum and Dad were unaware of Zoom etiquette having come from ye olde days when people did meetings in person.
Halfway through a weekly catch-up with my manager, Mum materialised from my blurred background to serve me a smoothie in a seventies punch glass. Later, I spent an entire stakeholder engagement meeting on edge because I knew she’d just poached a chicken in rice wine and there was an outside chance the fowl would make an appearance.
Those few quirky moments aside, the WFM’s – Work From Mum’s, that is – arrangement is paying dividends. We’re spending quality time together – something that has been impossible for long stretches of the past two years.
During the day, I see the girls whizzing outside on their bikes with Dad patiently clomping after them. I catch snatches of conversations as they enjoy ice creams on the patio, gaze out at the lettuce patch and discuss their favourite animals.
And Dad, a retired accountant, now has many an opportunity to shoehorn in a maths lesson. No matter how long the girls take to get the right answer, he’ll exclaim, “Top of the class!” or “You’re no slow coach!”
The catering is particularly outstanding, a world away from a hastily ripped open tin of tuna. Dad’s speciality is stir-fried tomato prawns and spring rolls while Mum will have baked a slab of zucchini slice or 50 sausage rolls.
At 3pm, Dad knows that the mid-afternoon slump is upon us and he’ll be jiggling tea bags in cups. “Biscuit?” He’ll ask, thrusting a scotch finger our way.
At the end of the day, we back out of the driveway in a shiny car – yes, Dad throws a car wash into the deal – with two clean girls and enough snacks for a village.
Countless people have struggled in this pandemic. Many have no friends or family whose help can be enlisted and I know how lucky I am. The devotion and patience my parents show their grandchildren is legendary, and I salute them and all the grandparents who can step up and help their families get through this time.
Back to that jar of strawberry jam – the girls refused to eat it.