Can you hold? I've got sobbing on Line 2

Working from a home office means trying to keep your professional image intact while your kids yell, "You big sucky poophead!" in the background.

By Susan McCarthy
Published April 14, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

You're on the telephone, pouring a worldview or a set of bold ideas or an image through the wires. You're calling from home, but you haven't mentioned this, in case it detracts from your mesmerizing gestalt. Such is your persuasiveness, your urgency, your snake-oil sincerity, that the person at the other end of the line, you sense, is impressed, is buying into it, wants a piece, has a certain mental picture of you. In this mental picture you are ensconced at a big oak desk -- or an angular metal and thick green glass desk -- in a large, luxurious office, perhaps a penthouse suite. From your panoramic windows there is a view of something damp -- river, bay or fountain. The listener also intuits your polished personal appearance, your chic yet appropriate clothing.

Abruptly, young Fuchsia comes into the room. "Is 'shut up' a bad word?" she asks. You motion her away and clutch the telephone closer. Just a little longer and the party at the other end of the line will be won over, will offer you a job, will buy your idea, will convert to your religion, will sponsor your legislation.

"Boomer told me to shut up!" Fuchsia says, louder. "That's a bad word, isn't it? He called me a tattle-tale."

"You have a lot of experience in this area?" the person on the phone asks. With growing alarm, you hear Boomer approaching. "Can I play with the blender?" he is asking. "Do you want me to sing a song?"

Now, having children is no disgrace. Living in the same house with your children is no disgrace. Calling from home should be no disgrace. And yet. Somehow. It interferes with the impression you want to convey at this exact moment.

Stay very cool. Rather than allow the glorious picture of yourself to crumble, now is the time to add a new dimension to the sprawling office suite --- flunkies, lackeys and underlings, even a squad of eager, incredibly well-connected interns, dashing in and out on errands you have assigned them.

As Boomer opens his mouth to sing, as Fuchsia begins to turn savagely upon him ("You big sucky poophead!"), you must act. In a calm voice, say, "Pardon me a moment." Turn to the children, and say loudly and firmly, "Trump, I don't want to see those documents until you clear it with Mitsubishi." Glare. Say, "Excellent, DuPont, have it embossed." Shake your fist.

Get back on the phone. Gracefully acknowledge the interruption. Say, "Utter chaos around here." Say, "Deadline." Say, "Things are a little hectic. Quarterly report."

"Screening tonight."

"Grant renewals."

"Launch at 0800."

"Venezuela's more work than all the rest put together."

For sometimes in this imperfect world, it's necessary to put on a front. Not to disclose your inmost being. To seem like someone calling from the executive suite at the Tri-State Headquarters of a monolith rather than from a warm, intellectually rich family home inhabited by extremely spirited children. This is why it's particularly useful to name your children things like DuPont, Rockefeller or Mitsubishi instead of Fuchsia and Boomer. You may have neglected to take this precaution, but it's not too late. Children often enjoy changing their names. Convince them that Trump is an unusual and prestigious nickname for Fuchsia, that even on the playground Rothschild cuts a bigger swath than Boomer.

Remember, your children are on your side. Success for you means more circus tickets for them. Explain it to them. "The evil, outdated system tries to make workers and innovators like Mommy and Daddy act as if they don't even have families, but we'll show them, right? We'll twist their distorted assumptions against them, won't we? OK -- you're DuPont, she's Trump."

Susan McCarthy

Susan McCarthy is a San Francisco freelance writer and the author, with Jeffrey Masson, of "When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals."

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