This week taught me a lesson and made me think…a whole lot. This was the week my work life and home life collided in spectacular fashion. I have a job that I am insanely fortunate to have with bosses who are also fabulously patient with me, and the fact that I have a home life that isn’t typical. I have four children, of varying ages and live more than 35 miles from where I work. Any kind of emergency means I have to spend at least that many minutes, usually more, to get home or to the school.
It isn’t often in my job I have to leave the cell phone behind or to shut it off but I was interviewing a person who did not want to have their identity known and they were a little skittish about anyone having communication, the whole nine yards, so I shut off my phone. It was exactly 10:30am.
By the time I’d finished, at roughly noon, I turned on my phone and it exploded in a frenzy of tones that would have sounded like the end of The Beatle’s “A Day in the Life”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as simple as knowing how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
Sam, one of my twins was very sick. Along with my oldest Abbi, who was home, resting, I had three voice mails, two missed calls and somehow a text message from the school’s land line (they can do that?!) saying, “Sam’s in the office, sick with a very high fever. Mr. Manoucheri, we need you to come get him.”
I went into panicked, problem-solver mode. I called Abbi, who was sick herself, and told her I needed her to go get her brother. She had an appointment at 3pm, so I would have to figure something out to get home, but maybe I can swing that? Regardless, she needs to pick up her brother, take care of things . . .
Just then I got a text from my sister-in-law, saying the school had called and she was minutes away. Don’t worry, I’m going. Then she called me.
“I have Abbi going to get him,” I said.
“Good, I’ll get to the house and take care of both of them,” she said.
“But the other two get off at three and Abbi has an appointment, I have two scripts to write . . .and Oh My God! You left work to go get my son!!!”
She was calm, quiet, and reserved. “It’s OK, Dave, there’s no place else I would be today. Work will survive; I’ve got them. You need to do what pays the bills.”
I was stunned. Help was given without being asked. No reservations, no strings, just complete and utter kindness. She took over and let me work, which happened to be late this day. I didn’t factor in the next day – where my son was home sick, my middle daughter, Hannah, home sick, Abbi needed to get to another appointment, and Noah, the lone twin, at school. Things were working fine I had it handled, so I thought. Then I had an entire story blown up, legal issues, re-writes, all of it.
I looked at my watch. 5:30! The extended day program Noah was in closed in 30 minutes, I was still at work, and wouldn’t be leaving for another hour and a half at least!
I called a family friend and, just like the day before with my sister-in-law, she dropped everything, picked up my son, took him to her house. Then she fed and took care of him as I scrambled home late, panicked and stressed out. Again, no guilt, no reservations, no strings from my friend. Just an invitation that any time I need them to help, they would; they even offered to let him spend the night, if need be.
The issue isn’t with them. The issue is with me. See, I have two strikes against me; Midwestern stubbornness and Catholic guilt and both in abundance. The latter being my concern that I have to rely on the friends and so worried that I’m either inconveniencing them or asking for help too often. I know, I know, you have to get help, you cannot do it alone, it’s all about planning and surrounding yourself with wonderful people. Tell that to the little freak jumping up and down in my head, screaming. The former is just the ridiculous notion that I, not only can but must do this.
You’ll notice, though, it didn’t stop me from either accepting the help from one or asking for it from the other. The help is a necessity. A year ago that would not have happened. Not a single request would have left my lips. But now? Well, let’s just say, a lot can change when you’ve moved on to a completely different life, a new story.
Now those two strikes combine into stubbornness and guilt about my kids. I lost my wife, Andrea, an amazing, loving woman, ten months ago. She thought of me as a problem solver. She had faith in me. Now, with her missing, I worry about the kids. Up until the last few weeks, I’ve tried my hardest to push myself to help them, to boost grades, to make breakfast, to care for them. I start my day as hairdresser, breakfast maker, parent/guardian on school forms, cobbler, lunch maker and chauffeur. I go to work and I’m legal consultant, investigator, journalist, writer, listener, editor, and reporter. I get home and I’m chef, laundress, shoulder to cry on, mathematician, busboy, dishwasher, maid, Harry-Potter-reader, bather, dresser, and prayer leader. Then it’s back to meal preparer, lunch consultant and if I’m lucky, writer and blogger, not necessarily in that order.
Why do I make it sound like so much? Because routine needs to be constant and I want my kids to have faith. Faith that I’ll help. Faith that they’re on the right track. Faith that they will eat well and be happy.
Faith that I’ll be there.
And that’s the big thing, isn’t it? That I’ll be there. That’s what bothered me more than anything. I worried so much as I raced home that night. Noah, my son, has had an issue with being left, abandoned, taken, all of it since his Mom died, since she left him. I have done what I can to get him help, to take care of him, and let him know I’ll be there. So, who gets picked up by our friends and not the Dad who said,“I’ll pick you up”? Noah.
Balance is hard to establish and keep. I saw the two worlds collide and could only watch. Believe me, if there was an option to stay home and take care of the kids, I would do it in a heartbeat. I know it’s hard work and I see the days my kids suffer when I’m not there to help. But I have to pay the bills. Where they need me home, they need a home, too. There’s no second person or income on which to rely. So I have to balance home and work, but also work and home. My job is flexible and understanding, but it’s still a job and I have to produce.
I know you all debate it, too. If you’re married, does one of you stay home? If you have a sitter or nanny, are your kids closer to them? I have nobody else, and neither do my kids . . . not for the daily life. But is that true, really?
Approaching to door to our friend’s home I wanted to cry, it was so hard to walk up. But as the door opened and I thanked them profusely, Noah rounded the corner with a smile on his face, his demeanor far from stressed.
“This was the greatest day, Dad!”
“I was worried you were worried, Monkey.”
“Well, I was, at first. But then when they picked me up, I was fine. I had the best day, Dad!”
That’s when it hit me. It is all about faith. But it’s not that they have faith I’m there. It’s about faith that I’ll make sure they’re OK, that they’re taken care of.
And that they have a little faith in me.
What about you? How do you handle those situations when home and work collide? Are you able to ask for help or are you like me, somewhat stubborn about it?
More from Dave Manoucheri
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.