By TMoM Team Member Laura Simon

Feel free to debate me, but I’d argue that “While you were in a meeting…” is the most terrifying sentence opener known to mom. Whatever part two of that sentence is, it is never good.

I started working from home and homeschooling my kids well before the pandemic, so this is a lifestyle I’m VERY familiar with. Early on in the journey, I sent my three kids outside to play. At some point, I heard the water turn on, and I figured they were playing with the hose. No big deal. I can deal with wet kids.

I was deep in conversation with a colleague when someone knocked on the sliding back door, and I glanced up. It took me whole minutes to process what I saw. All three children. Naked. Covered in mud. Yep, while I was in the meeting, they made mud. And then they played in it. And because they were kind enough to spare me ruining their clothes, they simply took them off. It was actually good thinking on their part, except that the neighbors were home. And these are elementary kids I’m talking about, not toddlers. I sent some pretty embarrassing text message apologies that night.

While I was in a meeting, my kids unloaded our entire stash of water beads onto the kitchen floor. For the record, those things are surprisingly hard to pick up. While I was in another meeting, my daughter dressed the cat in an American Girl outfit. Everyone in that meeting was howling when the cat walked across my desk in a dress. While I was in meetings, the blanket ladder fell over, the stocking leaped off the mantle and broke the Willow Tree nativity, and an entire crockpot of food was knocked off the counter and shattered by a dog who had a perfectly good bowl of kibble just a few feet away.

One time, right after I started my current job, I was in a meet and greet with a brand-new colleague. I heard the door behind me burst open, and one by one, all three kids quarreling kids tumbled into the room to tell me their version of the story, followed by the quarantine puppy, who was simply looking for something to destroy. I have no idea why they decided to keep me around after that extreme display of real life, but they did.

Recently, I’ve had to hang out in my van with my 11-year-old while my other two kids have an appointment. Said appointment happens to fall during a standing meeting that I have to lead. The hotspot internet issues are bad enough, but imagine leading a meeting for your team while your very, very active 11-year-old “sits” in the car and does schoolwork in silence. As you can imagine, it typically goes badly, but last week was one for the ages. No sooner had I hit the “unmute” button than said child ripped a fart.

Not a gentle fart, and definitely not a silent-but-deadly version. This was the sort that reverberated off the leather seats. I scanned my colleagues’ faces. Had they heard? If they did, they were polite enough to pretend that nothing registered. I clicked off the camera button, glared at the offender, and clicked back on.

Three minutes later, he did it again. Louder, this time. And smellier. Still no sign of recognition from my colleagues. One of my team members was speaking, so I clicked off the camera again and glared harder. Said child giggled, but at least the giggle was quieter than the fart.

The meeting continued, and ten minutes later he ripped a third one. This one sounded like it tore a hole in the seat. I clicked off the camera and hit “mute” and said a prayer that my colleague would continue speaking for a good long time. This time, a desperate child informed me that he had to pee.

So there I was, in a virtual meeting in my minivan, in a public place, with a child who had to go to the bathroom. And that’s how I know that a child can pee in a water bottle in the middle seat of the minivan while the meeting camera is turned off and no one in the meeting will be any wiser. Of course, he forgot to throw out the bottle of urine, so I had a whole conversation with another parent at practice later that day and who knows if they noticed it? They probably did.

Fortunately, my company is really wonderful about acknowledging that we are people with families and lives and caregiving responsibilities, but I know not everyone has the same experience. At the end of the day, while I might be mortified by the things my kids do while I’m trying to work, I refuse to apologize for it. This is my life, and just because I’m living it doesn’t mean I’m not also a devoted employee – or  devoted mother. I just know that I’ll forever cringe when my children start a sentence with, “While you were in a meeting…”

Because whatever happened, it probably wasn’t good.

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