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In Defense of Dawdling

On my way into the gym for my weekly swim, I watched as a local school bus pulled up to the drop-off and pick-up spot, where parents can leave their kids to play until their school bus comes to ferry them to nearby schools.

The gym doors opened and a crowd of children burst through the entrance, heading for the bus. A small girl of about four or five, lugging a backpack half her size, carefully picked her way down the steps through pockets of slush and granola bar wrappers toward the bus, which sat by curb, its motor growling. The child’s small face was furrowed with determination as she grasped the railing, almost higher than her head, while her free hand gripped the backpack strap that had slipped off her shoulder. Her gaze shifted repeatedly from the waiting bus to the concrete steps and back again as she navigated to her destination.

When I encounter such a vivid slice of real life, I can’t help spinning a back story. Clearly the little girl was the child of working parents, probably ambitious and driven. Why else would you start your family’s day at the gym, leaving your child to be picked up by 7:30 a.m.?

It's reasonable to assume that any kid growing up in this affluent area will be freighted with such expectations: parents always aiming for the best jobs, best schools, best neighborhoods, best clothes. Although the child was not frazzled in any way—to the contrary, she seemed confident and focused, albeit very serious for one so young—the image of her dogged determination to climb onto the waiting bus stayed with me all day. I thought of her an hour later, as I was pushing myself to complete my laps, jockeying for a shower stall before the next water aerobics class came through, and hurrying through clothes, hair and makeup, surrounded by a dozen other women doing the same. "Don't dawdle," I kept saying to myself. "You haven't got time to dawdle. Hurry up." Now, I make my own hours. I have my own writing and editing service, and although I have a pile of work on my desk that never ends, I can arrange my time as I see fit. I'm not punching a clock, nor do I have a boss whose office I have to tiptoe past when the fates of traffic or alarm failure make me late for work. In fact, my commute is from my home’s first floor to the second. So what's the urgency? I left corporate life to pursue my own goals, do things my way, meet my own standards and expectations, and control my own time. I wanted the freedom to attend to what matters, but doesn't fit the corporate agenda: a phone call to a friend. A creative project for my church. Installing a door stop on a swing door that won’t stay put. To live life creatively and a little spontaneously, with less pressure and more satisfaction—this is the freedom I sought when I left my last job. And so I’ve made it a point to allow a certain amount of dawdling. I take my time dressing for the day. I may stop to chat briefly with a neighbor as I’m walking my dachshunds. And I've been richly rewarded for this easygoing approach: an idea for a new story, the solution to a knotty problem, the opening words of an upcoming presentation I’ve been searching for. All minds are creative, and minds need room to breathe, to explore, to wonder, to meander. To dawdle.

So when I hear that internal scolding voice telling me to hurry along and don’t dawdle, I've taken on the aplomb of the child boarding the school bus: gaze steady, footsteps careful yet determined. She reminds me that I can transform my own approach to my day.

I can take a minute to pause, sniff the air for the smell of approaching snow, and smile at the the peal of giggles pouring out of the school bus doors.

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