I don’t know how single parents do it. The person who is never wrong left town for two weeks, and the youngster has been entrusted to my care. Compounding matters, he’s sick. In the old days parents could take the risk of leaving a middle school child at home by his lonesome, but Child Protection Services now regards that as parental neglect, and they could write me up, fine me, or even take him away (begone, you unbidden thought!). Whereupon, when the person who is never wrong returns, I will be consigned to the darkest dungeon of my castle, and she’ll never leave me in charge again (begone!).
My current condition is an example of moral hazard, in which one has a strong incentive to behave badly. Once upon a time, I had been asked to dust in the family room, and because I had done such a poor job by leaving streaks of polish all over the furniture, that request has not been repeated. That lesson has proved more useful than half the stuff I learned in school (the other half I can’t remember), and I’ve been looking for like opportunities ever since.
When one finds them, it is difficult to capitalize on those opportunities because there are short-term, sometimes severe, negative consequences to lousing up (see aforementioned reference to dungeon). And if one has had the misfortune to have developed a code of ethics that contains such aphorisms as “always do your best” and “a day’s work for a day’s pay”, a guilty conscience will accompany any effort to better one’s circumstances through deliberate failure. The passing years, much as they have done with my other senses, have slowly dulled conscience’s pangs, but because the rate of physical deterioration is outpacing the moral, it doesn’t look like I’ll ever experience the blissful state achieved by soulless criminals or high-ranking politicians.
And so it was that, for the past two mornings, I called the school, gave the youngster his medication, and sent him back to bed. I notified my employer that I was going to WFH (work from home). There are obvious benefits when one chooses to WFH, such as the ability to snack constantly, close one’s eyes and “meditate” on problems, and perform research on Internet sites not blocked by the company filter. But I’ve found myself to be obliged to double, even triple my e-mail and phone communications to colleagues, or more importantly my manager, just so they would know that I was working hard—really, really hard—and being extraordinarily productive, my cotton pajamas notwithstanding.
This morning the youngster is feeling better, and it will be a relief to go back to the office, where I can relax. © 2005 Stephen Yuen