Life and how to live it

Last night the coyotes woke me up, loping down from the mountaintops to hold their own back-to-school bacchanalia.

I checked to make sure the cats were in, then curled back into the warmth of the comforter. I love this end-of-the-summer time, one of the moments in my life when the immemorial cycles of nature sync up with my professional world of back-to-school. It’s the bottom of summer’s long exhale, poised just for a few days, maybe a week or so, when the plants sprawl out in all their glory, coyly revealing their better features: here an eggplant, there a ripening squash. The days are the perfect warm, the nights that perfect cool, and the brain almost kicks back into functioning after the heat-induced torpor of summer.

That last piece seems a little slower each year, but oh well.

It’s a good time for me personally to take stock of a couple of things I got right for this brief season in my life. I decided to work at home and not put my kids in camp, for a change. This, of course, saved money—a lot of money—but it was also cool to be on the parenting end of the kind of summer I experienced as a kid. Those were long, lazy days of having to find ways to entertain myself or get roped into chores. Where I lived there were only two channels on the TV, and a kid can only take so much Lillian, Yoga and You. I learned to be creative and self-reliant during those summers, and I thought it would be good for my kids to get a dose of that themselves.

I can’t say one way or the other about them, but it was amazing for me. I found it much easier to fit the rhythms of my work together with the kids’ energy cycles than I ever thought it would be. I realized, with delight, that both of my kids are pretty good at entertaining themselves without television already. And, we connected in some very basic but real ways that are difficult to describe without sounding hopelessly schmaltzy. Let’s just say this sort of connection is better than those lame buzzwords “bonding” and “quality time” could ever hope to capture.

More than once, I caught myself thinking, “I wish I could do this all the time,” followed very quickly by, “I wish everyone could do this—or at least choose to.” The first thought is silly—there I was wishing for something I already had, despite its transient quality. That part is just life. But the second thought isn’t so easily dismissed. There is a lot of talk out there about the high costs of our segmented and stressed-out lives, and about the need for families to spend more unscheduled time together. It’s also an oft-told story in this recession that folks are “getting back to basics,” having been relieved of the stresses associated with an income and house payment—a patronizing spin on the economy’s real casualties. But wouldn’t it be nice if it didn’t take economic collapse to figure out how to actually live? Over the last two decades, corporate America has been squeezing more and more productivity out of the same workers while real incomes held steady or declined. Our work often divides us from our communities, our kids, and our best selves—and many times we don’t even realize it until something forces us to step back and take stock.

I wish I could end with a pithy slogan about all of us putting life and work back together, but I don’t have it. I’m just grateful for the coyotes and that nearly missed opportunity to show up for the best part of my own life.