Sympathy for the bedeviled

People who work at regular jobs often ask us who work at home, "What do you do with yourself all day?"

No offense, but that is an exceedingly stupid question. We're very busy here at home. You folks in 9-to-5 jobs think you have full lives -- running around, talking on cellular phones, making million-dollar deals, keeping the economy pumping. To you, it might seem that we home-office workers have lots of time to lollygag in our pajamas and watch soap operas. This simply is not true.

Here at home, we perform many so-called "invisible" tasks -- such as scraping lime out of toilet bowls -- and those jobs take time. Most days, we barely scratch the surface of all we need to do before, whoops, it's bedtime again.

So, as a public service, to generate understanding between you wage slaves and we pajama-wearing housespouses, we here at The Home Front have drawn up a typical schedule for working at home. As the numbers show, we deserve not only your respect, but your sympathy.

We'll start with a 40-hour workweek and chip away from there. Telecommuters often work on weekends, too, but including Saturdays and Sundays in our formula makes the math too complicated. You wouldn't want us to strain over these numbers and perspire on our pajamas, would you?

First of all, it's not really a 40-hour workweek, is it? Most of us can do our jobs only when the kids are in school. The period between the last bell at school and your standard 5 p.m. quitting time is completely lost to recountings of the school day and the usual threats over homework. So there go 8 1/2 hours a week.

We lose another half-hour (or more) getting the kids to and from school each week. That takes us down to 31 hours.

Running the washer is a task we can do while performing other jobs, but there's still all that folding and fluffing and hanging things up. For a typical family of four, laundry adds up to at least four hours a week. Down to 27 hours.

Keeping the house clean takes a lot more time than you clockwatchers might expect. A conservative estimate: eight hours a week. And that's if we forgo non-essentials such as dusting.

Allow an average of two hours a week for medical emergencies, appointments with the doctor and/or dentist and visits to the vet. This varies from week to week, depending on whether the children insist on climbing trees and the dog insists on eating Legos. Down to 17 hours now.

Many at-home spouses are responsible for keeping the yard mowed, watered, raked and fertilized. Another two hours a week, and another argument in favor of xeriscaping.

Grocery shopping? We'll go conservative and say we can do it in an hour, if we don't tarry in the liquor department. Fourteen hours left.

We lose one hour a week fielding annoying calls from telemarketers and at least another two hours yakking on the phone with clients, family and friends. Down to 11 hours.

Cooking dinner takes at least an hour a day (this includes actually wolfing down the food, which usually takes half as long as the preparation time). Six hours left.

Answering e-mail and playing games on our computers might not seem productive, but it's vital activity that keeps stay-at-home parents sane and in touch with the outside world. An hour a day -- minimum -- goes to keeping our fingers on the electronic pulse of the Internet and to mastering Flight Simulator.

OK, what do we have left? One hour. And during that hour, we must perform all the wage-earning work that's accomplished each week. Is it any wonder we seem so frantic as deadlines near? Is it any surprise that we end up pounding away on our computers at 4 a.m. on Saturdays?

So there you have it. Proof positive that we who work at home are just as harried as the rest of you. Now that you have this information, we hope you think twice before you again ask a stay-at-home parent, "What do you do all day?"

You accomodate us this way, and we won't tell your boss about the hours you waste secretly playing Minesweeper.

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