Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Playing hooky at the beach

It was the kind of day I used to dream of when I worked in a full-time corporate role: a hot summer day when instead of dressing up and heading to the office just as the cool of the morning dissipated into hazy humidity, I instead made sandwiches, packed water bottles, rummaged for sunscreen, and loaded them all into the beach bag.

Playing hooky is a relative term when you’re self-employed. I didn’t have to offer excuses (or fibs) to any manager or supervisor; I just had to convince myself that giving up my usual work hours in favor of getting an early start to the shore wouldn’t result in my missing all my deadlines and losing all my contracts for this week.

Over the past couple of summers, ever since I became a full-fledged self-employed freelance writer, the kids and I have developed a schedule that works for all of us when they’re on vacation. I generally sit down at my desk by nine and work steadily until noon; then we have lunch, and after lunch we do something recreational together. Although that scheme allows for only half the daily work hours that I log during the school year, it seems to work, in part because I have less administrivia related to volunteer work at the kids’ school during the summer, which tends to eat up some of my writing time during the rest of the year, and in part because I don’t really mind having to fill in with another hour or two of work in the evening, since it’s the tradeoff for so much flexibility.

But yesterday I didn’t even turn on my computer in the morning: I just packed up our beach gear and climbed into my friend Leigh’s car, while Tim and Holly greeted Leigh’s two boys and one of their friends and settled in amongst the back seats. If the ninety-degree heat and humidity wasn’t incentive enough to make it a beach day, the fact that someone else was willing to drive – and had enough passenger space for all of us – certainly sealed the deal.

It was a wonderful day to be at the beach: hot and sunny but not particularly crowded. For hours, we swam, walked along the shoreline, and basked in the sun (slathered in sunscreen, of course). After we returned home, I let the kids cool off indoors with some computer and video games while I filed the article I should have worked on that morning.

Having this kind of flexibility is not something I’ll ever take for granted; I love being able to rearrange my work schedule so that I can play hooky once in a while but still meet all my deadlines on time. I truly believe that it’s good to practice this kind of spontaneity once in a while. When I was in elementary school, my mother let my sisters and me each miss one day of school each year for a special excursion: a trip into the city for lunch and some kind of performance, most often. My father did the same during the summer, when the stakes weren’t the same – he didn’t have work and we didn’t have school – but there was still the sense of escape: during our yearly vacations, he would spend one day alone with each of us doing something special like fishing, biking or horseback riding.

My kids didn’t seem particularly impressed that I took a whole day off from work to go to the beach; they respect my work schedule but don’t necessarily see it as particularly important. But I hope in some way, the freedom we observed yesterday made an impact on them. I’m so lucky to be able to do this, and it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity when it arises. Having plenty of work to do is a good thing, far better than being under-employed. But finding ways to step away from it once in a while is uniquely rewarding as well, especially on a perfect beach day like yesterday.

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