How my four-year-old receptionist defies the uterus-less CEO… and why that’s going to change the world

The landline rings, but I don’t care. There was a time when I would leap out of the shower and race to the telephone naked, but these days, only telemarketers and wanna-be-politicians ever call on it. I’m in the kitchen (fully clothed) doing battle with the sink and a frozen chicken, and pondering whether I should say yes or no to a new project—and whether my tepid disinclination to say yes is rational and should perhaps be off-set by the disturbing state of the family bank account—and…

“Mom! Are you going to get the telephone?”

“No!”

My elder two children are ignoring it too: they were reared in the pre-cell phone era when clients and editors called me on the landline, and answering the phone in the wrong way brought the Wrath of Psychotic-Bitch-Mom. The four-year-old lacks the training and the trauma. The phone is beguiling him. Plus, the ringtone is annoying.

“Mom! Please! Can I get it?”

Oh, why not? It’s probably a telemarketer, and it’s good practice for them to experience a four-year-old, isn’t it? I turn my head from the chicken for a minute, holler:

“OK!”

So… back to the inside of my head… will I say yes? Will I say no? I think I will say no, I’m pretty sure—I really don’t want to do it, and the part of it that’s intriguing isn’t sufficiently intriguing to make up for the part of it that a lobotomized chimpanzee could do, but, on the other hand, we need to eat. And go on exotic vacations…

From the other room, I hear,

“Hello?”

…and then…

“That is not how you say my mom’s name. Are you sure you know her?”

(There are so many, many different ways of mispronouncing “Jane.”)

“I’m Ender.”

“I’m not in school, ever! I’m four.”

“Mom! This guy really wants to talk to you!”

“Ma-baby—I’m busy killing a chicken. Hang up or tell him to call back.”

“My mom is killing a chicken. Well, not really. It’s already dead. But frozen. Also, I don’t think she finished her second cup of coffee this morning. And the dog peed in the basement, and I spilled cereal all over the couch, and the plumber hasn’t come so there’s no sink in the bathroom and she won’t play cars with me. She’s a big grouch, actually. Are you sure you really want to talk to her?”

“Mom? He says to tell you his name is… and it’s important.”

Oh, fuck.

Editor.

New editor.

Who has clearly not inherited the rolodex sticky-note that said “Do not call at home; communicate by email; in emergencies, email or text to schedule a time for a phone call.” (Digression: do people have rolodexes anymore? And do those of you under-28 know what that exotic word means?)

Goddammit.I wipe my icky hands on my clothes, and make my way to the phone…

“Hello, Jane here. … Hi. … So I’m not sure that I’ve had a chance to tell you this—but never, ever spontaneously call me at home. Now… give me five minutes to anaesthetize the children, and I’ll call you back on my cell from a locked, padded room…”

My real self has this column out right now, officially titled “Changing the status quo in the Canadian workplace”—more poetically self-titled “The CEO has a uterus—wait, the problem is that he doesn’t but half of his workforce does.” Here’s its key theme:

This is a story about why I don’t work for you.

Don’t roll your eyes. You should care, because I’m brilliant. …And it’s not just me. See her, over there? She’s even smarter than I am: she can see connections in trends, economic forecasts and people’s spending patterns that would make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice if you deployed her talents on the behalf of your corporation. And that one over there? You know that hole in your talent pipeline you’re looking to fill? She’d be perfect for it. …

We all left, because—hey, here’s something you’re not gonna hear a woman tell you very often, pay attention, darling—we all left because—eyes lower, lower, love, away from my face, lower, keep on going down… see this? We’ve all got this thing there called a uterus. Your wife’s got one, your daughter too. Your mother—that’s how you came to be, you know that, right? We’ve got these things, and that’s where new people incubate. And after they’re born, well, we’re kind of attached to them.

And even if we weren’t—the survival of the whole entire species depends on us, you know, taking care of them. Feeding them. Taking days off work when they’re sick or in high need… What? Nannies, day care? Not enough, dude, not enough—and you don’t get it, because, let me be politically incorrect here and blunt, you don’t get it, because you have a penis and a wife.

(Full unedited text of the Strategy Session, Alberta Venture column here)

It’s garnering fascinating responses from readers, varying from “Yes! Thank you for articulating this!” from many women readers-leaders to the ever-so-insightful “I wouldn’t have hired you anyway, bitch” from an alleged oil patch exec.* I end it with a call to arms—asking you to change the dominant culture of most workplaces by… well, by changing it. By acting like it’s already changed. Not by seeking accommodation—but by taking what you need. Whatever that means in your family-life reality.

And—and this, perhaps is even more important—by supporting those of your colleagues who are taking what they need. Not trying to pull them down to suffering through the unworkable status quo—just because you suffered through it. Just because you… weren’t able… didn’t have the courage… or weren’t sufficiently secure-privileged-arrogant-stubborn—I know I am all those things—to demand the change you needed.

A tentative knocking on my closed door. A whisper.

“Mom?”

Louder.

“Moooom? Are you done on the phone?”

“Yes, my baby. What do you need?”

“I just need you.”**

I let him in. Wrestle him on the bed for a while. Ponder if I’m going to say yes or no… where does the money-challenge-time-fulfillment-life matrix tell me to go right now? Remember there’s a raw chicken carcass waiting for me in the kitchen, and a client-of-a-client who needs some handholding. And, of course, the project that I really want and need to focus on that always get the short-shift… Skooch the four-year-old receptionist off the bed. Bribe his siblings to look after him.

And then—go do all the things that need to be done. My way.***

xoxo
“Jane”

Four-year-old receptionist.jpg

She likes footnotes:

* I generally don’t engage. I did that time. “You couldn’t afford my left foot, asswipe.”

** They need us so much, don’t they? Lest you think I advocate motherhood-martyrhood, please also read this: On the delicate art of running away… and always coming back.

*** It’s not supposed to be like that. The real secret to working at home with children is to get the children—or yourself—out of the house. More here: The naked truth about working from home, the real post. For more of my children’s encounters with clients and sources on the landline, see The naked truth about working from home, the teaser.

Next week… a surprise.

Looking for me?  Find “Jane”

10 thoughts on “How my four-year-old receptionist defies the uterus-less CEO… and why that’s going to change the world

  1. Loved this. Loved. You, as usual are awesome and raising even more awesome kids, who will surely take over the world with mine someday!

  2. Yup. When pregnant I fully planned to go back to work and utilize daycare, but mentally quit my job when my son was just a few minutes old and officially did so during maternity leave. While I occasionally miss the bigger money and excitement of titles and travel, I wouldn’t trade the fact that my lesser paying, lesser stress, higher freedom part-time job allows me to have built lego robots this morning and have not been rushing through my son’s giggles.
    Love how your 4yo answered the phone!

  3. You are SUCH a tease! Surprise eh? But first, my uterus. You are absolutely 100% correct in assuming that I am attached to it. I have grown accustomed to having it around even though it isn’t quite as active as it used to be any more. Back last century when I was a working stiff before I became a member of the landed gentry (great unwashed) I learned first hand the negative aspects of having a uterus. You are treated so very differently…here in Australia you are paid differently as well…for having…a uterus…nothing else…when we can’t even rally our fellow uterus containers to agree that we need to make this a not negotiable deal then how the hell are we EVER going to convince the penis holders (quite literally most of the time…) to pay attention to us? While we are squabbling for scraps they can quite letitimately ignore us.

  4. Your four-year-old sounds a lot like mine. Mine once said “so much good!” about his daycare friends getting to know (and squish) his little brother. Every once in a while that sentence resurfaces in my mind. So much good here! You’re hilarious when you’re hilarious and so damn convincing when you talked uteruses (uteri?). Love that you didn’t hold back on asswipe. What an asswipe!!

  5. Pingback: Quote This: Kurt Vonnegut on what’s wrong with the world | Undogmatic Unschoolers

  6. Pingback: Leading, earning, building, breeding: vignettes from the trenches | Nothing By The Book

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