The first thing I did when I woke up this morning?

Twenty minutes of hide-and-seek under the covers of my bed, with my 8-month-old son and my nearly 3-year-old daughter laughing maniacally.

In the last two months, I’ve baked two cakes, a dozen muffins and one batch of brownies. I’ve even rolled out at least 80 Play-Doh “pie crusts” with my industrious daughter, Ruby, who loves to follow “wessipes” and say “check!” after we place each “ingweedient” on the kitchen table, real or not.

For months, Ruby has been impatiently awaiting the season's first Minnesota snowfall. When it finally fell — on a Monday morning — she suited up and my husband pulled her in her hot-pink sled across the street and into the park while I prepared breakfast.

Later that morning I loaded Ruby and Remy into the sled and gently tugged them around the backyard, much to their rosy-cheeked delight. By 5 p.m., the snow was essentially gone.

None of this could have happened if I hadn’t ditched my daily commute. But here’s the thing: I’m still working, actually harder than ever. This is, after all, the life of a freelancer.

A couple of years ago, I was an SUV-sized brick in the gridlock on 94, inching back and forth 10 miles every day. All my salty, profane thoughts shouted internally in capital letters. I was beginning to believe the worst about humanity.

Some days I did my 10-mile commute (which takes about 8 minutes on a weekend) in 45 minutes. That was a decent day.

A bad day meant spending more than 45 minutes stuck on the exit from my downtown parking ramp. I had a lot of time to do the math: Many weeks I spent the equivalent of an entire workday sitting in traffic.

As most working parents know — and I say this without judgment — a schedule like this leaves little time to spend with your children, especially if they have early bedtimes.

And I was getting bitter about that.

I was spending too many non-productive, highly stressful hours on the highway. When I got home, my husband and I would race to make dinner and do our best to entertain crabby kids — and then quickly shuffle them off to bed before it all blew apart.

Mornings weren’t any better. My daughter kept asking if she could lounge around in her jammies “awhi-oh wonger.” She knew if the answer was no, we were headed out the door ensconced in the sweaty, wide-eyed scramble that is the life of the commuting working parent. And there were tears. A lot of them. Sometimes mine.

I was left asking myself a difficult question: Even if I loved being part of a work team, and even if I spent my entire adult life training for this profession, was this the life I wanted for myself and my family?

I’m not the only one asking this question. According to "Fast Company" and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.5 million people were freelancers in May of 2015, a rise of 1 million from the year prior. And a software company called Intuit predicts that a full 40 percent of the workforce will be freelancers by 2020. Some people call this the rise of the “gig economy.”

When I told a former boss I was joining him among the ranks of freelancers, he congratulated me. Then he warned me: “You know, you’ll be nearly unemployable after awhile.”

He didn’t mean no one would want me. He meant I wouldn’t want them, at least not full time.

That’s been true for me. I've been a freelance writer for two years, and I can’t imagine my life any other way.

When you’re a freelancer, you don’t have one boss but several bosses as you juggle various jobs (hopefully a plentiful amount). And they each need to be your number-one priority.

When you’re a freelancer, you have to produce like crazy without the benefits of brainstorms. It’s all on little old you.

While I do work during regular office hours, my flexible schedule allows me to do a lot of writing between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., tap-tap-tapping away while my children and mutts snooze and my husband works out in the garage.

He’s self-employed, too, a former architectural designer-turned-woodworker who opened a shop. And we’ve become a team, bouncing ideas between us, sharing household tasks and cheerleading for the other as our businesses evolve.

We also provide an understanding ear when someone needs to gripe about the inevitable struggles of freelancing.

Because, honestly, sometimes it feels like all we do is work. Running your own business is a much bigger commitment than being an employee. If you aren’t working, you aren’t making money.

Sure, freelancing has its breezier moments: A quiet trip to Target during the afternoon! A pit stop at the library! My choice of appointment times at the doctor! Lunch outside in the sunshine!

Soon enough, these indulgences are interrupted by the realities of the hustle.

I have wondered when my next gig would arrive.

I daydream about having more robust health benefits.

I miss giggling with my work friends over lunch, or lingering over happy hour in sexy downtown bars.

I miss receiving paychecks in two-week increments rather than net-30 or net-90.

Sometimes, as a freelancer, you feel pretty disposable, especially when people forget to tell you things, like whether they liked your work, whether they’ll hire you again, or when you’ll get paid. People need you and your work, but you’re not part of their immediate team.

Freelancing is a lot like dating. Sometimes you don’t know if they’ll call, what they really meant by that feedback, or why you’re getting the silent treatment.


And when you have a great first date — a coffee meeting or an assignment that perfectly matches your skills — you feel like you’re destined for the next issue of "Forbes."

Then, two hours later, a rejection can send you into a spiral of despair.

That’s when I remember the icy sound of the sled as I tugged my littles across the snow. Or romping after dinner in the living room to our record player instead of sitting bumper-to-bumper, listening to drive-time radio. Or feeling their little bodies snuggle up to mine and not having to say, “Mama has to go now” so quickly.

I remember the whole hour we spent reading books and leaving our jammies on for just a “wittle bit wonger,” because we don’t have to do the dance of packing all the things, shoving on the coats and shoes, buckling all the harnesses, breaking a sweat trying to get out the door without yelling or shoving or forgetting anything.

Now, when I have a meeting that collides with rush hour, and I’m sitting on the freeway, I find myself thinking: How the hell did I do this every day for 10 years?

 

Katie Dohman is a former lifestyle editor for Minnesota Monthly. These days she is a freelance writer whose writing regularly appears in Naturally, Danny Seo magazine, Midwest Home, Virgin Atlantic Airlines blog and the Blooma yoga blog. She lives in West St. Paul with her husband, babies and rescue mutts.

ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a new digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to christy.desmith@startribune.com.