by Leslie Morgan Steiner
After my third child arrived, I negotiated with my employer (begged, cajoled, manipulated is more like it) to cut my in-office hours in half. After cutting my pay in half, my boss agreed. For two years, I worked 9:30-2:30 four days a week in an office with a door, an assistant, a staff of 15 and about 40 clients. I bled gratitude from every orifice, because I got to keep a great job and have time with my kids.
When I wasn’t at work physically, my office morphed into my cell phone – which worked fine. I had to be accessible 24/7 to my kids, so why not throw in round-the-clock accessibility to several dozen clients, sales reps and production assistants who could (and did) call me at all hours of the day and night?
During this time I also had a home office. From 9 pm to midnight, after the kids were asleep, I wrote a book that turned into Mommy Wars  from a makeshift desk in a corner of our kitchen. After the book came out, I left my office-building-office and worked from home full-time from my new “corner office.”
I wrote, consulted, and blogged while also changing diapers, cooking breakfast-lunch-dinner-snacks, helping with homework and jumping up to get another glass of milk for yet another child. I fantasized about my tiny, messy little office being spoofed in the Wall Street Journal’s glam column about executive offices, which usually featured a proud executive with folded arms in front of a picture window overlooking Park Avenue. My photo would feature me in my pajamas bent over a keyboard next to our dishwasher with a child hanging off my back.
But an office in my kitchen was the only way I could realistically get any work done and still see my children, both critical needs. For me the only way to juggle work and family was to merge both into the same room. Working in brief spurts throughout the day, I was amazed at how much I got done.
I was surprised also at how the arrangement benefitted the kids. The children learned patience by facing my held up index finger. They discovered they weren’t the center of the universe through my daily incantation of “Mommy has a deadline in XX minutes.” They trained themselves to stay quiet while I was on conference calls. They saw firsthand how important work was to me.
Now my children are more self-sufficient. They pour milk and do long division by themselves. My kids have phased out of needing to be watched every second: I no longer fear they will choke, set the house on fire or kill each other while I am not physically present. My son occasionally cooks dinner for the family. My older daughter whips up desserts and orders Thai food with more aplomb than I do.
In other words, I have no need to work in the kitchen any longer. And somewhat to my shock, as soon as I didn’t need to have a desk there, I grew desperate to have a real office again. One that smelled of pencils and sleek black plastic computer equipment instead of ketchup in the sink.
So here I am. This summer I started working out of a newly constructed office in my backyard. I can still hear the kids, now ages 7 through 12, whenever we are all home. But finally I can, once again, hear myself think.