I spend my Fridays ‘off’ with my kids, but my working mom-writer life means that I almost always have a few business tasks to do, too. Even when Curious George plays in the foreground, something is usually simmering in the back of my business mind.
I’m not the type who can completely and cleanly switch aprons from writer to mom and back again. Rather, it seems more like I’m constantly shuffling pots from front burners to back, trying not to let things bubble over into domestic meltdowns or unprofessionalism–or worse, burn.
Today, for instance, I wake up before the kids at 6am to check my email and call a client to negotiate an egregious indemnity clause out of my 2013 contract. I leave a voicemail that politely explains why I don’t sign clauses that say that I, the poorly paid writer–rather than the giant organization with in-house legal counsel–will take on all legal and financial responsibility should some frivolous lawsuit come to pass.
After breakfast, I round up my two- and five-year-old to run errands. I do business-related errands on my days ‘off’ so that small trips, like buying ink or mailing packages, don’t eat into my work days reserved for reading, interviewing, or writing. Plus, a trip to the bank can become an adventure, or at least a teaching moment, right?
Let’s not forget: They have lollipops.
It sounds good in my head, at least. In practice, I usually find myself signing deposit slips one-handed with a kid on my hip and yelling across the lobby to the other, “Don’t push any buttons, please!”
Next, we head to the mall to pick out a birthday gift for my niece who will turn 10 next week. At Justice (late 80s flashbacks of Rave stores, anyone?), my daughter picks out a set of fruit medley earrings and a purple, sparkly oversized-bow headband. While she deliberates, my son is enthralled by myriad neon plastic tchotchkes placed conveniently at his eye level. Mission accomplished.
We head home and I quickly check email to make sure no fires need dousing. No fires: Just one client throwing a hard-to-reach interview back into my lap. My delegator brain steps in, placing that matter to be dealt with in email over the weekend.
Finally, I wrestle everyone into their swimsuits, lather us up with sunscreen and feed us lunch before our afternoon trip to the nearby outdoor pool. It is a gorgeous day in the 80s, with perfect, fluffy white clouds drifting across the wide open Colorado sky. My view of the Rockies shows fourteeners still covered with spotty snowcaps. This is what John Denver was singing about.
It seems like it should be easy to keep my mind in the moment, given the need to follow the toddler around the knee-deep kiddie pool. But instead, my brain keeps churning on two assignments — one due next week for which I still need a key interview and one that requires me to book a trip to Canada. Later, I also field a phone call from a colleague about an upcoming NASW workshop panel — while cuddling my toddler and keeping an eye on my floating daughter.
I can never turn off the personal-business flip-flopping completely. I constantly adjust, akin to the ever-present hustle to find the right mix of freelance work. I had my first ‘famine’ month in years recently, and I did my best not to panic. I decided it was a sign to turn it into the opportunity I’d been seeking to get back to pitching stories that motivate me. It paid off and I landed two pitches at new-to-me outlets. I’m stoked and The Fear has kicked in a little bit–always a good sign that I’m stretching myself.
Of course, now I’m heading into the next month, when that donut hole in my income will hurt. At the same time, other regular assignments will be picking back up with a vengeance, overloading my plate like a teenage boy at the Golden Trough. Ah, the ‘feast’ part. Which will be more of a ‘gorge.’
Oh well. At least I get to chew on my worries in the fresh air, with the sun beating down on me and my kids giggling and splashing nearby. People sometimes misunderstand the freedom of freelancing: it’s not free from worry — far from it. But it’s free from cubicles and staff meetings. And I’m free to fill up my plate however I like, even if it’s not always a nice, balanced meal every time. If I get indigestion from eating at The Trough*, well, I’ve only got myself to blame.
*If you crave more of the science-writing-as-buffet analogy, see Sarah Webb’s dietary guidelines in the chapter The Diversity of Science Writing.
Image credit: Kendall Powell