Thursday, September 5, 2013

18 Months In

I have a half post written in answer to a friend's question about how JP's swim school plans and successes have affected my own career plans (which, last time we talked, were to be at the SEC for 3-4 years and then go back to private practice, almost certainly in another, larger city). I still intend to finish that post, but in the last few weeks I've been sidetracked by musings on the life side of the work-life discussion. Because even though there are things I really do miss about working at the firm (writing! fancy things! extra money! writing!!!), and a part of me will always be wondering what I will do next and how I can use this section of my resume to move up for the next one, right now there is absolutely no doubt that this life is the best one for my family and that makes it the best one for me.

I knew, immediately, that steady hours and non-working nights and weekends would be better for the kids and for me as a mom. And I assumed it would be nice for JP and me as a couple. But it wasn't until I'd been at my new job for a few months that I fully realized how much better it was for me, even separate from my other roles. I was talking to CM online one night a few months ago when she told me about her new job. Even then, 14 months into my own job change, I struggled to put into words what a life-changing thing it has been to work at work for a set and predictable number of hours and then come home untouched by blackberry or email until I returned to my office again the next morning. I used the phrase, "there is just more of me left for me," and while that still doesn't quite cover it, I suppose it comes the closest.

And now, 18 months into our new life here in Fort Worth, I can see the effects that having "more me for me" as they have reflected back onto the kids and JP. It's not just that I don't negotiate down on the number of bedtime stories because I no longer have a red light blinking on my blackberry and a laptop already logged in ready for me to get back to work as soon as I close their door, or that we can play and relax at home before I start thinking about making dinner- those were immediate effects. It's the changes I've been able to see in them because I have time to simply do nothing but be around them. It's the quiet moments, the random questions and conversations. The world is harder to figure out at 6 than it was at 2, and unlike when he was 2, I can't just structure Landon's day around mine. His day, his life, has stared taking it's own form and the times he wants to talk to me about things beneath the surface can't just come forth because I have 20 free minutes. When I was at the firm the kids were the perfect ages for that life. For a 12 month old Claire, any time mommy or daddy were in her line of vision was a great time! She was completely happy at daycare and completely happy when we picked her up. And at 1, 2, and 3, it was the same for Landon. Their days were filled with routine and fun and love. I genuinely never believed that working full-time in a demanding job was a detriment to their life, and I still believe that was true. But now, for this phase, I can say that I'm glad it's different. While the kids are always thrilled when I pull up in the driveway at the end of the day, their day doesn't start over because I'm home the way it did when they were little. It simply continues, and I'm as much an observer as I am a participant, and I've found, increasingly, that the observing- the being there- is vitally important.

Separate from the simple quantity of time, the predictability has been the most important. In some respects, this isn't a change the kids feel- I think I only picked them up late from daycare once, but oh I had days of white knuckle driving down MoPac praying I got there in time. That doesn't happen any more. And for Landon, my mellow happy go lucky child, the predictability of my schedule has almost no effect at all. But for Claire, my little planner, it is huge in a way I couldn't have anticipated when she was 20 months old and I accepted this job. Each morning while I brush her teeth and attempt to brush her hair, Claire likes to get the schedule for the day- who is taking her to school, what's in her lunch, who is picking her up, and what we're having for dinner. She can roll with change and surprises, but she likes to know the plan for the next day and week and month as far ahead as possible. And she remembers every detail. It's a little thing, but I was thinking yesterday about her ballet recital in May. How I made the mistake of mentioning it more than 2 months ahead of time and how EVERY DAY she asked if I would be there. At the firm, I always hedged. I would try, Mommy plans to, etc. While I worked with great people who would have had no problem in theory with me stepping out for a recital in the middle of the afternoon, if a briefing deadline had come up or an important client call was scheduled, I wouldn't have been able to go. It's part of the deal you make when you join a firm like that. And it hurts even now, months after my early arrival and full camcorder-holding attendance at the program, to think of how truly crushed she would have been if I'd missed it. And that's an issue that will continue to grow as the kids get busier.

My new life has benefited JP and me in ways we couldn't have foreseen either. He never would have started his swim school if we hadn't moved here. It's possible he wouldn't have needed to. If we'd remained in Austin he might not have been one of the 3,000 cut from his company last year, but he might have. And separate from that, we've both mentioned many times how impossible I think it would have been for me to have remained at the firm while he remained at Dell. His commute and hours combined with my hours and unpredictability... I really can't imagine it as the kids have gotten older, and we most certainly wouldn't have decided to add another to our brood. So a change would have needed to happen. Here, the change was forced upon him, but what a change it has been! And how rewarding it has been for me (and him, clearly) to be able to support it so strongly. On the concrete side, it is only because I can control my schedule that he can make the schedules for his now more than 150 clients. And less tangibly, it is because I could feel the changes in me that came from working for something that made me happy that I could understand better what he meant when he said working at another large company wouldn't do it for him. It has been a difficult year for him, but I've been able to be there in ways I'm not sure I could have at the firm- the stresses of doc reviews and briefing deadlines invariably leak their way into your personal life, and I'm as glad I could give the extra as I imagine he's been to receive it.

I still work hard all day Monday-Friday. The kids still need full-time childcare and I still need to run errands and plan ahead for the week on Sunday. That was something else that surprised me a little- the schedule sounded so much easier that I handicapped what working "regular" full-time would be like a little too much. It's still full time. Many weeks it's no less than I worked at the firm. The difference is the predictability, the control, and the absolute inviolability of my nights and weekends. I've never wanted to stay home full-time. I truly don't think I'd be as happy personally, I know it wouldn't be good for my marriage, and financially it's never been an option anyway, but this sharp divide between work and home- the clear compartmentalization of both facets of my life has been, well, rather extraordinary.

I still worry and muse about what will come next. A very real part of me misses being a big firm lawyer. I miss being a defense attorney. I still believe that at my core, I'm more defense attorney than prosecutor. It may be superficial, but I miss being a woman on partnership track at a large firm and working towards something the statistics say is nearly impossible. I've always gone after the gold stars and it was hard to walk away from one so shiny and hard to reach. In some ways, leaving that intangible ideal was harder to leave than anything concrete in that office. There are days where my current job leaves something to be desired for me; for all the hours and junior associate drudgery, that actually rarely happened at the firm. But this job is good. It could be great as a forever position and it could still be a stepping stone back to the firm when the kids are even older or to something I can't even see or imagine yet down the line. Most days I can trust in that and be very satisfied on the work side. Because every day, every single day, I am seeing, observing, getting more on the life side. And that's mattered to me, to the kids, to JP, and to me again, in ways I couldn't have predicted when I gave my notice to BigLaw 18 months ago.

8th Wedding Anniversary date on Monday


  1. I smiled the whole time I was reading this post! It is hard to articulate how different it is, because most of the time, it is a general feeling more than anything. And the lack of a blackberry, not having one felt like a luxurious indulgence for the first eight months or so. Now I think, "I never want one of those AGAIN! No one should have to have those!" So happy for you, girlie!

  2. Hi LL, I came back to read this old post because I'm on the cusp of accepting an offer from a gov't agency and my stomach is in knots. It's clear from your blog posts over the years that taking the job at the SEC has been wonderful for you. So much of the value proposition seems to relate to time for family. Any thoughts on whether you think this would be the right call for someone who hasn't gotten married or had kids yet (but wants to). I was 100% all in on this new opportunity until I got the offer and am suddenly all nerves. I'm worried about what comes next after this job. I'm worried about policies like the unpaid maternity leave and 60 day window before medical benefits kick in. If you have any thoughts would love to hear them.