Every summer, my day job powers down and I find myself working four ten hour days with blissfully long weekends at the end of them. And every summer, I drop the kids off at their summer care and hole up to use those free days to write.
Except, every summer, I stare off into space and type meaningless words until it’s been an hour or two and I can legitimately go get my kids and have an adventure.
Then, at the end of every summer, I look at the seven Fridays and don’t see a corresponding number of words on my page and writer’s guilt twinges. I look at my children and think of the lazy mornings we should have had and mother’s guilt twinges. After all, with split custody, every moment spent with them is precious. Yet, as a writer, the stories churn in my head and the characters nag. It’s the working mother’s dilemma played out in an over active imagination and every summer, we start the school year and I feel a little…less.
This year I decided enough was enough.
I looked at my children – Joseph who is almost as tall as I am and Elizabeth who is losing the baby fat on her cheeks. I did the math, not usually my strong suit, but easy in this case. At the most, I have six summers with Joe and nine with Liz. I can keep my fingers crossed they’ll still want to hang with mom during college breaks, but when it comes to absolutes…I have a handful of summers left with them.
And then? I’ll have decades of Fridays to write.
The solution was easy.
I took a summer vacation from writing. I took a summer vacation from word counts, edits, spell checks, and research. I took a summer vacation from notebooks and red pens and plot holes.
I focused on character development. Our character development.
We swam in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico, eating tuna caught by friends and drinking out of coconuts. We shot down waterslides aptly named “The Wedgie”. We danced at concerts in the park. We rode our bikes while the sun turned our faces red. We had lazy mornings of Doctor Who and tea and pondered the mysteries of the universe. We bought six new chicks and watched them grow. We ate BBQ in a barn while the sunset lit the hills on fire. We got henna tattoos and cinnamon rolls at the fair. We escaped the heat to watch a webslinger do his thing. We bought a new hammock and whiled away hours crammed in it together like peas while absorbed in our books.
It’s not over yet. There are still three more weeks of summer. Three weeks where there will be camping, a train ride, a boardwalk carnival. Three more weeks of sleepovers and swimming pools and silver fake tattoos. Three more weeks of picking tomatoes in the garden and building a chicken coop and a solar eclipse. Three more weeks of character development.
And then, while the California sun continues to bake, they’ll head back to school with packs filled with freshly sharpened pencils and I’ll start working five days a week again.
I’ll kiss them goodbye on Friday evenings and tell them to have fun with their dad. I’ll brew a pot of tea on Saturday mornings and open up my laptop. I’ll look at the notes by dear writing partners gave me and I’ll get to work while the tan fades from my shoulders and the taste of coconut and smell of salt air lingers in my memory.
There will be not an ounce of guilt.
That’s what I call character development.