Friends who keep an eye on my house when my family goes on vacation know the job comes with only one real responsibility: If the place burns to the ground while I’m gone, don’t let me find out until I’m on the last leg of the trip back.
If I’m too far away to do anything about a disaster at the house, I’m too far away to let it ruin a good day of vacation. Or even a tough day at the office, for that matter.
That’s one of the perks of not being home.
The wonderful essayist Barbara Holland recognized the eight-hour refuge jobs give us from the responsibilities of home: “Usually, at work, someone has set limits on what can happen; in the anarchy of home, the worst-case scenario changes hourly,” she wrote.
And there’s not much that proves that point better than a kid walking into your room with a head-to-toe rash first thing on a recent weekday morning. At work, that would have to be someone else’s responsibility — I don’t know whose, but I do know that, mercifully, they don’t pay me to tend to anyone’s rashes.
There in bed, though, as we blinked sleep out of our eyes, there was no one to take nurse duty but me or my wife.
We’re both blessed with jobs that have some flexibility. Usually that’s great. But as we faced our scarlet son that morning last week, we knew the lucky one of us was going to be whoever had the least-forgiving calendar that day.
While my wife set up to work from home, hoping that whatever had broken out all over the boy wasn’t contagious, I headed to the safety of the office.
No matter what the workday holds, it’s satisfying to be able to spend hours concentrating on things I went to school for. And that concentration brings the bonus of time feeling like it’s chugging along at a good pace.
On the other hand, working from home beside a sick kid who needs ointment applied, water refilled and soup heated up can easily stretch a workday well past normal quitting time. It’s true that the more love you pour out for a child in need of comfort, the fuller your heart feels, but a full heart doesn’t get projects completed or stop the clock.
Anything that stopped the clock would have really helped my wife when our son’s rash started to rise into alarming blisters. Instead, she saw her workday stretching into extra hours as she drove to the doctor’s office.
Thankfully, it was just poison ivy. The boy will be uncomfortable for a while, but there’s medicine and it won’t cause damage or spread to anyone else.
I got into poison ivy myself once, on a hill drenched in summer sunshine so pleasant that I didn’t bother to examine the greenery I was lying in. Anyone can do that. But this kid somehow managed to smear himself with the oil of the infernal plant the hard way —in the dead of winter after it has died back and temperatures are too low to spend much time outdoors.
He’s an overachiever, I guess.
And so was my wife that day. She got our boy the treatment he needed to start looking human again and helped restore his perennial smile that the painful itching had chased off for a few hours. And taking the time to pour out all that love meant she was hunched over her computer long into the evening to finish the work that her team was depending on.
Next time a kid wakes us up on a weekday splotchy red, radiating fever or miserable with cough, I’ll have to think real hard whether my meetings that day really can’t be moved.
But it’ll sure be tough to forfeit the boon of grabbing my keys and leaving home, even if it is for a day of work.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.