Musical Chairs, Office Edition

I started writing again before I could walk properly, clawing at a sense of normalcy—trying to convince myself that my life wasn’t completely different. Despite the fatigue and the fact that I couldn’t actually sit upright for more than five minutes at a time, it went well. The great thing about many newborns is that they’re basically potatoes. You can stick them next to you wherever and they’ll sleep.*

It didn’t last long. He started to wriggle, to roll, to play, to peep, to crawl, to stand, to walk. Every few weeks, our pattern shifted. And we quickly figured out that it’s a hell of a lot easier to move a desk than convince a hyper toddler that just because you can REACH the keyboard, doesn’t mean you should SMASH ALL THE KEYS.

So here are the office configurations I’ve gone through, as the baby has gone from a potato that poops to a cat-tackling, phone-stealing, music-obsessed tornado.

The new desktop model is working out well.

Potato

Pros: Sleeps a lot. Can’t escape. Few opinions.

Cons: Complete, utter exhaustion. Newborns are kinda boring. Sitting hurts. Baby slings: why so complicated?

I probably shouldn’t have gone back to writing as soon as I did. But I needed to prove that I could, and newborns have the advantage of being easy to keep track of and prone to sleeping all day. I could prop Oberon** next to me just about anywhere and just write. We were living in the basement apartment of my parents’ house when he was born, but we’d taken over a ground floor bedroom, and I mostly wrote at their kitchen table (stairs being no bueno thanks to my baby’s bigass head).

(Safety note: don’t leave your baby on a table or asleep on a pillow. I was never out of arm’s reach; no babies were dropped in the making of this photo.)

With a newborn, make sure your set up is flexible. The baby’s going to nod off without notice, and you’re never going to know how much time you have before it’s off to the milk-fueled races again. If you have the benefit of a small, light laptop, get used to writing wherever you have a safe space to set both it and your baby down. But really? You have a newborn. If you can (I couldn’t), take some freaking time off. You deserve it.

Cinderella’s animal friends did shit for her. These guys just mooch.

Wiggly Potato

Pros: Still a good napper. Is always right where you left him. Have now mastered hands-free nursing.

Cons: People look at you funny when they find you propping your keyboard on your kid’s legs, for some reason. Cat competes with him for lap time. This changing diapers thing is getting old.

Okay, so we have to swaddle him now. But he still naps easily in the midst of whatever’s going on, and drops off to sleep all on his own.

I spent a lot of this stage with a wireless keyboard on my lap and the TV serving as monitor, with the baby tucked next to me on the couch. And the cat on the back of the couch, rubbing against my head. And the dog at my feet. I was like the world’s most frazzled Disney Princess.

Getting your kid used to napping in the midst of the daily action, rather than tucked away in his room, is a huge boon at this stage. Eventually ours grew out of the ability to sleep anywhere there was stimulation, but for months we could just tuck him next to us like this. A routine might be starting to develop, and your brain might be starting to reboot a little. You might benefit from a dedicated work/nap location. Or, if you’re in desperate need of more sleep, keep taking time off and take naps with your baby. You still deserve it.

The morning staff meeting is called to order.

Wiggle Worm

Pros: Kid just gets more fun when he can move and interact. Naps start happening on a predictable schedule. Able to critique flaws in three-act structure and identify use of leitmotif.

Cons: Inching toward mobility, and thus ability to cause trouble. More opinions. WRONG opinions.

At the four month mark, we moved out of my parents’ house. The new house has a huge master bedroom across the hall from a petite room perfect for an office or nursery. I claimed it as an office at first, letting the baby wiggle contentedly on a blanket at my feet or nap in his rocker. He would spend hours kicking the toys hung over his blanket, with the dog watching in forlorn envy.

I loved having my own, dedicated office. But bedtime was a nightmare. Swaddling ended, and he wouldn’t sleep except in my arms. We decided he needed his own room and an earlier bedtime, and I waved my office goodbye. We moved my desk into the master bedroom, gated off half of it, and made that half a baby paradise.

The baby rebelled. He screamed and cried, clinging to the bars, even though I was right on the other side. So we moved my desk inside the baby jail. Problem solved.

There’s an ever-evolving list of things that need baby proofing as babies become more mobile and mischievous. This was the stage where things changed almost every day, moving gates, desks, crib, and so on. We made lists of small pain points during the day, and brainstormed layout changes that could address them. Stay flexible, and make your workspace suit your needs; don’t try to warp your behavior, much less your baby’s behavior.

A room of one’s own. Sort of.

Wiggle Pig

Pros: More and more of a person. Less hyperdependent on having me and only me around. Able to formulate internal arcs for primary and secondary characters and interrogate psychological verisimilitude of character’s interior landscape.

Cons: In a beatnik phase. Won’t stop smoking and keeps insisting we “hit the road.” Also likes to grab the mouse and/or keyboard and/or me at the least convenient moments.

This summer I had a major deadline, and so Mike took point with the kid. Which meant it didn’t make sense anymore to have my desk be in the baby’s space. Plus, he’s been getting less and less content to play around me, and wants to play with me, which means most of my writing is done during naptimes anyway. So we moved our den into the living room, and moved my office into the den. Once again, I have a dedicated office. It’s usually strewn with toys, but it’s my space. When the baby is awake, I hang out with him in his space. When he naps, I work.

Moving furniture around into new configurations has always entertained me. We’re constantly talking about how we could reshuffle things to reflect how we actually use our spaces. Staying flexible and creative like that has meant that every time the kid comes up with a new way to cause chaos or shifts his schedule and needs, we can set up the house to support it.

If you can have a dedicated writing space, even just a corner of the living room that is all yours, I recommend it. Being able to sit down and know in my bones that I’m in work mode—even if, as right now, my desk is covered with one baby shoe, a stacking cup, and a monkey with a rattle in its belly—keeps me from feeling completely consumed by the mom side of my writer-mom identity. I can close the door on the dirty dishes and the cat and the floors I really, really need to vacuum, and focus on my work. It helps me remember for a little while that I’m not a full-time stay-at-home parent–I’m a working parent. And it’s time to work.

So, how about you? How does your workspace support both your parenting and your writing—or what about your physical space is a barrier to getting things done? I’d love to hear about your solutions and your challenges.

 


*(Some newborns are Wailing Potatoes. Mine was a very quiet potato, and people frequently forgot he was in my lap for hours at a time.)

**Oberon is my child’s internet nickname, not his actual name. We did not name the child Oberon. Promise.

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