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When the kids were little, I had a paper stoplight on the door of my office. I could move the little circle to red or green. Green light on the door, you can come in and ask Mommy anything. When the light is red, Mommy cannot be interrupted.
When they were babies, we had a nanny. When they were toddlers, my husband stayed home. But as grade-schoolers, we just let them roam the house on my work-from-home days. Thus the light on the door, to give me uninterrupted work time and phone calls without kid-noise in the background.
One day, I had an important conference call. I move the light to red and dial in. About twenty minutes into the call, the kids knock on my door. I have glass, French, double-doors so as I turned, I could see their anxious little faces as they mouthed, “we need to talk to you!” I frowned and waved them away; the light was red, you know you’re not supposed to be bothering me now. Another minute goes by. Another knock. I turn again to see the kids gesturing with increasing vigor. I point to the sign and turn back to my desk. Three more minutes. They knock again. Frustrated, I mute the call and open the door.
“Mommy, sorry, but the oven is on fire!”
Oh my God. I drop the muted phone and run for the kitchen, where flames are now shooting out of the oven doors.
(Baking soda. Lots of baking soda. May I take this public-service moment to recommend that you have the giant laundry-sized box of baking soda on hand, just in case?)
You wonder when you’ve been a little too strict? Looking for a sign that your kids don’t think they’re as important as your work? That was mine.
I had to reassess what I had thought was my brilliant balance. Yes, the sign was a great idea, but I apparently didn’t communicate to the kids that their safety and well-being was more important than my work, even when the light was red.
We did have a conversation later about how Mommy’s sign doesn’t hold for fire, blood or home-invaders. You can come in if the house is burning and don’t bother knocking.
I also did an unvarnished personal inventory which resulted in an increased effort to reach out more as Mommy, even on the days I was at home doing important work. Instead of the green light, I mostly just kept my office door open after that day. I started to play more with them after hours. I started to tell them I loved them, forever, no matter what. That’s a story in and of itself. Maybe I’ll do that one this weekend.
We are not perfect. We can still be wonderful.
And have that baking soda on hand, just in case.