My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had

There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum.

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“So, we’ve been talking, and we think you’re creating a hostile work environment.”

My mum looks up from her laptop and over her glasses.

“What?” she says, “Who’s we?”

She doesn’t sound particularly interested.

“Hank and me,” I say.

“You and the cat have been discussing me?” she says, still typing.

“Yeah. We’ve kind of decided that you’re the office bitch.”

She stopped listening somewhere around “kind of”.

“Shh!” she says, thrusting an open palm in my direction, from the sofa across the room.

“See, this is what I mean, Mum. In most offices people don’t just work solidly throughout the day. They stop to talk about, I don’t know… Theresa May, the diminishing quality of supermarket fruit. Something. Anything. Come on, let’s have a conversation. I think I might have a urinary tract infection. You love all that. So le - ”

“SHH, later,” she says, now frantically waving one hand while she continues to type with the other.

“I can’t live like this,” I say, “I need to have a conversation. I have all these opinions that are just going to waste. Plus, since when do you pass up an opportunity to discuss my health? I’m handing it to you, Mum. I’m serving you my feminine issues on a plate. Tell me to drink cranberry juice or something. I need an exchange of ideas. I’m talking to the fucking cat – objectively the least articulate, interesting and medically savvy person in this house. I’m dying here. This environment is killing me.”

“Eleanor – will you please…”

Uh-oh, she can’t even.

“I’m trying to write a book,” she says, “if you need a break from whatever you’re pretending to be doing, why don’t you go and make me a cup of tea?”

My mum is the best worst colleague I’ve ever had. And I think she feels the same about me. Working from home is one thing; working from your parents’ home is quite another. Sure, I could just barricade myself in my room – sparing both me and my mum the hassle of, well, each other – but lately I’ve decided that I prefer to be around other people when I’m working. There’s just something motivating about the sound of someone else typing. My mum lounges on the sofa, tapping books into existence. I sit on the other sofa, feeding off that sound to write about whatever it is I write about.

It’s only just occurred to me that, outside the context of family run businesses, parent as co-worker is an entirely new phenomenon. There’s nothing more tit-achingly generation Y than sharing an office space that’s actually a living room with your mum. It would be tragic if it weren’t quite nice from time to time (sometimes she lets me speak to her).

Now she’s having lunch. A salad. She’s always had these salads, my mum. These passive aggressive, “well, I don’t know about you, but I’m being healthy” salads. They’re full of raw vegetables, which makes them especially loud. There’s this crunching sound that’s so specific to her and her salads that I couldn’t even begin to imitate it. It’s sort of, “Brrrrunch, brrrrrunch, brrrrunch.” It’s steady and percussive. My lunch rarely consists of anything so rich in timbre. I think I’m supposed to feel bad about this.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she says, interrupting a lengthy period soundtracked by nothing but typing, munching and tea sipping, “Knaidel…”

She looks at me. I’m “Knaidel” (matzo ball) now, not Eleanor. She wants something. She’s doing her pathetic, whiny, “little me” voice. There are only two things she ever needs when she does the voice: tea or tech support.  

“Knaidel,” she says in the voice, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

“Talk like a woman,” I say. This is a joke we have, when she does the voice.

She coughs and deepens her voice.

“Can you help me with something?”

“Oh how the tables have turned,” I say.

“Please, please, pleeeease,” she says, back to doing the voice, “I’ve accidentally deleted a paragraph. We can talk about your urethra if you help me get it back.”

“The moment has passed,” I say.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist.