Remember the ’80s, when bands had to pay clubs to play? As a woman, and as a writer, I think about that a lot.
One year in to this freelancing experiment and the numbers don’t look very good. Of course it’s only one year if you measure by the calendar. I quit my day job at the beginning of last summer, but the plan was to spend those first months getting to know my kids again. I dug right in when school started, only to be flattened with pneumonia in November. I was useless for almost two months. I started looking for gigs again in the new year, but this time there was no momentum. So when summer vacation rolled around again, the numbers were clear – childcare would cost more than I could earn.
Now I know that in feminist circles there has been a lot of talk about how wrong it is to think of the wife’s salary as the one that pays for childcare. But the math remains. My husband’s salary plus my average monthly income was equal to our existing bills, not including full-time summer childcare. As a salaried employee, he can’t take the summer off. As a freelancer, I can back off and no one will notice.
The part of me that wasn’t terrified of professional failure was secretly pleased to have summer vacation with my kids. We would go to museums and ride bikes and have little adventures together. We would visit every library in the Seattle system. And for about a month, it was true.
Then the girls started bickering. And they started pouting about having to practice math every day, even though my oldest still remembers how she gloated at the beginning of school last year when she was the only one in her class who still knew how to do division. Their selective hearing loss flared up. Then three assignments landed in my lap. The deadlines were reasonable as long as you didn’t have a camping trip planned right in the middle of them.
I’ve done work when the girls were home before. Through a combination of late nights (for me), excessive screen time (for them), and “Go to the park and play for an hour,” I’ve made quite a few deadlines. But when my systems hit a snag.
What do you mean, you left your sister at the park?!
I found myself up the proverbial creek.
So I did what every good American does when faced with a problem; I threw money at it. Within hours of removing all unsupervised playground and media privileges, both of my kids were enrolled in a week of full-day summer camp.
I got five solid days to research, interview, and write to my heart’s and my editors’ content. The kids got five enriching days of peer socialization, carefully planned curriculum, and relief from my draconian expectations of dirty laundry in the hamper and math workbook before playtime.
I’ve added up the contracts that came due in July, and they don’t come close to paying for full time childcare for two children for a week. At the time, it seemed like a small price to pay.
Adding up my contracts this fall, I think I made the right choice. The extra work I got done while my kids were at credit-funded summer camps kept my writing momentum up. Satisfied summertime editors threw work at me in the fall. For the past two months, I have met the “break even” income goal I set for myself over a year ago.
I still plan to back off from writing again next summer. That freedom is part of what is appealing about working for yourself. But I also plan to put my kids in camp for a good chunk of the summer. I might even be paying cash.