I pour a cup of coffee and sit at my “desk,” aka the dining room table. In the next room, my five-year-old is watching YouTube videos of other children playing video games. I tell myself I only need a few minutes to cross some things off my to-do list, and then we’ll do something educational and character-building. At the very least, I’ll insist that he watch a show with better production value.

The first item on my list is answering that email I keep forgetting about. Gmail has added one of those little passive-aggressive reminders: “Received three days ago. Reply?” I open it and begin typing. “Sorry for the slow response,” I write, but now my child has started yelling. He wants to watch different children playing a different video game. I get up and scroll through hundreds of options before finding one he’s satisfied with. I promise myself that we will definitely read a book once I respond to the email.

My coffee is cold. I’ll warm it up, and then that email is so getting written.

Thanks to COVID-19, a lot more people are suddenly working from home, to help protect those who don’t have that luxury. Me, I’ve been doing it for years. So, do I have any words of wisdom? Any advice on how to stay focused and productive while working remotely? I do not. Sorry. Every day of my life is chaos.

As I nuke my coffee, I wonder if I should shower and change before I attempt any more work. I’ve read that even if you’re not going into the office, you should dress like you are. You feel more professional, and so you work more efficiently, something like that. Right now I’m wearing my bathrobe, which, now that I look at it, has a Bioré facial strip stuck to it. It must have gone through the dryer, because it’s really fused on there. I’ll pull it off later—for now, email!

I read what I’ve written so far, “Sorry for the slow response,” and decide that it’s too casual. I delete and re-write, “I’m terribly sorry for the slow response.” My child wanders in and asks for a cookie. He gets way too many treats. How much time will a cookie buy me, though? I give him two. I’ll be sure to make him a healthy lunch.

But now I have a follow-up email asking about the email I was responding to. What do I do? Should I respond to that one and let them know I’m working on a response to the first one? As I try to decide, one of the cats jumps up onto my laptop keyboard, purring. I lure him away with a treat. Are the cats getting too many treats? While I’m busy, the other cat jumps onto my keyboard. Now my email reads, “I’m terribly sorry for the slow response.kuhrydfjcdsaaaaaaaaaaaa.” My child says his “hair is too hot.” Is that a possible side effect of too much sugar?

Oh, no. Oh, no no no no no no. The email sender has sent me a text asking if I got their emails. A text. I can’t answer this person at all now. How will I explain not answering any of the previous messages? I need some kind of cover story, like I’ve been seriously injured in some way that prevents reading or typing. Or I got kidnapped. Yes, that’s better. “I’m terribly sorry for the slow response; I was temporarily kidnapped, but I’m back now.” I Google “people who fake own kidnappings” to see how hard it is. I hear growling from the next room and tell my child to stop picking up the cats like that.

It’s lunchtime now. How is that possible, when I haven’t even accomplished the first thing on my to-do list? I make my child a sandwich that he hates and some soup that he hates and finally just a bowl of pea-nut butter. It’s protein, right? Actually, it doesn’t look too bad, so I have the same thing. I resolve to turn off YouTube, so we can eat our bowls of peanut butter like civilized people.

“We’re going to sit at the table, okay, sweetie?” I say. “We’re going to have conversation.”


Good talk.

The day is half over, and I still haven’t completed anything on my list. I remember the kidnapping article I was reading and pull it up again. After all, you never know when this kind of information might come in handy. As it turns out, an important thing to keep in mind is that security cameras are everywhere these days, so if you hire people to hold you at gunpoint, they need to make it believable.

I have to figure something else out. I need some sort of little boost, something to help me power through and work smarter and other phrases I’ve read on motivational posters. I look down at my bathrobe again. I get the kitchen scissors and gently cut away the Bioré strip, careful not to make a hole in the fabric of my robe. Right away I feel 100 percent more professional. Those articles about dressing up for work are so totally right.

First things first—I need to engage my child in something other than screen time. I dig through the recycling to come up with materials for his second-favorite activity, taping pieces of cardboard to other pieces of cardboard. I tear off a few pieces of tape for him, and he gets to it. This is how the email gets written: I tear off more tape, I type a word. Repeat.

“I’m terribly sorry for the slow response.” Is the tone of my email apologetic enough? I’d better use an exclamation point: “. . . slow response!”

I tear off tape, I type a word. Tear off tape, type a word. Eventually it’s done. I have finished the email. I hit “send” and sigh. The day is now over. I haven’t showered and am still in my bathrobe, plus it’s time to start making dinner, but I have sent one email. I am crushing it.

Illustration by Karen Schipper