Operation Chicken Pox: A Classic Chaos Chronicles about Balancing Work & Motherhood

by Lian on June 5, 2012

Last night, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Altadena Public library to a wonderful group of volunteers ( and others.) During the question and answer period, a woman asked me about balancing work and motherhood. It’s a question I get almost every time I speak in some form or another, but last night I felt like I gave an inadequate answer. Or, I had a case of Maternal Amnesia. But the truth is,  because my boys are older now and able to get to and from school and practices or to be left home to fend for themselves for dinner, the stress of trying to balance work and motherhood has dimmed. It’s still there when one goes down with an illness or has a dreaded group project due, but it’s not as acute as in once was.

So, to remind myself of The Chaos That Once was, I dug into the Chaos Chronicles archives for this classic from June 2004. Ah, it’s all coming back to me now– the feeling o abject terror when the babysitter called in sick!



6:47 AM

The phone rings and my heart stops. Nobody calls this early in the morning but sick babysitters and my mother. And I just spoke to my mother yesterday. How much more information could she have on micro- waving sponges to rid them of bacteria?

“Huh-low,” I say cautiously, praying for a wrong number. But, alas, the number is right and the news is bad.

“It’s Francie. I have chicken pox.”

And just like that, the bubble bursts. It’s the Law of Inevitability for Working Families. Just when your work/childcare/life system is running the most efficiently is exactly when it implodes, sucking deadlines, appointments, sports practices into the void.

“How long?” I managed to sputter out.

“A week, at least.”

“Don’t itch,” I sign off.


7:07 AM

I pour another cup of coffee and line up the various daytimers, calendars, and scraps of paper with notes that constitute our master schedule.  Operation Chickenpox is underway. The key is not to panic. A few well-spent hours now will spare me a week of scrambling. I’ve been through this before and hysterical phone calls to my husband serve no purpose.  Satisfying in a high-drama sort of way, but ultimately pointless, because he says things like, “Just call my mother and ask her to watch them.”

Right, like I’m going to call my mother-in-law and grovel.

 7:24 AM

My week at a glance:

Brookes and Colin:

First week summer vacation

Doctors’ appointments/Tues. Impossible to re-schedule.

Swim team Mon/Wed/Fri evening.


Accountant/hair today. Cancel?

2 early morning conference calls Tues/Fri.

Radio show production Tues/Thurs/Fri. Do from home.

Marketing meeting all day Weds. Can’t cancel.

Weds. night speaking engagement. Must do.


Traveling Weds.

Usual long hours other days

7:49 AM


I call to apprise Berick him of our situation. We strategize about split shifts.  He agrees to go to the office mid-morning so I can work from 5 AM to 10AM at home.  I’ll cover dinner/bath/bed. If I go to the accountant alone, he’ll take the kids to their annual check-ups. All non-essential activities will be jettisoned.

That gets us about half way there. Wednesday is a problem.

As we hang up, he asks, “Where is the pediatrician’s office anyway?”



8:01 AM

I am working the phones at the earliest possible moment allowed by etiquette. My first call is to Katherine. She’s got a mini-van and a generous bail-out policy.

“I’ll do swim team, no problem,” she says. “Why don’t you call Camp Run-a-muck?  They might have some spots this week.”

I tell her she is both brilliant and generous.

9:07 AM

How can every camp in a 25 miles radius be booked solid? Astro Camp, Chess Camp, Camp Cowboy. Full, full, full. Who would enroll their child in Opera Camp? Well, apparently somebody has, because that’s full, too!

 9:27 AM

I throw some Poptarts on the table and announce to the boys with feigned enthusiasm that they will be attending Math Camp on Thursday and Friday.

“Oh, not where Caitlyn goes. That’s not fun, that’s torture,” whines Brookes.

Yes! Little Miss Long Division who lives down the street!

 9:29 AM

“Muriel? It’s Lian. Guess what? Brookes and Colin are signed up for Multiplication Madness just like Caitlyn!”

Before she knows what’s hit her, Muriel agrees to drop-off if I do pick-up.

Victory. A conference call and two production meetings covered.

 10:32 AM

I’ve tried every back-up sitter. Struck out with every neighbor. Called in every playdate chit to no avail.  Wednesday is still a problem. I have no where left to turn.

I call my mother-in-law and grovel.

“I’ll take them overnight,” she offers graciously.


 10: 41AM

Operation Chickenpox complete. I am Jonas Salk and I have conquered the virus. Pass the Poptarts.


Embracing my Chaos, Lian

Related posts:

Classic Chaos Chronicles: The Oral Surgeon of my Dreams

Classic Chaos Chronicles: The Kids go to Summer Camp and the Parents make S’Mores






{ 1 comment }

Cloud Mom June 6, 2012 at 10:45 AM

I love this post! I really appreciate how calm and organized you were. MILs can be so helpful in a crisis.

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