The Family Office

By Tawni O’Dell

As originally appeared in Parents magazine, April 2000 issue

Working at home can be a dream or a disaster. But as this author and mother of two discovers, it’s better to toil amid chaos than not to be there at all.By Tawni O’DellMy fingers fly over the keyboard. I’m writing well today. One of my characters is a Vietnam veteran, and I’m working on letters he wrote home during the war.

“Mom,” a little girl’s voice interrupts me, “Connor took the last cupcake.”

I pull my eyes away from the computer screen. My 8-year-old daughter, Tirzah, is standing next to me, still in her school clothes, which I’ve asked her twice already to change.

“The cupcakes are left over from his school birthday party,” I tell her. “He can have the last one.”

“But we traded,” she protests. “I said he could have a piece of my gum if he gave me the cupcake, and he already chewed the gum. Mom,” she whines, as she notices my eyes drifting back to the screen, “do something.”

“Connor,” I call, “come here, now.”

He barrels into the room with unfocused-5-year-old purpose.

“Did you eat the last cupcake?” I ask, then notice icing smeared all over his face, hands, and shirt.

“No,” he says.

“Liar!” Tirzah shouts.

“Stinkbutt!” he yells back.

“Idiot!” she retorts.

He lunges for her with icing hands. She shrieks and they go tearing off into another part of the house.

“We don’t use those words,” I call after them, and get up to see where the rest of the icing has ended up.

I stop in the doorway of the family room. It’s now carpeted with plastic cowboys and dinosaurs, Legos, school papers, markers, snack-cake wrappers, Pokemon cards, doll accessories, backpacks, coats, and shoes. The kids have been home for 15 minutes.

I find the cupcake liner, but the carpet and couch haven’t been frosted. I sneak back to the computer and try to get back inside a young man’s mind in a country I’ve never been to during a time I never experienced.

I sense them entering the room before I hear or see them.

“Mom, we want hot chocolate.”

“In a minute.”

They don’t leave. I repeat, “In a minute” in what Connor calls my headache voice.