Labor economists have an interesting way of looking at leisure time, and it should not come as a surprise to anyone at this time of the year. We call most things that we can buy “normal goods”, because more income generally leads us to buy more of such things. Along these lines, we recognize that leisure is actually a “normal good”, and something that is desired and, in a sense, “purchased” when we take time out to enjoy ourselves rather than use that time to work and earn money. Such a view of leisure leads to the result that it is possible that, as wages increase, people will use that increased income to buy more leisure. Thus, while one normally thinks of increasing wages as leading to people working more, it is possible that higher wages could actually cause people to work less, as the potentially increased income from higher wages is used to “purchase” more leisure time. This is a theoretical possibility called the “backward bending labor supply curve.” I found myself thinking of this last weekend as I splashed in the city pool with my daughter, and could well imagine a world in which I would want to use every extra penny to buy such warm summer weekends with my family.
When we adopted my daughter, we put together a CD of songs that had special meaning to us and called it “Waiting for our Daughter”, with the intention of giving it to her some day, so she could capture some of the emotion of that moment. Included in it were songs that were popular in the months leading up to her adoption, as well songs that had special meaning to us, such as “Return to Pooh Corner”, which still makes me, a lifelong Pooh fan, cry. Also included in the CD was the song “I Hope You Dance”. Its refrain sings “when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance”. I see it as a song that reflects the life affirming joy that I want to pass on to my child.
It is hard not to feel that joy when I am swimming with my daughter. I try to take her to the pool every chance I get, and sometimes find myself taking her neighborhood friends along as well, looking like a nerdy Mary Poppins with a line of children behind me. I love watching her prefect her swimming skills and watching her overcome her shyness and talk to other children and ask them if they want to join us in playing with pool toys. And, if sometime I realize that I have unwittingly become a free babysitter, as I play with my daughter and other children we have found while the children’s parents sit by the side of the pool and read a book, I just laugh that off. I realize that I am participating in life fully by playing with my child, and that I would not want anything else.
That is not to say that my daughter would not want anything else. Once, earlier this summer, she pointed to several women sitting on the side of the pool talking and sunning themselves. She told me “see, mom; THAT is how moms do in the pool.” Whoops… I guess I was caught being something other than cool, once again. Never mind that I would burn to a crisp by sitting in the sun that long, or that I had no intention of sitting it out instead of living life fully. Indeed, only minutes after giving me that lesson, she was back to throwing a pool Frisbee back and forth to me.
And so, as this summer unfolds and a long weekend approaches, I wish everyone the joy of not sitting it out, of not sitting by the side of the pool but of splashing in it, of doing belly flops and handstands and of throwing balls around that sometimes even reach their target. I wish for you the smell of freshly cut grass and the feel of sand between your toes and the taste and smells of outdoor grilling. And most of all, as this summer progresses, I hope that when you get a choice to sit it out, you choose, instead, to dance.