Sunday, November 27, 2016

Working at Home with a Noisy Toddler

In my months of silence on this blog, I've moved out of state again, and am preparing to move once again. Once again, I'm in temporary housing, this time a two-bedroom apartment. We move into our new home in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I've been struggling to work from home in an enclosed area with an energetic toddler who loves to climb on and off the couch and babble loudly in her foreign-sounding language.

My work assignment involves a lot of phone interviews these days. I set a time with one or two other people on the call and I ask questions and take notes. Sometimes I can mute myself during the conversation, but never for long. I need to be present to the other person on the line. I need to be focused. I need to hear, and I need to be heard.

An excited talkative toddler shrieking and telling stories in her own language in the background is not helpful during my calls. Naptime is an ideal time to take a business call, but naptime doesn't always correspond to my call schedule. Last week, one call was scheduled for 11:00. Sometimes I can keep my toddler awake in the mornings so she'll sleep sounding during a late morning nap. But on this particular morning, despite my stimulating efforts, she fell asleep at 10:00 and was up playing at 11:00.

During that same day, I had another call scheduled for 2:30. Toddler fell asleep at 2:15. Perfect! Fifteen minutes into her nap was plenty of time for her to fall deep into sleep and not wake for my business call. Slowly and silently I distanced myself from her so my voice wouldn't wake her. I wandered into the next room, proud of myself. But the minute my call started, I peeked in and noticed her stirring and sitting up. Then she screamed as loud as death! There was an awkward pause on the other line and I knew I had been busted.

I previously wrote some tips on how to combat noisy baby background noise. As she outgrows many things, my toddler has outgrown these tips. Food and new toys no longer silences her as they used to. Naps are no longer a guarantee of quiet time. Nursing is too short to promise quiet for long.

Distancing myself has been the biggest failure of a tip as my toddler has developed separation anxiety. In this temporary apartment, I don't have many places I can work. When I absolutely need quiet, I hide in the spare bedroom. There are two layers of boundaries between me and her there: the living room/hallway baby gate and the bedroom door. I mute my phone to return to the living room to check on her, then return to the quiet sanctuary to talk again. But every time I run away from her sight, she throws a fit. Leaving the room even for a moment seems to be the ultimate abandonment in her eyes.

What's a working mom to do? I've gathered some suggestions I hope to try this coming week when I return to the phone. They are:

  • Use the TV babysitter. My husband and I have noticed that when we watch TV, she'll watch with us. She's sometimes captivated by it. In moments of desperation, I don't care about limiting screen time. I do what I have to do.

  • Distraction bags. This is an evolution of my distracting toy concept. Instead of just one toy, I distract her with a new activity or bag of toys. I probably need to wait until we move into our new home to have the room to handle distraction toys that I can store for when I'm not on the phone.

  • Find childcare. This has been on my list of things to do for months but we keep moving. In two weeks, we'll finally be settled into a new home for good, and I'll look into an occasional babysitter or drop-in daycare.

That's all the tips I have so far. More would be appreciated! I'll let you know how it goes.

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