the law is a bachelor

As I made the rounds telling people at my firm that I was leaving, a number of the partners told me to get in touch if/when I wanted to come back. This surprised me. I have assumed that this decision I've made is pretty irreversible; that once I leave my large law firm, I won't be able to come back. Large law firms tend to focus pretty exclusively on the fresh blood coming out of law school each year. There is some lateral hiring, but it's a small percentage of the overall hiring and it is not the subject of the massive and elaborate recruiting machine aimed at the newborn lawyers. The lateral associates who do get hired come from other firms. They are definitely not people who have been out of the large law firm scene for a few years raising kids or whatnot.

So I'm wondering what they meant. I don't take it as something people say just to be nice without meaning it at all, because partners don't say things to associates just to be nice. Especially not to associates who are jumping ship. But I do think there's an expiration date on the offer. I think it something along the lines of, "If you realize in the next 6 months that you've made a huge mistake, come on back." Maybe it could even stretch to a year or two. But there is definitely an expiration date.

Much as I enjoyed my job at times, and although there are certainly things that I will miss, I do not think there is any likelihood that I will be taking them up on the offer.

Yesterday when I was packing up my books at my parents' house--having never gotten around to moving my books out of my old room there all these years--I felt like I was putting pieces of myself back together with every book I put in a box. All those wonderful books I had almost forgotten existed. What was I doing in a job that cut me off from something I love so much? It's madness. I don't regret it, for various reasons, but I also don't think I will regret the decision to walk away from it.


Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!

So yesterday was my last day at work. I had a last-minute filing, and a lot of other work left to do, plus an office to pack up/clean out. (Four boxes of personal effects plus a painting and four lamps, not to mention the rug and refrigerator I gave away; 14 boxes of files to be delivered to the poor souls who inherited my work; and two very large and very full trash cans of papers to be shredded. And I was only in that office for a year -- we moved to a new building last November.) I was there until 8 pm, and left with work still to do. Yes, I gave up on finishing everything and took home a project to continue working on, despite the fact that I won't be compensated for it. I have issues.

It does feel good to walk away from all that work and know that it's someone else's job to worry about it. But I don't feel elated, free, walking on air, etc., as one might expect. I don't think it's because of the project I took with me, either. I think it's withdrawal. When I went on maternity leave a little over two years ago, it took me weeks to stop obsessively checking my email. It's hard to let go. I had to hand my blackberry over at about 3:30, and it was weirdly hard. That was something I thought I'd be thrilled to get rid of. But just before I handed it off, I looked at the picture of Nugget that was  the desktop background on it, and I thought: "But this is mine."

Walking away from my computer for the last time, knowing I would no longer be able to access my email archives, was really nerve-wracking. I am very dependent on my email archives. I certainly hope I will never need to look something up in relation to the matters that I supposedly transitioned to other people, but you never know. I gave out my personal email with all my departure memos and emphasized that they should feel free to call me if any questions arise. I know, I'm dumb. But it's not just that I don't want to burn my bridges -- although that is certainly the case. When you've spent several years conditioning yourself to be available 24-7 to provide anything that is needed ASAP, it's not easy to just turn that off.

I have more "last day" thoughts, but I also have a mound of presents to wrap. TBC.


Nothing will come of nothing

This guest post on Motherlode is amazing. Perfect illustration of the level of insanity parenting has reached in today's upper classes. This obsessive mom is complaining that she is no longer allowed to participate in her three-year-olds' "extra-curricular" activities. She says she put her life on the back burner for them, so she should get to go to "preballet" and rugby class. She does say that as her kids grow up she'll be willing to let them do their own thing, but protests that 3 is too early. Maybe so. Then maybe it's too early for ballet and rugby?

When Nugget was about 18 months old, someone looked at me with horror when I said he wasn't taking any classes, like the dance class she got up at 6 AM on Saturdays to take her daughter to. Aside from the fact that he was 18 months old, he was in daycare all day 5 days a week. All the poor guy wanted was to spend a little time at home with his parents. A little unscheduled relaxation. Is that too much to ask for a kid? Maybe in twenty years he'll reproach me for blowing his chances at being a golf or tennis or gymnastic or whatever phenom. If he does, I think I'll still smile and say "you're welcome."


And play the mother’s part

I'm at home with the Nugget this morning -- he was banished from daycare for having a fever yesterday. I'm sitting here enjoying his running commentary as he plays (Oh! Bow! See it? Present! Open it? Cake! Me eat it? Yes!). I had lunch with a friend yesterday who has a 16-month-old and is in that impatiently-awaiting-the-talking phase. She asked me when Nugget started talking, and I was totally unable to answer the question because at this point it seems like he's always been a chatterbox, although in fact he was slow to start talking. When I finally sussed it out, I realized that his talking didn't really take off until the beginning of August, which is not that long ago at all. It's amazing how fast everything changes for him.

Obviously this sort of thing plays a role in the mommy track aspect of my decision to leave my firm. It sucks to be missing so much at this point in his life. And I'm told it doesn't get any easier; one partner told me that his kids, now in their teens, seem to need him more than ever. (I was surprised--I would've thought teenagers wouldn't want their parents around--and he assured me that of course they don't want him, but their needs are greater than ever.) Those are two different things though -- how much Nugget needs me versus how much I want to be there. My dad is a Biglaw partner, and a workaholic, but I don't feel like he was absent when I look back on my childhood. He balanced it well. Of course, my mom was at home being a full-time mom, which makes a big difference. But I want to set aside the (very thorny and controversial) question of what is best for Nugget for a moment and just recognize this: I want to spend more time with him.(Question for another post: why does it seem harder for women to be away from their kids because of work than it is for most men?)

Turning to what Nugget needs. This is where it gets hard to sort out the politics, if you will, from the realities. First, there's what my husband and I are capable of. We are pretty awesome people by our own measure, but we're not much for organization and time management. So what my family needs is different from what works for other people. There are certainly people who can set up a wholesome routine for their kids, with home-cooked, sit-down family dinners and regular bedtimes, while both parents work at demanding jobs. That is not us.

Second, there's what my husband is capable of. I love him beyond what words can express, and he is a great dad who loves Nugget and me immeasurably, but to be blunt, he couldn't cut it as a stay-at-home dad. I hate that we failed in our reversal of traditional gender roles. I feel like I'm letting us--women, society, forward-thinking people--all down by admitting that my family needs mom at home more. But I don't know how much can be generalized from our situation. Is it that my husband didn't have a baby doll growing up? Is it that society expects him to do something different? Maybe we're an outlier and you can safely ignore us when you look at the data on gender roles.

Or maybe focusing on gender misses the point. Maybe the truth is, some people--male or female--just aren't naturally inclined to be the hearth-tender. More women might do it because we're expected to, but that doesn't mean we're any more suited to it.

I'm more suited to it than Trent, so I'm going to man up and make more time in my life to make sure we all get healthy food in our bellies, clothes that fit on our backs, and all the other necessities. Note the word necessities. I don't plan on spending all my time on this. Not just because I want more out of my life, but also because frankly, and here's where I am going to set aside my careful respect for others' choices, I don't think that sort of focus is good for anyone. I am firmly opposed to helicopter parenting. And I think when an individual is focusing all of his or her energies on parenting, the helicopter is inevitable. So I hope to find some balance. If you see me writing here about the charts I've created to track my son's development as a percentile of the rest of the population, or the monograph I'm writing on the incidence of allergies among children on an all-organic diet, please call me on it.


This thing’s to do

The Announcement

I've been quitting my job for the last three days. When you're an associate at a large law firm, every partner is your boss. So when you quit, you have to tell every partner you work for or with whom you have a relationship. I've had to have the "It's been lovely but I'm leaving" (the non-burning your bridges version of the I quit speech) conversation more than a dozen times over the last several days.

But I've also been walking around with a huge grin on my face. I know I'll miss many aspects of my job, but I'm so excited to start my new life.And yeah, I'm pretty excited to leave behind the blackberry and the endless hours.

The Explanation

Here's the standard line I've developed to tell people why I'm quitting: I'm moving out of state, to northwest Washington. My husband accepted a job there as associate general counsel for a tribe, which is a great opportunity for him. I'll still be practicing some law, but I plan to focus on writing, and I'm also looking forward to spending more time with my son.

All of this is true, and all of it played a significant role in my decision. This is right for me in a number of different ways. But I wonder, each time I explain it, which part my listener is actually hearing. That I'm yet another woman abandoning her career in favor of her husband's? (I don't believe this, but I know that's what some people will hear.) That I'm yet another female lawyer with kids who found law firm life too hard on her family? (This part is true, and I know many of the people I'm talking to care deeply about this issue.) The people who seem to understand the most are probably those who have considered making a similar change, or who have at least recognized the tradeoffs they've made.

I know I'm leaving a lot on the table. Exciting, stimulating work with a salary that is totally out of scale with the rest of the world. When I go to work, I sit in a chair that cost $800, in a  private office with a view of the Chicago skyline from 40 floors up. I have a large support staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I get paid to think. I'm encouraged to take charge. Those are real luxuries in the labor market. Speaking of luxuries, I get paid a salary that puts most luxuries within reach. I don't worry about money. My health insurance is top of the line. And my future is even brighter, with more money and power dangling within reach.

There are cons, obviously. Going three months without a single day off is standard, and vacations are when I take work out of town with me instead of working in the office. I didn't mind so much when I was single, but that's tough when you have a family at home. And while there's something to be said for quality time versus quantity, it's hard to have quality time when you're stressed and exhausted. On top of the loss of family time there's the loss of personal time -- because when finding time to hang out with your family is that hard, reading a novel becomes the ultimate luxury.

And then there's this part: my heart's just not in it. Sure, it's fun to win. Writing a great brief can be really satisfying. And I'll admit I love the ego bump of turning our good work product, and feeling important with my fancy business cards. But I don't spend all my time thinking strategically about my cases. I don't post here about "interesting" legal issues. I don't fantasize about making a killer closing argument to a jury. It's fun, but it's not everything to me. I'm not "hungry." And I don't think you can go the distance in this job without that.

But I'm not walking away because I don't want to do what I'm doing now. I'm walking away because there's something else I'm walking toward. If you'll indulge me in a moment of overdramatic self-mythology, I have a calling. I have stories I need to tell. It's not really a matter of what I want to do. I think in some ways a lawyer's work might be more enjoyable for me. But I know that no matter how happy and successful I might be as a lawyer, I would always feel like there was something else I should be doing. Like I was betraying myself and whatever force put me on this earth. Yet I cringe to put myself in the aspiring writer category. I don't know why, it just seems cliched and overdone and ... risky. Risky because of the high probability of a very personal failure. Because it's what Keats called "smokeable" -- subject to mockery. So it's not something I talk about much. But it's a significant part of this decision. (No matter what John Grisham and Scott Turow were able to do, I don't have it in me to write a novel while working at a law firm and raising a family.)

And I know that raises the question why, if I have this supposed calling, I've gone 32 years without making any serious attempt to actually write a novel? And more importantly, why did I spend more than $120K and three years of my life on law school, if that was my true ambition? It wasn't to get my M.R.S. degree, although, if for no other reason, I will never regret law school because it's where I met my husband.

I've always told people I went to law school to punish myself. I moved to a small town in Minnesota where I had a 9 to 5 job and I didn't know anyone, and I told myself I'd either write enough to get into an MFA program or I'd give it up. After two years without writing anything, I applied to law school.

But here's what I think now: I wasn't ready. I needed to go be a lawyer for a while. I did not have the courage and confidence to try this until now.

Nor did I have the ability to make enough to pay for two months of daycare by spending a couple days writing a brief. So there's that.

Speaking of daycare, there is the mommy track piece of this. Although I do not plan on devoting my energies to making elaborate homemade Halloween costumes, volunteering on the PTA, and chauffering my son to a dozen different extracurricular activities--and I am very quick to make it clear to people that I am not shelving all career plans to be a stay-at-home-mom--the needs of my family play a not insignificant role in this.

To be continued..


I do oppose/ My patience to his fury

If I needed reinforcement that I need to follow my instincts with parenting and ignore the constant hum of advice from all directions, this is it: a NY Times Style piece on parents applying The Dog Whisperer to their kids.Oh yes, because "discipline, order, and devotion" are exactly what I want to instill in the person I'm raising. I think that's Kim Jong Il's motto, too.
I read on the facebook page of an elementary school classmate some years ago that one of the things she valued in being a mother was the unconditional love. To give her the benefit of the doubt, I would like to think she meant her unconditional love for her kids, but frankly it really didn't sound that way. I thought at the time, as the mother of an infant, that she was wrong--parents have to earn their kid's love, and they can lose it. Now, as the mother of a toddler, I find the idea ludicrous. Unconditional love? Really? I've never seen such neediness in my whole life.
You want to hear something hilarious? I once told myself I was not going to use bribes or threats with my child.Yes,  I was going to do battle with the most cunning and persistent foe known to man or woman--the toddler--without the most potent weapons in a parent's arsenal. Silly mommy.
I got a promotional piece from Talbot's in the mail the other day. That was bad enough, but tucked inside it was a piece of misdirected mail intended for one of my hipster neighbors: a postcard ad for "That's Weird, Grandma," presented by Barrel of Monkeys at the Neo-Futurist Theater. The juxtaposition just kills me. Not that I was ever cool enough to get mail from Neo-Futurists, but I would like to think there was a time when I was too cool to get mail from Talbot's.

I joined a Yahoo moms' group recently, and I am seriously doubting whether it is going to lead to the sort of mommy friendships I should be cultivating. There was a flurry of emails over several days about whether one should give their kids a multi-vitamin and if so which one. Many pixels were spilled on this topic. I embarrassed myself early on, before I read the writing on the wall, with the cheerful "confession" that my son gets Costco gummy vites, and he eats 'em up like candy! Another misstep like that and I think I can kiss any playdates goodbye ...
The tenor of this post might have already driven this point home, but may I say, for the record, that when parenting is your second job, it is damn hard to come home from a full day of stress and effort and still find within yourself the patience that a stubborn, frenetic, insistent, affectionate, adorable, infuriating toddler requires.