The Wild Life: When kids and newsroom collide …

My husband, Attilla the Horizontal, informs me of his business trip by SMS last Monday.

“Ok. I’m going Turkey at 6.30. Bye.”

Oh great. There goes the baby-sitter. For a week.

This posed a problem about what to do on Friday night. Friday nights are busy in a Sunday paper’s newsroom. It’s close to deadline and a lot of pages need to be sent to the designers ahead of the Saturday rush.

On a good Friday night I’ll get home at 8pm. On a bad one, it’s 10pm or later.

Friday nights, however, are great for my helper because she gets to escape for the weekend. And early nightfall in winter means she needs to leave even earlier – like at 3.30pm – so she can get home before dark when muggers roam the streets of her Diepsloot neighbourhood looking for aunties like her.

Like many Joburgers, we don’t have much family in the city, and we envy those with a support network of grannies and siblings who can be guilted into helping out at times like these.

As Attila the Horizontal usually looks after them on Friday nights, I collect Dramatix (7) and Romantix (5) at 3.30pm and take them back to work with me.

Our editor, Ferial, is enormously tolerant of children and we have a host of little people waltzing in and out of the newsroom on a regular basis who greet her with hugs as they walk past her office.

My other colleagues are also very kind about offspring who have to come to work when their parents have to.

My two generally keep their behaviour below riot level in the office. Although Dramatix’s outspokenness is sometimes a challenge.

She once told boss Adriaan that my job was “boring”, so he thought this was what I said at home.

“So what does your mommy want to do after this job? Move on to one of those perhaps?” he asked gesturing towards the cubicles that are the closest senior managers at City Press get to an office.

“Nah, just win the Lotto,” she said. Great.

On Friday night, however, the children’s behaviour was such that the public order police unit would have had a job on their hands.

Here’s what went down:

1. Hugs for Auntie Ferial in her office. Dramatix places sparkly tiara adorned with pink fluff on head of very tall, manly Uncle Adriaan, sitting opposite;

2. They demand money to spend on junk at the canteen. I hand over cash;

3. Nagged for some more 15 minutes later. Answer: No;

4. Went outside to play in the garden with production editor Yvonne’s 12-year-old son. Received lessons in how to roar like a dinosaur;

5. Noisily re-entered office. In the kitchen, received lesson in basic karate from 12-year-old. (With me jumping up from my desk every two minutes to close the kitchen door in vain attempt to stem noise levels);

6. Yvonne and son go home. Damn;

7. Romantix, bored, despite the box of Lego I brought for him to play with, returns to his popcorn acquired at canteen. He proceeds to stroll about the office with it, leaving a trail on the floor;

8. Romantix takes wheeled office chair and rides at speed from one side of the office to another, making a racket. This further mashes popcorn trail into carpet tiles;

9. Romantix stands on top of reporter Athandiwe’s desk and lobs a paper aeroplane he made from a print-out of a graphic intended for publication at digital editor Liesl’s head;

10. They nag for more snacks from the canteen. Canteen is closed. Politics guru Carien hauls out two bags of microwave popcorn from her desk drawer. Bless her; and

11. Dramatix goes missing. The entire office goes on a search. Liesl calls security, news editor Natasha searches the floor, editor Ferial searches the garden, and photographer Elizabeth and I comb the underground parking and stairwells in case she’s stuck or has fallen from a height and is lying unconscious somewhere. After 20 minutes of this, Dramatix emerges from where she was “resting” in a seldom-used office.

What should have taken me 45 minutes at most to edit took three hours.

Needless to say, they weren’t there when I worked the night shift that Saturday. Instead, they were dispatched to the very kindly Gay Aunts.

I don’t think my children will see the inside of the newsroom again in a hurry. I don’t want to wait for the day when they sit on the photocopier producing images of their naked backsides. (I am told this is coming.)

Advice please, readers: What do you do when you have to take your children to work? And if you don’t have to, what do you do to avoid it?

Attila the Horizontal returned after a week. I don’t think I’d ever been happier to see him.

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