Wednesday night, we had several hours of heavy rain. Yesterday morning, Nicholas and I arrived at his pre-school and found that all the furniture in his classroom had been moved out or stacked in the reading loft, and large fans were blowing across the damp floor. Rainwater had leaked in under the door to the playground and had covered the floor of the entire room. The teachers were holding class in the kitchen (which is also the dining room, so it’s child-proofed) but asking parents to keep their children out of school that day if they could.
I could see how stressed-out they were and wanted to help, but I didn’t have a spare vacation day, and I had a project I needed to finish at work, and I knew Daniel was anticipating a busy day at his job. I told Nicholas I could bring him to my office for the day, but I would be working rather than entertaining him. He said he understood. His teacher gave him a little care package of markers, stickers, a glue-stick, pipe-cleaners, and such.
We started off well with the four-block walk from school to my office, observing the effects of the rain–most interesting was a long swirl of purple petals across the grass and sidewalk from a flowering shrub uphill. We walked under a mulberry tree and plucked two perfect, delicious berries each. We walked past a “smoke” tree and touched its fluffy plumes. (These last two are things I enjoy alone on the way to my typical workday, this time of year.)
In my office, I provided Nicholas with some scrap paper, my hole-puncher, an empty binder, and two toilet-paper tubes I had planned to bring home for our pet gerbils. He set to work on his crafts.
“Mama, look! Mama!”
“Yes, you drew another line. Looking good! I’m trying to work here.”
“I drew a celebration!”
“Very festive. I’m trying to answer this e-mail. Please don’t interrupt so much.”
“Mama! I have to go to the bathroom!”
A researcher at another university who is using some of our data had sent me a list of over 100 variables, wanting to know which of them need to be replaced with corrected data and why some of them that she thought should be directly correlated were not. Sorting through this required a lot of concentration, and Nicholas was letting me concentrate for, literally, no more than one minute at a time.
I made him a cup of herbal tea and showed him how he could put it on the windowsill and pull up a chair so he could contemplate the view (my office is on the fourth floor, facing an intersection with plenty of interesting traffic and pedestrians) while he sipped his nice, relaxing tea.
“Mama, look! There’s a bus!”
“Mm-hmm, they go by every ten minutes or so.”
“But Mama! It’s the 71A! That’s our bus!”
“Yes, that’s the one we take. We ride past my office building every day.”
“I know! Just like those people who are on the bus now!”
“Yes. Please. Stop. Talking. I am trying to think.”
“Look! That man is wearing a Steelers shirt!”
And then he got tired of looking out the window and brought his tea to the corner of my desk, along with an extra cup and a spoon he had found in my drawer, and stood one inch away from my elbow transferring the tea back and forth.
“Tea is not for playing with, and we need to be careful with liquids near the computer.”
“I’m not spilling!”
“You are, actually. Wipe that up.”
“That’s just a drip! It’s not in your keyboard.”
“I don’t want any drips anywhere near here. Please stop that. Just drink the tea.”
“I’m going to drink it when it’s deep enough in the other cup. That’s not a spill; it’s just a codnessation.”
“You’re making a mess! Get off my elbow! Give me that spoon!”
The only thing that kept me from just shrieking, “AAAARRRGGH!!!” was thinking of the guy in the next-door office, the one who’s always saying smugly that he’ll never have kids because they’re too much trouble (although he has several small dogs who seem to require a lot of complicated attention)–I wanted him to barely even notice Nicholas was there. With great difficulty, I confined my expressions of frustration to quiet, firm hissing. I felt terrible about even that–I mean, I was very provoked, but the poor kid hadn’t planned on entertaining himself all day and was doing his best to enjoy and learn from the crafts, street scene, and fluid dynamics experiments.
It was a long and difficult morning, even though we went to lunch early, at his school’s lunchtime. We walked to a nearby pizza place. I did my best to focus on Nicholas, be in the moment, and not think about work until we returned.
I don’t know if I did something right and, if so, what it was, but somehow things were much better in the afternoon. Part of it was that I was now working with numbers instead of composing sentences, so verbal interruptions were less troublesome. But Nicholas also was talking to me much less. He decorated the toilet-paper tubes and arranged them just so on top of my bookcase. He created some art out of two coffee filters, all his pipe-cleaners, and some binder clips. He filed papers in his binder. He drew and wrote on my dry-erase board, occasionally asking me how to spell a word. He ate his leftover pizza while gazing out the window. Once in a while he asked, “How long is it since we came back from lunch?” and each time he was surprised at how quickly the time had gone by.
In the end, I managed to get almost a normal amount of work done! A four-year-old child was no worse a distraction than the Internet!
I’m glad I don’t have him with me at work every day, but yesterday was kind of fun. The afternoon part, anyway.