Here's an old Louis Armstrong song that captures the sentiment in this post:
For a person living in the United States, the word “summer” brings up many common images: sweat, barbeques, cold beer, baseball, surfing, bikinis. For a kid growing up in America, however, the dominant feeling associated with summer has to be “freedom.” Summer as a child is one of the few times in life when a person has an extended period of time when there is nothing that he or she is obligated to do. To a certain degree, I have spent my entire adult life trying to recapture that feeling as often as possible.
One of the blessings of being a teacher is that I get to experience that feeling of freedom, to a certain degree, every summer and winter break. It’s not quite the same as childhood. Even without work, there are always plenty of things that need to get done. But still, the moment when my final grades are turned in is similar to the last day of school as a kid or to the completion of that last final exam as a college student. A weight is lifted off of your chest, and the distant horizon seems filled with stress-free moments.
As a college teacher, I am particularly blessed with free time. Even during the school year, life is not a day-to-day grind of the same old routine. Part of the reason that I liked being a college student so much more than a high school prisoner was that the classes were scattered around, leaving much more room for flexibility in day-to-day life. So college teaching, for me, is a way to avoid growing up completely.
The downside, however, of my part-time, “freeway flying,” college professor life is the lack of a high, consistent income. We have gotten by OK for the last nine years, but we are nowhere near being rich, and I don’t anticipate a flood of cash coming our way any time soon. Truth be told, I have never been particularly motivated by a desire to get rich. It’s not that I am some kind of an ascetic or anti-materialistic hippy. If colleges decided to pay me more, I would happily take it. And if I won the lottery or hit the mega-jackpot in Vegas one day – both of which would be a challenge since I don’t gamble - then I would be dancing in the streets. My desire to have more money, however, is not rooted in dreams of accumulating all kinds of wasteful, luxurious crap. In my mind, the greatest thing about having lots of money would be the freedom from obligation that this wealth would provide. I could work almost entirely on my own terms, and I would have plenty of time to enjoy the many things that life has to offer.
I want to make enough money to provide my family with the basic necessities of life: nice house, good food, attractive enough clothing, quality education, high speed internet, DirecTV. Beyond the basics, however, the greatest thing that I can give my family is time. If you ask children whether they would rather have parents who had more money to buy them lots of stuff or parents who spent a lot of time with them, I could make a strong, educated guess about the answer that you will usually hear. I can also say with some confidence that few people are ever laying on their deathbed wishing that they had just worked a little more so that they could have more material possessions around them when they die.
For some, retirement will be the time in life when they get to recapture the feeling of summer vacation. Personally, I don’t want to wait that long. The truth is that I may never get a shot at retirement. After all, I have a pension with the state of California, a fact that hardly gives teachers like me considerable comfort. This is why I imagine myself teaching when I am 90, reminiscing about the good old days way back in the 2020’s. And to be honest, if my body and brain are still in decent shape at that time, I wouldn’t mind teaching a few classes to stay both productive and sharp. But even if I were someone sitting around dreaming of retirement, I would have the nagging sense that both my life and the lives of my children were flying by while I was working nine-to-five (or more). So even if we have to do without some “necessities” due to lack of funds, or if I have to work until I resemble a fossil, I will be blessed by living this fantasy life in which almost every day provides a little taste of summer vacation.