Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Utter Contentment

I realized something as I was driving back from a hearing in Fort Worth yesterday- I love my job. Love it. I'm not sure I've ever felt this happy or satisfied with everything in my life. It's a marvelous feeling and one I barely know what to do with.

I love the two main cases I'm staffed on - they are interested and complex corporate and securities matters and I find the facts, law and strategy involved in each to be fascinating. Both are very large $100 million - $1 billion cases, but are staffed leanly so I am very involved in managing the discovery, drafting the motions and briefs, and just sitting in the various partners' offices hashing out aspects of our arguments and if/when we should make them. I love the strategy and the absolute legal nerdiness of it all- what arguments could apply, how can we make the case law work for us. It's fun and mentally challenging and I cannot believe there was a time when I didn't think I was a litigator. I'm drafting a section of a motion to dismiss right now and I love crafting legal opinions into arguments to prove that damnit, we are right and they are wrong and we should win right now.

Even the doc review and discovery, an aspect most people don't like, is something I enjoy (at least for now). I like taking ownership of an area of the case - these 100,000 documents are my universe and I rule it completely. I may have an enormous amount to learn about procedure and tactics, but I know where X document is and I can find it for you. In a day filled with new tasks and challenges, sometimes it's nice to know what you're doing (and nice to know you know it). I wrote an article last week that was published on the firm website and an outside securities litigation website. I enjoyed writing something free-form without case law or certain styles to work around. And I enjoyed even more the emails of praise I received from various partners about the article - in a world without report cards an email with "great job" is a wonderful thing.

There are difficulties in my job, of course, but truthfully they're so small I have to pause for a moment to think of them. I work hard, but I always leave at 5:30 to get Landon and we are always home by 6. I frequently work afer Landon goes to bed, but I don't mind that as (1) I like what I'm doing and (2) that enables me to take off, no questions asked, from 5:30-8:00 and I happily accept the trade-off in my late night TV time. I rarely work weekends, though I do sometimes work very late on weeknights to avoid that. I've found I'm happier working until 1 a.m. Friday morning and then enjoying a solid two days off- I don't need much sleep and it's worth feeling totally refreshed when I come into the office on Monday. I'm tied to my blackberry, but I understood when I accepted the job and its accompanying salary that there were commitments outside of a regular 9-5 and I'm okay with that.

Working with good people makes an enormous difference. When we were driving back from the hearing, the partner I was chauffeuring (who does not have kids) asked when Landon went to bed. I told her 8 and she said, oh then let's just grab something quick for dinner so you can get home to see him. We ate at a Dairy Queen in Waco and I made it home in plenty of time to read him stories, hear about his day ("Blue playdos mama, BLUE PLAYDOS!") and tuck him in to bed. Another partner I work with has four children and in his words, "there is never a time, short of preparing for a trial that is days away, when you cannot be home for dinner and a few hours with your family in the evening." He lives that truth and so do I. I frequently get emails from him late into the night, but he is always out of the office by 6.

Every firm is different, every section within a firm is different, and every partner is different, and I know part of my situation is luck in all of those coming together. But after hearing all the horror stories of BigLaw life and spending hours worrying about my life as a lawyer-mom, I'm happy to say that I'm happy. Really happy. So is my little family, and I don't know how it gets any better than that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Off the Wagon

Reading is my greatest guilty pleasure. I have no self-control, so I generally read in phases- a few weeks on, a few weeks off. I have to let my body recover from the nights spend hunched over on the cold tile floor of my bathroom while I read "just one more page" of a book I started with a promise "just to read the first few chapters." I generally finish the book around 4 a.m., crawl in bed with a sore butt and bloodshot eyes, cursing myself for staying up so late for a book that could still be sitting on my nightstand tomorrow. I usually wake up JP to tell him how mad I am at myself. He always backs me up.

My passion for the written word has gotten me in trouble many times. In elementary school my sister and I were frequently grounded for staying up past our bedtimes to read our books - usually with a flashlight under the covers. I had to sit out at recess in 4th grade - the only time I ever got a demerit - because my teacher found me reading my "fun" book tucked into my textbook in class. (In my defense, I'd already finished the chapter we were supposed to read. Not in my defense, it was a Babysitter's Club book and not anything that was going to expand my mind more than re-reading the assigned chapter.) In high school I quit pleasure reading cold turkey when I stayed up until moments before I had to leave for morning practice finishing Jurassic Park. By the time I'd survived the 5 a.m. practice, gone to school for 8 hours, and then done another 2 hour swim practice in the afternoon I thought I was going to die. I started up again when I had hip surgery the summer before college and when I did, and I was amazed and dismayed to find how slow my brain was processing the words - my eyes would skip ahead at their usual pace only to reach the end of the page and have no idea what they'd read. It was nearly a year before I didn't have to re-read a good portion of the pages. I hadn't realized that reading was a skill you had to stay in shape for.

I mentioned a while ago that I've been reading a lot more since I started working. This surprised me- after all, as a lawyer I spent most of my day reading. But at night there is nothing more relaxing than keeping the TV off and curling up in the corner of our couch with a good, semi-mindless book. Maybe I'm tired of staring at a screen. Or maybe I've finally reached a point where I have to be so "on" all-day, that even an extrovert like me needs to turn-off and escape. Preferably into medieval Wales.

I read five books while we were in D.C. - three of them were the Circle trilogy by Nora Roberts, a short and fluffy series about good v. evil that left me caring far more about the main characters than Stephenie Meyer ever got me to do in the extraordinarily one-dimensional (yet still somehow intriguing) Twilight books. Then it was darker fare from Ken Follett with The Pillars of the Earth and A Dangerous Fortune. I returned home to a new shipment from Amazon and was finally able to finish the Welsh series by Sharon Kay Penman -- absolutely phenomenal, if you like historical fiction- really good, heavily researched historical fiction that will have you googling the characters after you're done because you now must know everything about them, read her books. I cried my way through the end of The Reckoning and then dreamed about it all night. I still feel haunted. I love the way a good book can get under your skin and stay there for a while.

An Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon's latest installment is sitting on my desk at work. I've waited four years for that book. I had it delivered to the office so I could rip open the box the minute it arrived, but my plan backfired when I ended up in Houston for training from Wed-Fri of last week. It was a blessing in disguise because I stayed up very late with The Reckoning my first night in the hotel room (and very, very late working Monday and Tuesday night before I left) and I needed to catch up on my sleep this weekend. I'm almost afraid to pick up the new book tomorrow. I'm headed to Fort Worth Tuesday for a hearing and won't be back until very late and I have so much to do and I might be getting sick... I may have to give to my secretary to hold in a secret drawer until Friday.

This is one of the many reasons why I can never try recreational drugs, I can't even keep my reading habit under control.

(and if you'd like to feed my habit, I'm almost at the end of your suggestions- if you have any more, send them my way! I like just about everything.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sleeping Solo

I'm on a business trip in Houston, staying at a very fancy hotel, with a very big, very comfortable king-sized bed at my exclusive disposal. I've had over-priced drinks at the bar, enjoyed a nice shower, wrapped myself in a fluffy robe, read a few pages of my current Sharon Kay Penman novel, and turned off the light with a relaxed and happy heart.

And I can't sleep.

JP snores, talks in his sleep, is 6'3 and hogs the bed. I don't sleep particularly well with him, but dammit if I don't sleep at all without him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It Goes On

I've almost written this post so many times. If I slept with my laptop by the bed, it would have been published around 3 a.m. after awaking from a nightmare many months ago. But in the daylight, when my life is full and busy and almost impossibly wonderful, I can't find the words or the will to go back to a darker place.

Our Nightmare has been over for more than a year. It still pops up in my life through the occasional google search for "DCFS falsely accused" and the even more occasional email from someone trapped in their own DCFS hell. It's always hard to write back, but I feel it's my way of paying all of you back for the support you gave me.

It comes back when Landon has bruised shins from tripping on the steps of our back deck and JP asks if it's okay to send him to daycare. It comes back when Landon is holding his wrist like it hurts and JP and I are both afraid to take him to urgent care. It came back in a physical rush when my dad told me about a coworker who was investigated and nearly accused for injuries his infant son received after falling off a changing table. I was at work and thought I was fine, only to nearly faint in a senior associate's office ten minutes later with a pounding heart and sweaty palms. It comes back in the occasional nightmare where I'm back in those scary days and I don't know what's going to happen, and what did happen- our happy ending, was only a dream. In a few of those Landon is two years old, rather than two months old, and it is so, so much worse.

But, for those who find this site because of the DCFS story, most of the time the memories of those weeks are absent from my thoughts without effort. I'll never forget what happened, but the recollections aren't as strong and they are easily redirected. JP and I rarely talk about it- not because we're trying to avoid it, as we did in the weeks right after the investigation ended, but simply because it doesn't come up. Despite everything, when I look back on it from here I still feel relief more than anything else. It could have been so much worse. Our DCFS investigator might not have believed us, we might not have found the pediatric orthopedist to read Landon's x-rays and agree whole heartedly that his injuries could not have come from abuse. The district attorney may not have declined to take our case. Even though I'd like to be angry that it happened at all, all I can be is grateful that it ended so completely.

At the wedding I attended in D.C. last weekend I spoke with law school classmates I hadn't seen since 3L year. Each of them inquired about Landon, asking how he was doing in such a gravely concerned voice that I was taken aback. It took me moment to understand their tone- after all, the Landon of today is a robust, ridiculously healthy 2-year-old boy who sleeps 12 hours at night and never gets sick. As I relayed this to one of them, her eyes filled up with tears and she said, "So it really is all over." And then in a rush, "God [LL], that was so awful."

It is. It was. One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Frost, "In three words I can sum up everything I learned about life -- It goes on." And it does.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Favorites

There's a lot that I love about being a mom, and a lot that I love about being a working mom, but my very favorite thing has to be picking up Landon from daycare at the end of the day. Even if he's in a terrible mood and fussy for the rest of the evening, those moments after I walk in the classroom are always happy. I start smiling as I get close to the center and I feel almost giddy as I walk down the hallway to his classroom.

Last Monday I picked him up early so his first day back wouldn't be too long. The room was empty, so I walked out to the playground and saw Landon roaming around with a bouquet of weeds held tightly in his little hand. His face lit up when he saw me and he raced over yelling, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" I got a big hug and asked if he was ready to go home. "No" he said, "Mama come." And we walked all around the playground together. I love how comfortable and happy he is there - he's excited to see me, but it's not like he's dying to leave, which is the perfect combination. We did finally head home, stopping at the park for a while to enjoy the unusually cool 75 degree weather.

My favorite Landon-ism of the week is his newfound love of holding my hand. On that same night, Landon and I were eating dinner alone because JP was coaching until 8. Partway through his pasta, Landon asked to hold my hand ("Mama hand. Peez") and we finished eating the meal one-handed in companionable quiet. Two has been an extraordinarily delightful age. He's so fun and smart and funny and independent- he's trying new things and doing more and more on his own, and yet there's such sweetness in the way he'll suddenly ask to hold my hand or want to snuggle in my lap on the couch. I think I fall a little bit more in love with him every day. I do the same with JP and sometimes I wonder how much more I can handle.

We've been talking a lot lately about baby #2 and each day that Landon is so perfect it's a mark in both columns- on the one hand, I can't wait to love another child this much and experience this all over again. But on the other, I'm not ready to divide my time with him. There's so many quiet moments that we share together and I love that when I'm home, I'm his. Maybe it's in part because of our rough first year together, but in the past year I've truly fallen in love with being his mother, rather than just being in love with him. So while I look forward to seeing him play with his younger brother or sister, and I look forward to seeing our family grow, I'm just not ready for him to share me. Not yet.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vacation Hangover

With our recent return from a 6-day vacation, I should be all kinds of busy, but so far each night has found me curled up on the couch with a book. I've read five in the last week in a half, it's like a drug for me. I haven't even caught up on my DVR'd shows. I think I'm in some sort of post-vacation hibernating state. And now that I've sat down, determined to write something, I don't know where to begin.

The vacation itself was great. My mother-in-law drove me through-the-roof Crazy, but I was able to focus on her happiness over Landon and that helped. One problem is that she does not listen to me, ever, even when I'm talking about Landon. JP and I have very few rules with him- we have a basic schedule and structure in our house, but when he's with others we don't leave a 6-page list of instructions. He's an easy going guy and I trust in the abilities of other family members who have raised children of their own to generally care for him. On Tuesday, Landon went to bed very late and I knew he was just exhausted from all the travels and little napping. I asked that no one go in his room because he frequently wakes up for a few minutes in the morning and then goes back to sleep on his own. My MIL appeared to listen and then decided to sleep in his room, against my strong wishes, and picked him up out of the pack-n-play at 6 a.m. when he stirred. The next night JP told her than under no circumstances should she sleep in Landon's room with him, and at 2 a.m. I heard her walk in there and at 6 a.m. I woke up again to hear her taking him downstairs. This meant that Landon got 2-4 hours less sleep per day than he is used to (naps were all screwed up too). I was beyond irritated, as was JP, and each time we told to stop she'd just smile and nod and then do it again that night. And then she'd cry when JP confronted her in the morning. And then his dad would tell JP to leave his mother alone since it was her house (he's MY CHILD), and then JP would say, "this is why I hate coming here" and then it would all devolve further. On Day 4 I decided to just let it go- we visit them maybe once a year, Landon will survive, but I will absolutely name it as a reason we don't visit more often whenever she pesters me about it.

But other than that, the JP/in-law interactions went as well as they ever do. On Wednesday we traveled to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Landon looooved that. Boats! Wawa! FISH! they were everywhere and I thought he was going to pass out from excitement in the first fifteen minutes of vigorous finger pointing. He thought we were pretty mean to not let him pet the fish, but other than that he had a marvelous time.

On Thursday I took the metro into D.C. to visit the firm's office and meet a few of the attorneys in my section. I nearly cried as I walked through the streets- wearing my suit and heels, feeling all lawyerly and beyond thrilled to be back in a city with public transportation and walking. I met two of my best friends from law school for lunch and it was so wonderful to just call them up and see them. I loved walking aimlessly around the streets of DC, passing famous sites right along with major agency buildings and shopping. I like D.C. quite a lot, it's too bad JP is determined to hate it.

He did suck it up to spend a full day there with me on Saturday before my friend's wedding. We checked into our hotel (an anniversary treat to ourselves while Landon stayed in Maryland with his grandparents) and then meandered through museums and a big angry protest. We met friends for lunch and then returned to our hotel at 3 p.m. to watch TV in bed and do absolutely nothing like two people with no to-do lists or toddler to tend; the indulgence of those few hours still leaves me feeling vaguely guilty. We walked to the wedding at 6 and it was hands down the most opulent event I've ever attended. The bride and groom are both UChicago law grads and the groom's parents (who hosted the event) are both partners at major DC law firms. It was a wonderful reunion of law school friends and the food, dancing, and open bars (with sangria! and patron!) made it all very, very fun.

Sunday was our one bad day - JP and I only got about 5 hours of sleep before we had to drive to the airport in Baltimore. I realized my debit card and all the cash had been stolen out of my wallet and taken to Hooters, though luckily the thief left my ID and other credit cards. Both our flights were delayed, Landon didn't nap, and he had a meltdown on the second, mercifully short flight from Dallas to Austin. We got to our house at 5:00, after traveling for 10 hours and had to pick up the dogs, unpack, buy food, do laundry, etc. Then I got a work email at 8:00 asking if I could proof an emergency brief we were filing the next morning in my biggest case, so that was super fun. I think I am just now recovered from that day.

Overall it really was a great trip. It reinforced the importance of family vacations and we have vowed to take one at least once a year whether we can afford it or not. I loved seeing so much of my little man and he loved being with us. I'm hoping to do a short camping trip now that the weather is cooling down. I think Landon would love it and it's an inexpensive getaway. Has anyone out there taken a 2-year-old tent camping? We need to ask for camping gear for Christmas, we don't even own a sleeping bag. I think I'll start making a list - I've barely recovered from one vacation and I'm already planning another!

Friday, September 11, 2009

From the Northeast

This is the longest I've ever gone between posts. Part of the reason is that I wanted to write about something besides my relationship, but that was all that was dominated my mind over the course of last week. I have one more post on that, but not now. Then next thing I knew it was Tuesday morning and we were on a plane to Maryland. My in-laws don't have wireless internet and I've had a hard time writing - apparently my creative process becomes stunted when I'm sitting at a desk rather than on the couch, on the floor, or in my bed.

Tuesday's journey went surprisingly well. We drove to the airport, took a bus from offsite parking, flew on a plane to Dallas, rode the airport train to our terminal, flew on a plane to Baltimore, and then drove an hour and a half to my in-laws house. Landon has never been on so many forms of transportation. He was so good, and immediately put himself to work pulling my laptop bag. We elicited lots of smiles all over the airport.



He was delighted by all the planes and kept yelling "A PLANE!! A PLANE!!" as we walked through the airport. I'm not sure he understood that he was actually on one of those planes, but he was very good during both flights.



My in-laws live on several acres in Potomac. The property is stunning and Landon has loved running around in their yard. A neighbor has cattle and every time Landon sees them through the fence, he races over, hands outstretched yelling "Pet! Moooo. Pet!" They run away if he gets close, but it's still very funny to watch. The stables of a member of the Saudi royal family are directly behind us and Landon got to meet a few of the horses yesterday. Despite what most people think about Texas, Landon had never seen a horse and I had never touched one. It's been a good trip for the little guy. My father-in-law cleaned off JP's old big wheel and Landon sees no reason why he should have to get off it. Ever. It fits in the bathtub just fine, thank you very much.



We haven't been to Maryland in three years- the last time we visited I wasn't even pregnant yet. JP hates it here, but having Landon around has made the visit infinitely more enjoyable. He makes me appreciate the property in a way I hadn't before and my in-laws are so completely besotted with him that even as I constantly grit my teeth and kick JP under the table, I'm glad we're here. It's going to be a wonderful place to continue visiting as he gets older.



Also wonderful? 50-degree weather and long sleeves. I almost forgot what weather under 100 degrees felt like. It's even better than I remembered.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Week of Anniversaries

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary at the firm. I've promised a post on litigation v. corporate work, but I'll just say for now that I really, really like what I am doing. I even frequently love what I am doing. I am so much of a litigator I can't believe I spent five months as a misguided transactional attorney. I love my firm, enjoy the people I work with, have received excellent reviews and am always home for dinner. I have no idea what I'll be doing in 10 years, but I am almost entirely happy with what I am doing right now.

And today is JP and my four-year wedding anniversary. Right now when someone asks how long we've been married I always feel the need to add in the four years we spent dating - now that we've reached the half-and-half mark, maybe I'll stop doing that. Adding those extra four years just makes our relationship sound so much more substantial. My dad still always includes the five years he and my mom dated, so maybe it's something I won't cure.

I wrote the sappy anniversary post last year and it remains true- September 3, 2005 really was the happiest day of my life. But as I was flipping through our wedding photos last night, reminiscing about that fun day, it was this picture that stood out:



I didn't know this unposed picture was taken until I ripped open the box of proofs when they were shipped to me in Chicago a few weeks after the wedding. (Our photographer didn't do digital photography, something I greatly regret in choosing him.) My dad and I were in the hallway of my childhood church, waiting to walk down the aisle. I thought my face was going to split I was smiling so hard and I was worried I looked ridiculous. My dad, the man of the leaky eyes, stopped just before we were going to turn the corner to walk into the sanctuary and asked- you aren't a little nervous? No, I said, of course not. He remained in place and said, well maybe I'm getting a little nervous. And then I noticed the tears in his eyes and realized he just wasn't quite ready to walk me down the aisle. I leaned in to him, and at that moment the photographer popped his head around the corner to tell us we were missing our cue and snapped a quiet photo.

Also in the picture is the antique Bible I carried down the aisle. It was carried by my Grandmother in her 1955 wedding, my mother in her 1980 wedding, and my two other aunts in their weddings. Every one of those couples is still happily married and I hope JP and I can live up to their examples. I think we will.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

8 years

I met JP eight years ago, yesterday. He was on his 8th or 9th Jack & Coke when he bumped in to me near the bar and asked if I wanted one too. I didn't- I was eighteen, underage with no fake ID, and was still feeling queasy from my introduction to Long Island Iced Teas the night before. But the music was too loud to bother explaining that so I just said sure. Five seconds later, a cop came by, sniffed my drink, looked at the big black X on my hand and told me to leave immediately. He did the same to the 19-year-old JP and we were both escorted out to the sidewalk. I was terrified. I thought I was going to be arrested and have to call my parents to bail me out of jail only two days after they'd dropped me off at college. As it turns out the guy was just a bouncer and as he gallantly held open the door, JP assured me that no one would be arrested. At that point, stranded on the curb while all my friends were inside, he introduced himself. We spent the next two hours talking and walking back and forth across 6th Street until our friends stumbled out of the club to go home.

In that two hours I found out JP was a swimmer and we were both at the club because the guys and girls teams were meeting up that night. He was a junior in the business school, he was from Maryland, and he was going to start his own company. He was chatty and funny and outgoing. I had a great time and at the end of the night when he asked for my number, I gladly gave it.

I learned later that JP normally did not go out and he did not talk to girls-- in fact, no one had ever heard him talk much at all. We went on our first date two days later; we spent 6 hours together and never ran out of things to talk about. At the end of the night, I had to ask him to kiss me as he was way too shy to take the initiative. We've been together ever since. One of the guys on the team later said that September '01 is when [JP] started smiling.

We've had our ups and downs over the past 8 years and even though we've faced tougher times together, it's never been as difficult between us as it's been the past few months. On Sunday I'd had enough of arranging everything in our lives around the swim school. Just, enough. While it's true that JP would support me 1000% in anything I ever wanted to do, it's also true that I would never ask this of him. Plus I missed him and I missed us and I was tired of being irritated and I was done. When he got home I said: Don't talk to me until your schedule is better. I will never leave you, I can't imagine not loving you, but I miss liking you and I want that back.

And then I walked into our room, closed the door and took a long hot bath.

JP called up his partners and said this wasn't working. This put their little marriage on the rocks, but now, two days later things are leveling out. JP is no longer the receptionist, he is no longer managing the personnel in their Dallas location, and he is coaching four lessons per week rather than twelve. These were all responsibilities that were supposed to shift before he started back at business school, but he had a hard time letting go of control and his partners had a hard time stepping up, and nothing changed. Now they have, and everyone is happier. Happy wife, happy life, indeed.

Thursday is our 4-year wedding anniversary and on Friday we're dressing up and going out on a date. I can't remember the last time we did that - I think we were still in Chicago. I'm not used to my relationship being a source of stress or unhappiness. It has always been the calming, constant, easy thing in our lives. I can feel the ease coming back. It's nice.